Program gives First Nations students opportunity to learn how to dance, life skills
Getting an opportunity to learn hip-hop dancing from a trained professional is something that doesn't happen often in isolated First Nations communities.
For the youth in the Outside Looking In program, students are not only learning how to hit the beat on time, but are also learning about the opportunities that exist for them when they finish high school.
"I've been dancing since they came to my community," said Bradley Monias, of the Outside Looking In program.
He first joined the program back in his home community of St. Theresa Point in 2014-2015.
Solomon Harper is also from St. Theresa Point. He taught himself how to dance at the age of seven and the program was the extra boost that he needed for his confidence.
"Throughout the years [Outside Looking In] came, and that's when I got to explore my talent," said Harper.
"And it was a good place to be... I've been in this program for four years [now]."
The program is an accredited dance program, which gives students a high school credit for the year. Throughout the year, students are expected to attend classes and keep good grades.
It also has a component called the RBC Future Leaders program.
For Monias, who is now a student at the University of Manitoba, this is his favourite part of the Outside Looking In program.
"We're learning new choreography, having opportunities like going to the bank, going to post-secondary institutions, and also learning about how to be in this world," said Monias.
Preparing for the national showcase
Tuesday was the second day of a four-day intensive training camp for the 16 students from Lac La Croix First Nation, Pikangikum First Nation, St. Theresa Point First Nation, Wasagamack First Nation and Southeast Collegiate.
This is McKinnon's first year being involved with the program. She said she often connects with the students throughout the year using Facebook messenger.
"This is really important to them and they've become so much more open and communicative," said McKinnon.
"It's helping them ... put time into what they value. And also for them to really dig deep and get out of dance what they want."
For most of the students taking part in this week's activities, it is their first year in the Future Leaders program.
Since working with the students, McKinnon has seen the confidence of the students grow.
The 16 students are taking part in five-hour choreography training sessions, with sight-seeing tours around Winnipeg happening afterwards. Thursday is the final day of practice for the students, which will see them heading to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet for a contemporary dance workshop.
Starting in May, the 16 students will join over 100 other students from First Nations communities across the country, in Toronto.
They will spend two weeks at the Tim Horton Children's Foundation Camp and will have the opportunity to rehearse everyday.
The rehearsals will all take place in preparation for the big showcase, which will see everyone perform on May 23 at Toronto's Sony Centre for the Performing Arts.