Dancers showcase their talents and raise money in memory of local teenager

DanceRoots put on their annual event to raise money for the Dementia Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County in honour of Chase Downs
Photo: Nathalia Lencioni
Marvellous party being performed by Abbygael Cardinal, Alayna Haji, Ava Bignuccolo, Charlotte Bussey, Duncan Griswold, Evalyn Kantymir, Isabel Campbell-Rosser, Izabella Caputo, J Godwin-Sens, Katherine MacRae, Madelaine Bourdeleau-Kelly, Mhalia Milius and Raigen Brien at the Algonquin Commons Theatre on Feb. 24.

When Raigen Brien, a 17-year-old high school student, is dancing on stage, it relieves her stress. It’s a place where she finds comfort and finds inspiration.

“Dance allows you to surround yourself with a fresh outlook and a positive environment,” she said. “It is something so special to add to your life. Dance has also given me a second family. I was able to meet and create deep connections with so many different people.”

This connection also helps her want to be part of helping to raise money for good causes.

Brien, a graduating senior dancer at the Ottawa-based dance and performing arts school DanceRoots, participated in Chase Your Dreams, a competitive showcase to raise money for the Dementia Society of Ottawa and Renfrew County. The showcase took place at the Algonquin Commons Theatre on Feb. 24.

“I feel truly honoured to have been even a small piece of the incredible performance that Chase Your Dreams is,” said Brien. “I am so grateful to have had the chance to celebrate the life of Chase Downs.”

Chase Downs was the firstborn child of Sarah Nolan, artistic director and owner of DanceRoots. Chase Your Dreams is made in honour of her life and aims to raise money in her behalf for important causes and charities.

Downs was born with a brain tumour, was in treatment for much of her life and endured several surgeries. She died just after her 14th birthday on Jan. 22 2013.

“She was fiercely strong, funny, polite and loved the arts,” said Nolan. “She wrote a book of jokes.”

The showcase consisted of 37 performances by 71 dance students of different age groups and levels, including three graduating seniors.

Brien said dance has given her powerful life skills and deep personal connections with fellow dancers.

“Dance has taught me discipline, gave me a strong passion, and a place where I find comfort,” said Brien. “It’s something I think many more college students should try out. It is a huge stress relief. Dance allows you to surround yourself with a fresh outlook and a positive environment and it is something so special to add to your life.”

Nolan said they have a long-term connection with the Algonquin Commons Theatre.

“We dance at this theatre the most in our season, through competitions and our recital,” said Nolan. “So, it gets especially our younger dancers and our first-time competitive dancers accustomed to the stage. It makes a big difference to be able to perform before they compete.”

“Because things like spacing are super important to a dancer,” she explained. “Knowing what curtains you’re going through. Just little things like that are so important. So, this gives them that opportunity, because every stage is different. And our first full competition is here, in April, as well as our recital at the end of the year.”

Izabella Caputo, another 17-year-old graduating senior from DanceRoots, said it was very special to be a part of the yearly charity event.

“It’s an event that happens every year and each year it never fails to feel the same way,” said Caputo. “For me, this is the kick-start and the first time of each season where it feels real that the season is starting up.”

“[Dance classes] are a very supportive environment and a place where you can meet new people,” she added. “When you’re starting college it can be overwhelming and scary to not know that many people so a dance class is an easy way to meet new people.”

Nolan said her favourite part of any event is getting to step back and watch students.

“It’s just standing backstage and being a part of the dancers’ first journey on the stage,” Nolan said. “Seeing them come to life and they’re just so in love with that experience. To be able to see that is just the biggest blessing.”

The event raised over $1000 according to Nolan, although the exact number has yet to be released.

“This event is something that everyone looks forward to,” said Caputo. “It is a staple at our studio and is known to happen every year no matter the circumstances.”

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