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Dance the night away at the Calgary Hip Hop & Street Dance Festival 

By Ansharah Shakil, November 24 2023—

The second annual Calgary Hip Hop & Street Dance Festival is taking place from Nov. 23 to 26 with an extensive array of events, such as dance battles and workshops, taking place in venues across the city. Despite its status as a newer festival for the city, its schedule is jam-packed, filled with anticipated guests. The festival’s artistic director Tara Wilson expressed her excitement over the events planned for the festival and the artists that are arriving.

“It’s always really exciting to have incredibly talented and well-respected artists that are sharing dance globally come to Calgary and infuse our city with this incredible energy,” Wilson said. 

The festival’s headliner is Marlee Hightower, a dancer and choreographer who will be working with young and local dancers as well as dancers from across North America coming to learn from her. Calgary locking legend Lady C, Caroline Fraser, will also be part of the festival, along with King Charles and HYA. Local dancers will be able to show off their chops on Nov. 25, which will have a dance showcase including Calgary high school dance groups and a Vancouver dance crew.

“Hip hop and street dance is really a youth-centred culture, so I think it’s really an amazing culture for students to involve themselves with,” Wilson said. “It’s positive, it’s political, it’s inclusive, it’s celebratory.” 

A main goal of the festival is to bring communities together through the art form of dance, as a way for people to express themselves and connect to others.

“For me personally, dance has always been a way of communicating and experiencing divine sensation, whether it be to music or the people I’m dancing with or something deep within myself,” she said. “Dance has always been an incredible experience of connection and joy and celebration of self.”

When it comes to hip hop, there’s plenty of room for newcomers to learn, through the workshops provided by the festival and through the very tenets of the form itself.

“One of the sort of fundamental ideas around hip-hop culture that really caught on was this concept of something from nothing,” Wilson explained. “You don’t really need to be in a dance studio, you don’t need a lot of equipment, […] at its inception, hip hop culture was about differentiating yourself and was about standing out from the crowd.”

Another goal of the festival is to highlight cultural landmarks in Calgary. The festival’s venues include the Plaza Theatre, Pulse Studios, West Village Theatre, the Calgary Chinese Cultural Centre and the Grand. 

“[We’re] trying to [get] the word out about where these places are and what they have to offer,” Wilson said. “We have people coming out of COVID, feeling isolated and […] lonely, that may be plugging into this community, this really diverse and vast community. Hopefully, this is something that makes people feel good and gives people the sense of friendship that there is something going on in Calgary that they can participate in.”

She noted getting people to come out to the festival would be a rewarding challenge for contributing to the many festivals in Calgary, 

“To have the opportunity to add another festival to the already awesome landscape that we have is really rewarding and I think is something that is serving a community of vibrant, empowered youth that have so much to say, and there is so much more we are going to be able to do with it as the years go by and as we grow,” she said. “It’s exciting to think about what we’re going to do this year and where we could possibly go, knowing that festivals are very successful in Calgary, people do really support culture here.”

Wilson encouraged people to get involved with the festival in order to broaden their understanding of Calgary and of dance.

“I always say to my students and to artists I have worked with, we are the community. So if we don’t come out for the community, we’re not going to have a community,” she said. “It’s important for people if they have an interest in hip hop and street dance or they wanna learn more about it, that they take that step to get involved. Another saying in hip hop is each one teaches one, so each person has so much to contribute. To add to the great energy that’s already going to be there is a good positive thing to do in the sort of crazy times we’re living in.”

More information about the festival can be found here.

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