Op-ed: Kickin' up heels for charity
- John Lagimodiere | February 17, 2017
When would have thought a two minute dance would have such an impact?
I recently had the pleasure, and the terror, of participating in the popular fundraiser Swinging with the Stars. It all started with a Facebook posting by a friend putting my name forward for the event. I followed the link and saw it was a dance contest that raises funds for charity.
I thought nothing of it since it was just someone doing it as a lark on Facebook for goodness sake. Then I got a phone call from the creator of the event, Brett Bayda. He pitched me on the idea of practicing with a professional dancer for a two minute dance that would be performed at a gala event in front of hundreds of people.
There would be six other couples and the charity this year was the Saskatoon City Hospital Rehabilitation Centre. It’ll be easy he said. We will set you up with a dancer who would teach me an easy two step and it would be fun!
“I can two step quite well” I thought, remembering my time at the Texas T from my long ago youth. No danger in that. A good cause, not too much of a challenge and it might be fun. How hard can it be?
Next he set me up with a professional dancer...and I hit the jackpot. I got Kimberly Parent. Now I knew about Kim because we had done a story on her Saskatoon Salsa Dance Company and her work with Indigenous kids and their performance at the Mayors Gala.
I also saw her salsa at the Reconciliation Walk on National Aboriginal Day. I had never met her, but she had been in the paper. A Métis business woman and hell of a dancer. Great pairing.
We first met in her studio on 8th Street. Excited about the two step, before I could get a word out edgewise about my awesome rhythm, I learned Kim had a plan already. We were going to jive to Jail House Rock, and because we were the first ever Indigenous pairing in the events five year history, the organizer had asked for something ‘cultural.’
And to us that meant jigging....so a jig/jive was decided on and we went to work.
And work we did...I did not know how much work goes into a two minute dance. Short answer...it is a lot! We put in close to fifty hours of practice. One or two sessions a week for the first couple of months, and in January we practiced almost every weekday for at least an hour.
The challenges were many. I was out of shape. No cardio, heavy feet and not very good rhythm (sorry, I lied earlier).
Fortunately Kim is the best coach. The feisty Métis woman pushed me like no coach I have ever had. She insisted on multiple repetitions of steps until I got it.
“Again! Remember rock, step, left then right!” “Frame!” “Hand out here!” “Smile!” Smile? I was dying, covered in sweat and just trying to breathe.
She was often apologetic after practices but I took no offense...I do the same thing with the kids I coach hockey so who was I to complain.
Herb Clark at Dance Dynamics helped us with our lifts, pulls and choreography. Ceara Bogen did our costumes and my old pal Derek Rope came and taught us how to jig.
The jigging was the hardest and most nerve wracking part...we didn’t want to let our community down.
Derek taught us well. To top it off, we thought if we need to jig, we should have the world’s greatest fiddler playing for us so I called John Arcand and pitched him on the idea. Without hesitation he said yes.
The night of the dance was tense. But weeks of practice and anxiety melted away when we took the stage. I couldn’t see anything past the lights in our eyes. Johnny started fiddling and the training took over and we did that dance darn well in front of 1,000 people. And we didn’t fall. I didn’t drop her and the only mistakes were on my end and minor in nature. Probably our best run ever. Relief!
The impact? I lost ten pounds and got in the best shape I have been in for fifteen years. I made a good friend with Kim. And most importantly the event raised over $140,000 for the Rehab Centre.
I recently visited the Centre to visit and photograph our friend Colleen Hamilton as she recovers from a life changing operation. The sun was pouring in on the wide open space filled with exercise machines, weights, medicine balls and people trying to get better. Colleen raved about the staff, the Centre and the process and also the large number of Indigenous people who use the place. That comment made the entire labour of blood (scraped up Kim a few times, also fell on her and bashed her head on the floor...sorry!), sweat and tears so worth it. Plus, when I have to have my crappy knees replaced, the Centre will be there for me and for others in need.
So how much impact can a little two minute dance have? Turns out lots.