I just returned from my daughter’s dance recital. She has been taking lessons from a dance academy here in town for the past year and with spring comes the year-end recital. And what a recital it was. About 450 hundred dancers doing some 40 dances (I lost count) over the course of four hours.

Since this is a small town with a population of only 11,000, that many dancers represents about 4% of the total population. Add at least one parent per dancer and that’s 8% of the town’s population involved in a single event. Pretty heady numbers for us.

But what really blew me away was the quality of the dancing. The dances were mainly ballet, tap and jazz, with a healthy number of Ukrainian dancers and three troupes of hip-hop bouncers. The choreography was terrific, the energy palpable and the sweat was flying. Unbelievable enthusiasm from both dancers and parents.

But here’s an interesting note. This town is not near any place you would associate with this level of enthusiasm for an art form generally regarded as (point nose upwards here) cultural elitism. Touring dance troupes would never book any performances here, concerts always happen in nearby, larger cities and the kind of culture normally associated with this part of the world does not include ballet slippers.

Here in central Alberta, the population is conservatively religious, politically conservative and rigidly political. Our local politicians have been from conservative parties for the last century or so, there are churches everywhere you go and if people want to see an art gallery, or a renowned museum, or take in an opera, this is simply not the town.

Yet there is an island of real culture here, amidst the twin economic pulls of ranching and oil exploration. And it’s a testament to what is possible when children and young people are allowed to choose how to express themselves when adults give them free rein. Not all kids want desperately to belong to the best sports teams, or the coolest gangs. Not when almost one tenth of the population cares enough to dress up and spend the evening watching young people pour their hearts out for an art form that gets little respect from most of the rest of the population.

It’s great to see what can thrive if we just give our kids a hand and some encouragement. Who knows, perhaps the next great ballerina to perform in the Kennedy Centre or on the London stage may just come from our small town.

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