Weyburn dancer leaves for world-level competition

Autumn Alexander is both excited and a little nervous for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for her to help represent Canada on the world stage, at an Olympic-style international dance competition. She and her family have just left Canada for the competition at the World Ballet, Jazz and Modern Championships set for Dec. 1-8 in Poland.

The Weyburn dancer is part of Team Canada Dance, and has been placed on three teams that will be competing. The competition is held by the International Dance Organization (IDO), a world dance and dance-sport federation with a membership of over 90 nations, representing more than 250,000 dancers from six continents.

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The 19-year-old has been dancing since the age of two, and she both competes and teaches dance. Autumn saw a notice about auditions for this world-level competition, and one of her dance teachers encouraged her to try it out. In October of last year, she travelled to Surrey, B.C., to audition for Team Canada Dance for their jazz and modern dance groups.

Autumn found the level of competition for a spot on the teams was really high, and for the solo dancers, only a few were chosen.

“Everyone was super good, even the little kids,” she said, noting some 75 dancers tried out to compete as a solo dancer, but in the end only two were chosen because the dancers were so good, it was impossible to choose between them.

She was called back for a second audition in February of this year, as she was accepted, but the directors wanted to determine what placement to give her.

Autumn will be performing with a large jazz group of 22 dancers, a large modern group and a smaller modern group of around seven dancers, in the adult division.

She is the only Saskatchewan-based dancer on these groups, with most of the dancers coming from the Surrey-Vancouver area, along with a number of dancers coming from Alberta, including a tap team and a hip hop team.

Autumn had to fly out to Surrey to practice with her team almost every weekend in November leading up to their departure time from Surrey.

“I’m a little bit scared, because the dances are a lot different from what I’m used to, and the choreography is different. It’s a kind of a cultural difference for me,” said Autumn, adding she enjoys having a different choreography style to learn, as her future plans are to be a choreographer.

Autumn has competed as a dancer at many competitions over the years, but she has never taken part in such a large international one before.

The competition will use an elimination format to start with, and if a team doesn’t make the cut in their opening performance, then they are done, with 50 moving on to the second round, then 25, and finally six in the championship round.

“Canada has made the final round in the last couple of years,” said Autumn, who is hopeful that being on three teams will mean she has a good chance of moving on beyond the initial round.

This will make that initial round very tough and very closely watched, she said, as they will focus on the dancers technique, and how together they are as a group. They will even have overhead cameras above the stage so the judges can see if the formations are straight, and how well the group moves together.

For the latter stages of the competition, the judges will move up close to the stage so they can watch the performances up close.

Autumn had to raise about $4,000 to cover all travel (air and ground) hotels, rehearsals and competition fees, with costumes and choreography fees over and above that. One of the reasons she had to do this is that there is no support of dancers as competitors as there is for Olympic (or other world championships) athletes who represent Canada, as this country does not recognize dance as a sporting event.

This is despite the fact dancers train up to seven times a week, are as flexible as any gymnast, as graceful as any figure skater and as dedicated as any Olympic athlete.

Autumn practiced on her own time, and due to the distance from her team, they had long seven and eight-hour practices when they were able to be together. This also added to the expense for Autumn, as she had to fly out to Surrey to make team practices.

The team flew out from Surrey first to Seattle, then to the Netherlands, to Paris, and finally to Warsaw, as the competition is being held just outside of that city.

Autumn is accompanied by most of her family, and after the competition, the family and some of the dancers were going to do some sightseeing, including a visit to Auschwitz and a few other places before coming back to Canada.

Asked to talk about her love of dance, Autumn said, “I feel the ability to express emotional things that you can’t always say. Also I love the athleticism with it, and the community of dancers. I feel us dancers … we get each other.” She added that she loves doing choreography and putting together the forms of dances.