Students could be seen either sashaying and spinning or laughing and chatting as “Drive Me Crazy” by Beenie Man pumped through the speakers on Thursday 28 November at the Toronto Public Library branch located in Flemingdon. Fresh Elements is a dance club organized by Nirusha Jeyarajah, Morisan Selvadurai, Thuriga Balasubramaniam, Rasha Rashid, and Ammara Kaka as part of a community project for Ms. Munro’s Grade 12 Leadership class, with help from Amy Peters, Deven Rasie, and Mahnaz Khan. This six-week dance program is primarily for students between the ages of nine to fifteen. The participants include students from Valley Park MS, Marc Garneau CI, as well as youth willing to participate when they come to the Flemingdon public library.
The program officially began on 7 November and will continue every Thursday from 4 to 6 pm until 12 December. Currently, Fresh Elements has approximately 10 – 12 regular participants, with more dropping in every class. These classes, run to teach and promote dancing among the youth of the Flemingdon neighbourhood, held a certain appeal for the organizers. “Thuriga and I have a passion for dancing. We know that a lot of people like to dance, but there aren’t a lot of places where they promote dancing, so we wanted to create a program that encouraged people who are passionate about it and help those who are too shy to try it, while forming a community between the individuals,” said Nirusha Jeyarajah.
Though the purpose of these lessons was to create a stronger bond among the youth of the area, it has come to mean a lot more to many. “We wanted to do something in our community to get them involved,” said Thuriga Balasubramaniam. “At first, it began as a project, but we’ve seen how our participants have become more and more comfortable and involved with dancing. It’s gotten to the point where we now want to continue this program beyond our leadership class, and where many of our students have requested that it be continued for the rest of the school year.”
The lesson plan for each class is similar. The classes begin promptly at four with five minutes of stretching before the choreography from the previous class is repeated. Afterwards, snack is provided by the sponsors – Sobey’s, Loblaws, and Food Basics – before choreography is continued. Fifteen minutes before the end of class, freestyle dancing is encouraged.
Fresh Elements has also been a learning experience for the organizers. Rasha Rashid, along with Morisan Selvadurai, were responsible for getting sponsors for providing snacks. Rasha said that “We had to display a community proposal and have a meeting with the store managers to get our proposal approved. Although it got off to a pretty good start, our biggest obstacle was to get into contact with them. This experience really helped me with my communication and leadership skills, and taught me how to take responsibility.”
Some of the student dancers also had a lot to say in favour of this program. Rabbie Rahman, an eighth grader at Valley Park, said, “It’s fun and enjoyable, and something you can look forward to. You get to socialize, learn how to dance and improve. I’ve been here since the first class, and it’s helped people become more comfortable with each other.”
The styles of dancing taught at this drop-in dance program include hip hop and jazz, taught by Nirusha Jeyarajah and Thuriga Balasubramaniam, break dancing taught by Deven Rasie, and contemporary taught by Amy Peters and Mahnaz Khan. New students are welcome to every lesson.