By MYRON LOVE In the movie “Billy Ellliot”, the eponymous character, when asked by a review board why he, the son of a hard-bitten goal miner, should be accepted into the Royal Ballet School, responds that when he is dancing, he feels – to paraphrase – “electric”.
The late dancer and actor, Patrick Swayze, wrote in his autobiography that when he danced, he could feel his spirit soar.
Those existential feelings are what Leah Braemer hopes to inspire in Manitobans who may lack access to traditional dancing schools through her newly-formed Transforming Movement (transformingmovement.ca).
“Transforming Movement”, she explains on the new program’s website, “is a local Manitoba non-profit organization that provides accessible, affordable, and inclusive dance lessons to folks who face barriers to movement.”
Braemer, a Grade Six teacher in the Hebrew Bilingual Program at Brock Corydon School, founded the new program in November. Thus far she has taught one class of special needs student at River Heights Community Centre and residents at a seniors’ residence. Each class consists of once-weekly lessons for six weeks.
“We tailor the lesson to the needs of the students,” she says. “For the special needs young adults, we gave them lessons in ballet, jazz and other forms of dance. For the seniors, our approach was more in the form of meditative movements.”
Braemer herself has had a lifelong passion for dance. She notes that she trained with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet while in high school. She danced with the Sara Sommer Chai Folk Ensemble and a modern dance company. She has also taught and choreographed dance.
As well, for seven years, she taught half time at Brock Corydon while also spearheading a project teaching dance at 14 Winnipeg School Division Number One elementary schools. “I had kids with behavioural issues, who were struggling academically, transformed through the dance classes,” she reports. “Dancing builds strength and flexibility, builds confidence and is also good for the development of the brain, can improve mental health and reduce stress.”
Braemer says that she was inspired to start Transforming Movement by the success of her son’s earlier initiative (see story on page 10), “Transforming Style”, which aims to provide “support, beauty & styling services and wardrobe to 2SLGBTQIA+ community members in Canada who face barriers to access”.
“The interest in our program is growing nicely,” Braemer reports. “We are receiving inquiries both from organizations about booking classes and people volunteering to teach.”
(All staff are volunteers, she notes.)
At the time she was interviewed, Braemer said, “We have classes booked for January at the St. Amant Centre and for Jewish Child and Family Service clients. They depend though on what further Covid restrictions may be coming.
“We are hoping to reach as many people as possible and expose them to the joy, the experience, the many benefits of dance.”