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Young Indigenous dancers want to ‘get everything out’ in performance with Juno nominees

After two years, Canada’s largest Indigenous youth dance performance is set to finally return to the stage on Thursday. 

The charity Outside Looking In (OLI) has been putting on the showcase since 2008, but it had to go on hiatus due to the pandemic. 

Trish Kakegamic, one of OLI’s young dancers, is excited to show off months of hard work to a large audience when she and the other dancers take the stage at 7:30 p.m. 

“Your soul is coming out and you give so much energy out and focus on the dancing, she told CBC News.

“It feels like a way to express my emotions and how I feel on the inside and get everything out.” 

Dancers to perform with 2 nominees

The showcase will take place at Toronto’s Meridian Hall where the young dancers will perform alongside DJ Shub and Snotty Nose Rez Kids, both 2022 JUNO Award nominees.

The event is the culmination of months of choreography sessions and rehearsals that began at the start of the school year. 

OLI is a national charity that works with Indigenous children across the country. Its flagship program is a high school dance credit program for students from Grade 7 to Grade 12. 

That program culminates in the annual showcase in Toronto. 

Tracee Smith is the founder and CEO of Outside Looking In, a charity that supports Indigenous students across the country. OLI’s national dance program aims to help students succeed academically through a creative outlet. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

Tracee Smith, OLI’s founder, CEO and dance team leader, told CBC News the program is designed to help Indigenous youth thrive even when they’re faced with other challenges.

“There’s lots of kids that … wouldn’t have had this kind of opportunity if it wasn’t for this program,” she said.

“If they’ve made it to this stage … they’ve jumped through quite a number of hurdles.”

The ultimate goal of the program is to promote academic success through a creative outlet, Smith said. 

Seguin Meeseetawageesic, one of the student dancers with Outside Looking In, is seen here rehearsing ahead of the annual showcase at Toronto’s Meridan Hall. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

And that goal seems to be paying off. 

A report published by the First Nations, Inuit and Métis Essential Skills Inventory Project found that 96.2 per cent of OLI participants have graduated from high school  — compared to the national graduation average of 36 per cent for Indigenous high school kids.

The report also documented improved health, well-being and social connections for participants.

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