OLI gives a SHOUT OUT to the hard workers behind the scenes
December 8th, 2014
Did you know that it often take months and even years of preparation to bring OLI to a community?
Did you know that in each participating community there is at least one individual who has worked doggedly or is currently working at great lengths to make OLI a reality for the youth?
Usually the process begins with individuals who come to the show and are so inspired by the OLI youth that they see on stage and meet through the videos that they just cannot get the image of these youth and the powerful emotions that they felt in the theatre out of their mind. They leave the theatre stirred with feelings and with the knowledge that they have just experienced something transformative. They can’t stop thinking about a certain community they know; they can’t stop envisioning the youth of this community on that stage. An idea begins to emerge. They imagine presenting this idea to community leaders. It is a complex idea and not easy to put into words, for how do you describe OLI? OLI involves seizing an opportunity that is part journey, part forum for artistic self-expression, part venue for cultural exchange, part education and skill development, and part building strong long-lasting relationships. OLI means belonging to a group – a group of youth so strong and so empowered that they can bring an entire theatre of spectators to tears.
This idea of introducing OLI to a new community takes root in the psyche. It persists. It calls for conversations and rallies for support. In many cases these “idea people” face barriers, challenges, and unfavorable circumstances. They get put off, told to wait until the time is right. Still they continue to spread the word, to seek support, to find the people who will invest in Indigenous youth. And then one day, they make a call to the OLI office. “I think we are ready. What do we do now?”
OLI gives a shout out to these individuals. You will not see these people on stage. You probably will never hear their names. You might see their faces in the audience but you won’t recognize them. OLI wants you to know they are out there. They are integral. They are appreciated. They are the champions of OLI and we sincerely thank them for their work in blazing the trail for the journey that follows.
Garden Hill Welcomes OLI
November 14th, 2014
On Monday October 27, OLI made its first trip to Garden Hill First Nation in northern Manitoba to launch this year’s OLI program.
All of the students from grade 7 to 12 met in the gym Tuesday morning to learn the basics of Outside Looking In. At 1 pm all the 7/8s were invited to the gym to begin learning choreography under the direction of OLI Choreographer Queenie Seguban.
Later that afternoon, the Seniors took to the gym floor for their first rehearsal, and later that evening, more than twenty youth came out for their second rehearsal of the day.
By Thursday, both Senior and Middle Years students were looking awesome! Over one hundred youth impressed us with their ability to stay focused and to quickly pick up choreography. The youth will be working hard over the next month to attend school every day, to do their school work, and to rehearse on their own and with friends.
Queenie and I experienced warm hospitality in Garden Hill. We met Ian from the Northern Store who has been a great champion for OLI. We were really impressed to see the huge OLI fundraising thermometer on display outside the store. We finally met Susan Wood and Cathy Monias with whom OLI has been planning since last year and over the summer. Principal Ernie McDougall and the teachers were accommodating and enthusiastic, jumping in in many ways to support the youth during the beginning stage of this new endeavor – including signing up as Volunteers and dancing with the students.
Queenie and I can hardly wait for our next trip to Garden Hill on December 1st.
STP Youth Take it to the Next Level
October 27th, 2014
OLI visited STP for Trip #2 from Monday October 20th until Thursday October 24th. When we arrived, high school students and staff were engaged in preparing and cooking moose meat meals around group fires. That evening we were in the Middle Years gym for the first rehearsal. Nino rehearsed the two original numbers – Maroon 5 and Usher with the high school youth. At rehearsals over the next two days, students learned choreography in two very different styles for two new songs. OLI introduced the attendance and academic policy that was set by the teachers. OLI walked students through a “mock assessment” of ten volunteers so that everyone would understand both the procedure and the performance rating scale. The first assessment of choreography will take place during the next trip on November 24th. Youth are strongly encouraged to rehearse daily in order to feel prepared and confident for their first small group performances and assessments.
At the Middle Years rehearsals, grade 7 and 8s learned new choreography in addition to running through their first song. With only engaged dancers on the participant list, there are currently 88 Middle Years youth taking an active part in OLI. These students are also using posted teaching videos to learn and refine their moves in preparation for their first assessment next trip.
OLI Launches New Season in St. Theresa Point, MB
October 17th, 2014
With the school year well underway, OLI is again excited to be working with students, school and band staff, parents and volunteers who are about to embark on a powerful journey with Outside Looking In.
