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YYC Dance Project: A dance team with a dancer’s best interests at heart

Emily Armstrong of YYC Dance Project
Emily Armstrong of YYC Dance Project. Photo by Jayna Photography

In the dance world, there is a constant need for enrichment in training. Whether it is in ballet, jazz or contemporary, it is essential to keep some balanced criteria of styles under your belt, along with the drive to push yourself as you train and grow. As a mother of a dancer and a previous studio owner, Tanja Rosner sought to find an outlet for her daughter, Tate McRae, that would allow leeway to travel and explore their own paths, while training in various disciplines of dance. After brainstorming with a good friend and fellow dance educator, Lara VanBelleghem, about how to build a dance company that would give dancers both the training and flexibility to compete, train, and work locally and internationally, the makings of a great program was just beginning. Rosner tells Dance Informa about when YYC Dance Project (YYCDP) began.

Tate McRae with a PD student. Photo by Paul McGrath.

Tate McRae with a PD student. Photo by Paul McGrath.

“The Principal at the School of Alberta Ballet, Ashley McNeil, suggested we partner with the ballet school, and in September 2014, the YYC Dance Project was launched,” says Rosner. “We had 80 dancers on the wait list and 23 dancers (age seven to 16) enrolled full-time.”

With a program set in place that afforded flexibility and training in a variety of styles, including ballet, pointe, modern, contemporary, jazz, tech, lyrical, hip hop and conditioning, YYCDP started to develop its own identity. What mainly sets YYCDP apart from other companies is its commitment to ensuring that each dancer is encouraged to find his/her own path as an artist, while simultaneously being a member of a tight-knit team of like-minded dancers.

“We want our dancers to be versatile, and so we bring in master teachers and choreographers in as many genres as we can,” Rosner explains. “Our goal is to educate and enlighten our dancers as to what is available to them as professionals. They are aspiring professionals, and we teach them how to apply and get hired now, so when they get out into the real world, they have the confidence and experience to get jobs. “

In the spirit of aspiring professionals and training as such, the audition process to get into YYCDP, as well as what Rosner looks for in potential members, is a true testament to its goals to foster these young dancers into hirable professionals. Just like the real world of professional auditions, the audition process for YYCDP differs from year to year depending on how many dancers are needed, what age the team is looking for and what direction the team is going in. For potential members of YYCDP, it is most important that the kids auditioning are committed to dance. Rosner then goes through a system of basic questions to scope out what the future plans of the dancers are: What are your future aspirations with dance? Do you want to be in a ballet company or a modern company? Do you want commercial work? Broadway?

YYC Dance Project's Taryn Miller. Photo by Paul McGrath.

YYC Dance Project’s Taryn Miller. Photo by Paul McGrath.

Regardless of the dancers’ future plans, YYCDP makes sure that the dancers are inspired to be kind to other dancers, humble in their triumphs and resilient in their setbacks. This aspiration to inspire dancers while keeping them humble and yearning for further training is prevalent no matter what age. Some of the dancers share their experience after being accepted and some of their most memorable moments while being in YYCDP.

Taryn Miller, age 14, says, “I auditioned for YYCDP four years ago when I was 11 years old. I was super excited to be a part of this new concept team that was going to combine elite training with the opportunity to experience choreographers from all over North America. My most memorable moment with YYCDP so far has been qualifying for YAGP Finals in NYC at the Las Vegas Regionals.”

Briana DelMundo, age 16, is a part of YYCDP’s Open Division. After auditioning to be a part of YYCDP in 2015, just a year after it launched, she shares her reaction to being accepted and what being in this company has done for her.

“I’m pretty sure I leaped around my room when I got the email regarding my acceptance into the YYCDP full-time team!” she enthuses. “Looking back at it now, it’s unbelievable to me how this program really changed me not only as a dancer but also as a human being. I’m very grateful. I guess it’s difficult to choose one memorable moment because my whole experience and journey with YYCDP has been memorable. All I say is that I’m very blessed to dance with artists who hold such a special gift, and without my teachers and teammates, I would not be able to create the memories I carry so deeply in my heart today.”

YYC Dance Project's Tate McRae. Photo by Jayna Photography.

YYC Dance Project’s Tate McRae. Photo by Jayna Photography.

Although Tate McRae was only 11 when her mom started the program, she has had her fair share of growth in YYCDP while having the flexibility to pursue opportunities outside of YYCDP as well. Now at age 14, McRae has had the opportunity to share her love of dance not only through YYCDP but with the nation as well.

“My most memorable moment with YYCDP was when I choreographed a number that I had first choreographed on So You Think You Can Dance for Kathryn McCormick on my team,” McRae recalls. “Watching my friends dance my choreography on stage was so exciting!”

For Rosner, it’s those small moments that no one sees that make for memorable moments — from watching dancers go from hard-working minis and juniors who wanted nothing more than to make her happy to teens and seniors grappling with balancing their academics, dance, social lives and future plans. From being invited to perform with The Next Step cast when the team toured in Calgary to having 2 Best Dancer Winners at the Internationally renowned Dance Awards, the opportunities that YYCDP affords to its dancers is a testament to the young professionals who make their mark in the real world once they’ve graduated.

Although it is still a fairly young company, in regards to the future of YYCDP, Rosner says, “It’s been amazing so far, and we’ll keep tweaking the program when necessary. We know that our strength is in our training and technique, so ballet will always be at our center. We hope to stay a relatively small company that inspires hard work, team values, individual dreams and a passion for expression through dance.”

For more information on YYC Dance Project, visit www.yycdanceproject.com.

By Monique George of Dance Informa.

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