Program empowers Indigenous youth through the gift of dance

Outside Looking In graduate Estelle Quill (centre) performs with the Pikangikum class of 2019 on stage at Meridian Hall in Toronto. Supplied

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There’s more to Outside Looking In than teaching Indigenous youth the latest hip-hop and urban dance moves. However, dance is a big component of the program.

Outside Looking In is an accredited high school program that uses dance as a tool by engaging students in activity to develop life skills, promote mental and physical health and achieve academic success. A professional choreographer visits participating communities monthly between October and April to provide Indigenous youth with the opportunity to engage in the intensive, long term education program through dance. As an added incentive, students who meet the criteria have the opportunity to participate at an annual gala dance celebration in Toronto.

Pikangikum First Nation resident Estelle Quill, 21, is an Outside Looking In graduate who continues to be involved through its Future Leaders and Community Mentorship program.

Estelle was just 10 years old in 2009 and too young to take part when Pikangikum Education Authority invited Outside Looking In to deliver the program at the local Eenchokay Birchstick School.

“My sister Tammy was in the program and I really wanted to do it,” Estelle related in a telephone interview with the Miner and News.

Finally once Estelle was old enough, she was one of 10 students accepted into the program in 2017. Already familiar with the dance routines she learned from her sister, she eagerly anticipated the choreographer’s visits.

“He would come in every month from October to April to teach the class,” she recalled.

An OLI program coordinator accompanied the choreographer to provide support and ensure the students meet the program’s participation and academic criteria, including maintaining *80 per cent attendance at rehearsals and school and a minimum 65 per cent academic average. Students are also expected to maintain positive relationships within their community, including teachers, principals, volunteers and families.

Estelle was among the eight successful students who formed the final group to travel to Toronto and perform with other Indigenous youth from across Canada at the 2018 Gala Performance.

“There were rehearsals every day for two weeks,” she recalled. The big day came when she and her class mates performed at Meridan Hall before and audience of several thousand spectators. For the grand finale, the entire ensemble of more than 100 students took to the stage for a mass

Estelle continues to be involved with the program and returned in 2019 as a Jr. Programmer to perform with that year’s graduates.

Estelle says OLI changed her life and encourages anyone who has the opportunity to take the program.

“It’s a one of a kind experience,” she said. “I was a really shy person before but afterwards I became really confident and started talking to people and became a different person.”

Outside Looking In has also become something of a tradition for the Quill family. Just as she followed her sister into the program, her cousin Alex is in this year’s class and will travel to Toronto to dance in the Gala celebration at Meridian Hall on Wednesday, May 6.

For more information about the Outside Looking In program go online to: https://olishow.com

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