From a hugely popular Festival of Dance to Zumba classes to hosting the qualifying round for the national breaking championships, Hart House is the place to be for dance. The House’s Fitness Centre and Theatre have something for everyone interested in this uplifting activity that so perfectly marries art and sport.
On April 29, 2023, Hart House will be centre stage for some of the best breakers, or breakdancers, in Canada. The House will be hosting the Ontario Open – the qualifying rounds of the Canada DanceSport (CDS) National Championships, which will be held in Vancouver in June. The winner of this Championship will progress to the World Dance Sport Federation (WDSF) World Breaking Championship in Belgium in September.
This is a big deal. The status of breaking (also called b-boying and b-girling) is steadily rising – so much so that the sport will be, for the first time, included in the Summer Olympics in Paris, France, 2024.
University of Toronto alumnus and Civil Engineering graduate Geoff Reyes knows a thing or two about this. The former Varsity athlete and dance instructor is the lead organizer of the Ontario Open at Hart House, CDS Breaking Sports Director and President of Breaking Canada. Geoff has been very closely involved in the Canadian breaking sector for many years, having founded Ontario-based organizations How Hip Hop Helps (H4) and You Be ILL.
Coming to Hart House will be, for Geoff, like coming home. “During my time at U of T, Hart House meant community and gathering. I taught Breaking with the U of T Dance Club and Hip Hop at the Athletic Centre. My dance group, as well as my students, performed at the Hart House U of T Festival of Dance (FoD).”
Dance Community Thrives at Hart House Theatre
The Ontario Open is just one example of how Hart House is leading the way in dance.
“There’s a substantial dance community at U of T, and Hart House Theatre is a key part of this,” says Director of Theatre and Performance Art Doug Floyd. Indeed, the Theatre often hosts and collaborates with other dance groups. For example, later this year, it will showcase the Silhouettes Dance Company – one of the largest U of T dance troupes on campus.
Another group on campus that utilizes Hart House space is the University of Toronto Dance Team, a team that was recently crowned the champions of all three competitions this past season in March, competing against over 28 teams across Canada. They take to the stage on April 29, 2023 to showcase their recent work.
Partnerships are Key
Doug raises an important point about partnerships, on which Michelle Brownrigg, chief program officer, agrees. “Community and academic partnerships are so important,” she says. “For example, we have several collaborative workshops with the academic Institute for Dance Studies with most recent support to their keynote on Disability and Dance in January 2023.”
Community partners include Kiki Ballroom Alliance, Breaking Canada and dance Immersion. Michelle elaborates, “Community partnerships akin to Breaking Canada include vogue dance rehearsal space support to Kiki Ballroom Alliance and two Legacy Series initiatives with dance Immersion focusing on the African dance diaspora in tap and jazz.” She elaborates, “We partnered with dance Immersion as a result of being connected to them by Institute for Dance Studies Director Seika Boye.”
Hart House also has long relationships with student-led dance groups, such as the Only Human Dance Collective. This is a U of T Student Group that has a pre-pandemic history of renting the Hart House Theatre. This group runs classes for U of T students of all experience levels.
“Canada’s Largest University Dance Festival” Resides Here
The FoD (The Hart House U of T Festival of Dance) s a prime example of the House’s strength in dance. Each year, the Theatre proudly hosts this event – assumed to be Canada’s largest university dance festival – which offers an impressive variety of dance genres: jazz, ballet, ballroom, modern, contact improv, Hip Hop, musical theatre, Irish, Latin, Egyptian belly dancing and K Pop. This year, the tri-campus Festival ran from March 31 to April 1, and it included 60 different dance numbers.
Doug explains the significance of the FoD: “Some groups have their own large shows, some don’t. So, the FoD is even more important for those smaller companies. It’s also the only time when these dance companies interact and can be seen on one stage at the same time,” he says, adding, “With such an abundance of dance groups associated with U of T, participation in the Festival is a great opportunity for dance groups to interact, collaborate and promote their own work and ventures.”
Over time, the FoD programming has grown. In recent years, it expanded to include panel discussions on key topics, such as colourism in ballet, gender roles in dance and body image in dance.
Dance Classes Aplenty … Including New Breaking Class
You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy dance at Hart House. For students, alumni and community members, opportunities to dance are numerous. The Hart House Fitness Centre regularly offers a wide variety of popular dance classes, including Zumba, Cardio Dance Party, Afro Cardio Dance. Bollywood and KPOP.
"The breadth of dance offerings at the Fitness Centre is vast" Director, Fitness, Wellness and Recreation at Hart House Fitness Centre Vanessa Treasure believes. She is also thrilled to see a new breaking class take shape for spring 2023 at the Fitness Centre. Breaking Canada, in partnership with Canadian Women & Sport and Hart House, will be offering B Thee Rise, a national b-girl initiative. Here, participants will learn the fundamentals of breaking from a top rock, to a six-step and basic freezes, with guidance from Canada’s top b-girls.
“Whether you’re a novice to breaking or looking to improve your abilities, this program is inclusive, safe and most of all fun,” Vanessa says.
It’s clear that dance, in all its many forms, is an integral part of Hart House.