Dance is a ‘safe space’: Youth dance workshop comes to Igloolik

Dancer Simik Komaksiutiksak teaches hip-hop, contemporary moves to Igloolik students

Dancer Simik Komaksiutiksak, second from left, teaches a hip-hop dance class to elementary school students in Igloolik on Sept. 9 at Iglulik High School. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

By Madalyn Howitt

The dance studio has always felt like an accepting space for Simik Komaksiutiksak.

“For me, it’s been a safe space to be able to free my emotions without having to say words, and it’s been a safe queer space,” Komaksiutiksak said.

The contemporary and hip-hop dancer based in Montreal also works to form those same safe spaces for kids in Nunavut.

Komaksiutiksak is one of several artists who work with the Arctic Rose Foundation, a charity founded by Inuk singer Susan Aglukark. It provides Inuit and northern Indigenous youth with arts-based and culturally grounded after-school programs in their communities.

The dancer spends about one week per month in Nunavut, teaching dance lessons to youth in grades five to 12 through the foundation’s Messy Book after-school program.

Professional dancer and Arctic Rose Foundation guest artist Simik Komaksiutiksak says the dance studio has always felt like a “safe space.” (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

“[We] teach whatever art [we] want to teach, whether it’s beading, sewing, dance or drama. Anything, and to help get that emotional artistic development with the kids,” said Komaksiutiksak, who grew up in Ottawa but was born in Rankin Inlet.

Komaksiutiksak started dancing at age six and joined the Arctic Rose Foundation about a year and a half ago. That dance background formed the basis for a new dance program in Rankin Inlet.

Since then, the program has expanded to more communities in the territory, including Igloolik where Nunatsiaq News joined Komaksiutiksak earlier this month to see the weeklong dance workshop at Iglulik High School. It’s the first time the program has run in the community.

Each lesson starts with a snack, a quiet meditation period to get focused, and a warm-up and stretching period. Then Komaksiutiksak teaches some hip-hop or contemporary choreography for a short combo, before finishing with a cool-down stretch.

In Igloolik, the students learned a two-minute hip-hop combo to I Gotta Feeling by Black Eyed Peas.

“The kids have been loving it,” Komaksiutiksak said.

Dancer Simik Komaksiutiksak teaches a hip-hop dance class to elementary school students in Igloolik on Sept. 9 at Iglulik High School. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

“We got really good feedback from the kids this year in Rankin Inlet and Igloolik. It’s a good way for expression, but it’s also just something fun to do and to look forward to.”

Throughout the week, each class had between 20 to 25 kids, Komaksiutiksak said, which is a great turnout for a small community.

When Komaksiutiksak and other guest artists aren’t visiting a community, local youth called community artist liaison and mentor workers, or “CALM” workers, facilitate the arts spaces for kids such as Iglulik High School student Scott Ipkangnak.

“I like organizing and helping the kids,” he said, like planning creative games for them, teaching them drawing and preparing snacks for them.

Komaksiutiksak, who uses the pronouns they/them, will head to Chesterfield Inlet before the end of the year to teach another dance workshop, and said the program will hire another dance teacher which will allow more communities to get access to the classes.

Iglulik High School student Scott Ipkangnak helps run the Arctic Rose Foundation’s Messy Book after-school program in Igloolik, preparing art, games and snacks for youth participants. (Photo by Madalyn Howitt)

One of Komaksiutiksak’s favourite parts about teaching dance in Nunavut is having the chance to share what they’ve learned about dance with other Inuit, they said.

“Contemporary dance is not so common in the North, so being able to share what I love about dance and how it’s helped me on my healing journey [is great],” Komaksiutiksak said.

They also love watching kids discover an interest in dance and seeing “how happy they are when they’re dancing.”

“[I] just want other youth to know that they can make a living off of being an artist no matter which art form they choose,” Komaksiutiksak said.

The dancer’s advice for young people in Nunavut who want to pursue the art but don’t have easy access to studio classes is to seek out many different resources.

“Because we couldn’t afford that many dance classes growing up in my own family, I did also teach myself a lot of things from YouTube and the internet,” Komaksiutiksak said.

“Eventually, you’ll be able to find the right resources if you keep looking, if you keep reaching out and searching for different things online or within the community.”

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