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Developing dance in Whistler, and Detroit

Soul Funktion students train with top companies, regroup for new season

While fall is typically the season that kids grudgingly don their backpacks and head back to school, September also marks the month that Soul Funktion Studio reopens its doors to hordes of enthusiastic young dancers.

Codi Dalen is the director of Soul Funktion, which opened for business in Function Junction just over five years ago. She explained that this season, the studio will be introducing set repertoires for the troupe to perform in the fall/winter and spring seasons, rather than simply holding their big year-end show for the community, as they've done in previous years.

"When you have a community performance, there's no budget to commission work," Dalen explained. "So the bottom line is, how can we afford to commission the work so that it's then prepared so that we can participate in the community?"

With a set repertoire under their belts, Dalen hopes the troupe will be able to step up and participate in an assortment of arts events around the community this year, in addition to their usual springtime year-end show. They also plan on encouraging students to participate in showcases and competitions outside of Whistler for creative inspiration.

"They love to travel, they love to go and share with other schools what they're doing - this is the environment to do it in," Dalen said.

Not all dancers have been idle during the summer months.

Shay Saver is part of Soul Funktion's performance troupe, which features over 30 dancers ranging in age from nine to 17, performing multiple dance styles, including ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical jazz, hip hop and afro. These young aspiring dancers are enrolled in at least three classes per week, with some participating in up to 10 classes per week.

While the performance troupe took a break for the summer, a few of the dancers who are particularly passionate and eager to learn kept busy. Saver landed a spot with the American Ballet Theatre's summer program, while two other dancers took part in an intensive summer program with professional teachers at the Harbour Dance Centre in Vancouver.

Last Friday, Saver was enjoying one of the last few lazy days of summer before getting back to her at-home school studies and getting back to work with Soul Funktion.

The 13 year old is relatively new to the world of dance. She began taking lessons just five years ago who she first moved to Whistler with her family from Los Angeles.

"I danced for about two years, and then I went to the troupe," Saver said.

Dalen immediately recognized a natural talent in young Saver.

"Right from the very get-go, you have this little girl who has a lot of natural ability," Dalen said. "...She's got this natural musicality - like the expression that comes from the music is just bang-on, she just has this natural ability to meter her movements to the music."

But more importantly, Saver and her family were prepared to commit to dance, even opting to allow her to complete online courses instead of going to school, so she could focus on her dancing.

"The progression and the rate of progression has been right on par with a dancer who would be traveling to the top of ability, absolutely," Dalen said.

Dalen predicts that in a few years, Saver will outgrow the pre-professional training environment of Soul Funktion and will need to find a professional school where she can continue to develop her skills.

"It's going to be really exciting for us in Whistler to go, 'There she goes!'" 

Saver has been hard at work this summer, training and studying for a month in Detroit under dancers from the prestigious American Ballet Theatre.

"American Ballet Theatre is so popular and famous, so we looked into their website and they had auditions for their summer program, so we went down to L.A. and auditioned," said Saver.

But Saver was no stranger to the audition process - she successfully auditioned for the Moscow City Ballet last year. So this time around she felt prepared for the process, even though she was up against dancers from around the world.

"What was interesting was that they had girls from Italy and Brazil and the Philippines and a lot of them didn't even speak English, but they all had this universal language, which was dancing, so it was really kind of cool, in that sense," Saver's mom, Nancy, said.

In February, Saver received an e-mail stating that she had been selected as one of about 500 dancers picked from five sites throughout the U.S. From an industry perspective, it is a huge honour - and an invaluable experience - to be involved with the American Ballet Theatre.

"It is the most prominent ballet company in North America," Dalen confirmed.

Her first time away from home for an extended period, Saver had her first taste of college life, living in dorms.

"It was really fun."

But the training was rigorous, with the dancers training every day from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m.

"And sometimes we had night rehearsals," Saver added.

They also managed to sneak a bit of sightseeing in, making trips to watch a baseball game, the zoo and the mall, of course. But the highlight of the entire experience actually came at the end of the month, when Saver and the rest of the dancers performed a piece at the Detroit Opera House.

"I would definitely go there again," she said. "...Our teachers were amazing - they were actually from the ABT."

She plans to audition again next year, and is excited to start another season at Soul Funktion.




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