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‘We can dance if we want to’ at community Safety Dance

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
The Safety Dance gained a whole new meaning Sunday as community members moved to the 1980s music from Men Without Hats on the sprawling grounds of Macaulay Heritage Park.

The event was hosted by the Department of Illumination – known for its unique annual events, such as the Firelight Lantern Festival, the Scarecrow Festival and Ice Box.

The public was encouraged to bring members of their COVID-19 bubble to carefully measured people-sized circles allowing everyone to dance, move and safely strut their stuff, all while physically distancing. The afternoon was limited to 50 people allowed for a monitored gathering.

Enthusiastic and energetic choreographer Arwyn Carpenter began slowly with a warm-up of claps and stomps, air hugs, punches and counting steps, but also noted the importance of connecting with the ground as Carpenter said it was important to acknowledge the earth.

Sarah Moran joyfully facing Arwyn Carpenter

She carefully and patiently went through a sequence of simple dance steps and moves, including one she referred to as a ‘bendy’ move, culminating in the full routine to Men Without Hats’ Safety Dance.

During the hour-long event, participants reached and stretched, bended and twisted, all within the confines of their circle, but most importantly, the idea was to have fun.

Men Without Hats is a Canadian new wave group popular in the 1980s. Lyrics to The Safety Dance open with:
“We can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind
‘Cause your friends don’t dance
And if they don’t dance
Well they’re no friends of mine”

“It’s amazing,” said Carpenter during the warm-up routine, “I didn’t think this could be this great.”

While comfortable clothing was recommended for the dance, brightly-coloured safety wear, preferably in neon orange, such as helmets, vests and masks were encouraged to keep the mood light and fun.

While the cost to participate was $10, under the organization’s mandate, no one would be turned away for financial reasons.

The event concluded with a warm-down and a ‘thank-you’ where Carpenter asked everyone to face toward the centre of the group.

“This is another dance to acknowledge each other, acknowledge the energy that we have shared today, the community that we created.”

The final dance came with a hauntingly beautiful version of Amazing Grace by an Indigenous flute player.

This is the first event the Department of Illumination Artistic Company has held in six months.

“I thought it was really beautiful and joy-inducing, which was our goal, and just the ability to come together in a safe way,” said Krista Dalby, Artistic Director with The Department of Illumination.

“It’s very beautiful just to see people gather; there are people I know and lots of people I don’t know, which is awesome.”

She said suggesting people wear safety equipment helped everyone have a sense of humour about the whole COVID-19 pandemic.

“I love dressing-up in costume, so any excuse to do so, although for some people, this is actually their uniform: for me, it’s a costume, but it helps add some levity to the event as well. I feel very happy and it was successful.”

While the organization’s main events occur in the fall, they have been modified this year to accommodate COVID-19 safety protocols and for the safety of the community and volunteers.

Krista Dalby

The traditional Scarecrow Festival, the 10th annual, which falls on the Thanksgiving weekend, will go ahead this year, but it will be much different.

People will have to book a half-hour slot for the modified ‘Scarecrow-to-Go’ event.

“You have a half hour which isn’t really enough time to build the scarecrow, but it’s enough for you to come, get all your stuff, get instructions, get it started, and then we’ll give you a bag to take everything home and you can complete it at home,” explains Dalby. “That’s the only way we figured we could carry on and keep it safe for everybody.”

The Firelight Lantern Festival, while cancelled in its usual format, will still feature a number of events, including free lantern-making kits.

“We are going to record some lantern-making tutorials because normally we would be hosting 20 workshops across the County.”

The plan is to have a community lantern gallery in the window of Books and Company.

“People can drop-off their lantern on the appointed day,” says Dalby. “We are going to display them all for one week before the festival and people can win prizes.”

There will also be a great lantern hunt where merchants will display lanterns in their windows.

“It will be a contest and if you can find all the lanterns, you can win a prize.”

“Although it’s not the same as gathering 800 people and parading down the street, there are some real world components. On the festival night, we do have some special performances and some other surprises coming.”

Dalby notes that these events will be 100 per cent free of charge this year and hopes people will take advantage of that.

“We still feel it’s important to keep up our traditions and to keep hopeful that things are going to come back,” she says. “We can’t just let things go, so we are going to try and continue doing things in whatever way we can.”

The Safety Dance returns to Macaulay Heritage Park again next Sunday (Sept. 27) at 2pm, where pre-registration is mandatory (about 25 tickets remain). For details, visit deptofillumination.org.

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