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Aboriginal dance school to take stage in South Korea

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When Buffy Handel created the Aboriginal School of Dance, she envisioned that one day her dancers would travel the world.

That day is now at hand, as Handel prepares to take to a stage in Anseong, South Korea along with five other ASD instructors and students.

In addition to their school, the dancers will represent Winnipeg’s Folklorama festival at the prestigious 2012 World Folkloriada to be held Oct. 1 to 14 by the International Council of Organizations of Folklore Festivals and Folk Arts.

"We’re extremely excited," says Buffy Handel, the award-winning dancer and choreographer who founded ASD in 2008. "We’re absolutely honoured to have the opportunity to represent our nation and show the world what we do."

The school — which draw students from across the city including West Kildonan, Garden City, the North End, St. James, St. Vital, Charleswood and Maples — has a reputation for giving a modern edge to traditional aboriginal styles of song, dance, and storytelling. Contemporary and theatrical storylines are merged into traditional aboriginal dancing to give the school its distinct style.

Aboriginal history and culture are still showcased, says Handel, "but also I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with being innovative (in) how we express that — there’s a balance between the two, and that’s something we’re very well known for."

Handel, who lives in Windsor Park, says her school also strives to break down stereotypes. As she puts it, "the general public here in Manitoba, when they hear Aboriginal School of Dance, they automatically assume it’s only for First Nations people. We actually have a wide range of instructors and a wide range of students so we don’t close the doors to any ethnicity."

The group stages clinics and has performed at festivals, conferences, universities and schools in the U.S. and Canada.

South Korea will be the school’s first overseas performance — an accomplishment Handel says her members can be justifiably proud of.

"Doing something on another continent speaks volumes in our eyes as performers," she says, listing Bella Flett, Tanya Handel, Kimble Chartrand, Josh Letander and Lewis St. Cyr as the other ASD members making the trip.

 Handel points out that "it’s only through the hard work of so many people within the organization, including the dancers, choreographers, and other volunteers that we are able to participate in a festival as significant as the World Folkloriada."

Students of the school wowed dozens of sold-out crowds during this year’s Folklorama festival, as part of the new Indigenous Mardi Gras Pavilion.

It was Folklorama officials who brought Handel’s school to the attention of CIOFF’s Canadian branch, the group responsible for picking ASD to participate in 2012 World Folkloriada.

"We are absolutely thrilled," says Debra Zoerb, Folklorama’s executive director. "This is the first time that the Canadian body has chosen a group from Manitoba to represent Canada over there."

 Handel is thankful to have the backing of Folklorama, which she says "has been a tremendous support to the growth of the Aboriginal School of Dance… They very much contribute to our dream."

The school is located at 660 Osborne St. A second studio was opened this past February in Portage la Prairie.

According to Handel, the group’s evolution certainly isn’t going to stop there.

"We want to grow to the capacity of having a dance studio in every single province in Canada," she says, adding that the school is in the process of being registered in Saskatchewan and Ontario. "We see the demand, and the need."

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