Bermudian offers global opportunity for local dancers
If you dance, Vanessa Thomas is offering what could be the key to a professional career.
In January she is bringing the Global Dance Open to Bermuda. The competition, in its third year, is open to anyone between the ages of 6 and 30.
The top five finalists will be invited to Seville, Spain next summer where they will compete before an international panel of judges against dancers from around the world. Last year GDO awarded $300,000 in dance intensives and university scholarships, as well as cash prizes for the winners.
“I am quite passionate about dance, creating opportunities and new experiences for dancers and that is the main reason for starting Global Dance Open,” said Ms Thomas, who runs the programme with her two daughters, Annika and Nicola, and is “fortunate to be supported and assisted by our volunteers”.
Now a resident of Portugal, she often returns to see her family in Bermuda and began talking with dance companies while here over the summer.
“Dance is very big in Bermuda and I just thought it was an ideal place to do it. There are amazing scholarships and that’s what to me a competition is more about. It’s great for the kids to get the medals but to get opportunities to be able to go to all these workshops, to get the teachers to teach them, that's to me the more important experience.”
The difficulty in Bermuda, where competitions between dance schools have not traditionally been held, is getting people on board.
The Global Dance Open started in 2020.
The idea was to create a virtual competition so dancers would “have a goal to strive for” during the many lockdowns that took place across the globe.
“It was such a huge success and well supported not just by the dancers across the globe but also well known dance institutions who awarded over $200,000 at the finals in scholarships and cash awards,” said GDO founder Vanessa Thomas.
“Last year we expanded the competition to not only have virtual country qualifiers but, as the globe opened up again, a number of live country qualifiers.”
Forty countries and 600 dance schools competed in the qualifying round in the first year. The finals of 2021-22, in Porto, Portugal, involved 750 live and 400 virtual dancers.
GDO has a target of $500,000 in scholarships for 2022-23.
The coming competition will involve 12 “live country qualifiers” as well as virtual entries in ballet, contemporary, jazz, lyrical, showdance, national, musical theatre, tap, hip-hop, street, commercial and acro.
The top five dancers who score more than 70 points qualify for the finals in June 2023 in each age group and category.
“This year we are expecting over 7,500 competitors for the qualifiers and 1,250 at the finals live and 250 virtual,” Ms Thomas said.
“I know I've got a challenge here because I talked to quite a few of the schools and the challenge is it's such a small place and competing against each other, one school may be doing better than another. But Gibraltar is half the population of Bermuda and they thought this was wonderful.
“Some of the schools are really keen and the other ones are a little bit on the sidelines. They're not quite sure because they're a little scared of competing against each other. But the competition is so big in terms of what you can enter. It's different styles, different age groups — there's something for everyone to be involved in, and to win.”
Ms Thomas got her start with the Somerset School of Dancing as one of its first students. Her daughters also took lessons, with Nicola now a qualified IDTA dance teacher and Annika a student at Bird College in London, England.
For ten years Ms Thomas ran a dance school in Portugal.
“I guess it carried on through my kids. I didn't feel the dance schools were that good where we were, so therefore we opened our own,” she said.
“I like to give back and I'd like to open doors for Bermudians. It’s something that I think is important, that they have this experience of competitions. Obviously they have school shows, but that's not quite the same. To have an international panel of judges come in and assess you on stage is quite a different experience.”
The qualifiers next year will take Ms Thomas to North America, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Dubai, Israel, Bermuda and other countries in search of finalists. Video entries can also be submitted.
“Our aim is to try to be as inclusive as possible to dancers across the globe. In Bermuda there’s a wealth of talent. Bermuda does very well in the sports arena. There's no reason for Bermuda dancers not to do well in dance on the global stage.
“If you look at our website, there's a whole list of scholarships and all the different institutions offering scholarships. You will see just how extensive the scholarships are that we gave last year.”
Dancers selected for the finals have to pay their own way to Seville.
“What we found with the smaller countries is that they have plenty of time to fundraise support from the government. Dance has never been put in the same category as sport but it should be. I fight very hard with councils in different countries where the sports budget is huge and the cultural budget is little.
“And really, dance should come under sports more than it should come under culture because dancers, they are athletes. What we're looking to do is to try to get more support for dancers everywhere — to go to these competitions, to help them to get scholarships. It's very important that the world is opened up for dancers, not just for sports people.”
• The Global Dance Open Bermuda qualifier will be held on January 22 at the Earl Cameron Theatre. The qualifier is open to the public. For more information, go to www.globaldanceopen.com