We will unfold this year’s participating communities one at a time over the next few months, highlighting the great things that are happening in each First Nation.
First stop – Saint Theresa Point First Nation. This remote community of over 3000 Oji-Cree people is located on the southwestern shore of Island lake in northern Manitoba. When asked to describe St. Theresa Point youth, High School Principal Raymond Flett said: Our youth have raw talent. They are highly motivated and are always actively seeking creativity. Most of all they are respectful to others and to the task that they face.
Raymond’s characterization of the youth was confirmed on September 15, 2014, when OLI Founder and CEO Tracee Smith, Choreographer Nino Vicente, and Program Manager Maureen Hatherley travelled to STP for the program Launch. For four days, we had the privilege of working with motivated students and school staff.
The OLI experience is largely a process of self-selection that begins at the Launch. Students are invited to make the decision to leave the comfort and security of walls and bleachers and join their peers to follow the lead of their dedicated choreographer out on the dance floor. In STP, both school gyms were filled with students opting to take these first steps. The high school students danced twice a day – afternoons and evenings. They filled the gym with their “raw talent”, demonstrating amazing focus and engagement to learn two Hip Hop dances in short order. The Middle Years students filled their gym with “raw energy”, demonstrating both commitment and enthusiasm during daily rehearsals. There was also awesome representation at every rehearsal from teachers at both schools.
Dance is not a new passion for STP. Many community members – young and old alike, love to dance and showcase their talent at the annual Bannock Festival’s Big Bounce. OLI looks forward to feeding this passion with energizing workouts, top notch choreography, new Hip Hop moves, teamwork, and the promise of a big stage and a huge audience for those who choose to meet the challenge, all as part of this year’s school curriculum.
OLI and THCF Partnership provides life-changing experiences
May 28th, 2014
Twenty-three youth and seven chaperones from Outside Looking In had the pleasure of spending twelve days at Onondaga Farms in May in preparation for their performances on stage at the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto. Outside Looking In inspires Indigenous youth to pursue education, engage in self-expression, and celebrate empowerment through the transformative power of Dance. The Tim Horton Children’s Foundation partners with OLI to provide a safe, comfortable environment for youth while supporting participation in Foundation programming designed to instill valuable leadership and life skills. Together, these organizations provide powerful life-changing experiences for youth.
While at Onondaga Farms this May, youth from four First Nations communities – Sandy Lake First Nation, Lac La Croix First Nation, Pikangikum First Nation, and Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve undertook a challenging schedule of rehearsals, school work, activities, and outings. Mornings were spent rehearsing with the whole group in the barn – which THCF has converted to a dance studio with a hardwood floor and mirrors. Afternoons involved more rehearsing for the Future Leaders group and credit course work in a classroom setting for the others. Evenings were dedicated to more rehearsals and Foundation programming.
Dance is a physically demanding art of self-expression and as such, nutritious meals and snacks were much appreciated. Sharing food together during family style meals was a definite highlight for the group and gave the youth a chance to visit and get to know one another. OLI youth were quick to volunteer for the position of Kitchen Person and really took to the responsibilities of caring for and serving others.
The THCF staff embraced and showed genuine interest in the OLI youth and their goals for the stay. Many of the youth had never been away from their homes on remote reserves and had to adjust to life in the bunkhouses and a barrage of new challenges and expectations in a very different environment. The physical space of the farm itself provided not only learning opportunities but a tranquil backdrop of gentle sunrises, birdsong, walking trails, wetlands, farm animals, sudden downpours, wide open fields, and emerging leaves and flowers. It was very evident that the entire THCF staff – the grounds crew, program staff, cleaning and kitchen staff, bus drivers, office and camp staff all take pride in the Foundation and work to make Onondaga Farms a welcoming place.
This year’s OLI stay at Onondaga Farms reinforced the notion that engaging young people through challenging experiences that require both personal resolve and collaborative teamwork in a safe inclusive environment sets the stage for remarkable accomplishments, skill development, and personal growth. The tangible outcomes of this year’s stay could be seen in the smiles on stage as the youth realized personal “bests” and outstanding performances and at the camp, as the youth returned “home” to share their experiences with their new friends and supporters. More intriguing to ponder are the more enduring outcomes of the OLI/THCF partnership – the seeds of empowerment, responsibility, and leadership experiences that have been firmly planted but might not fully come to fruition for months or years to come.