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Dancing and drawing up a storm in Huntsville

Community Living Huntsville’s Manager of Community Development, Andrea Johnston, joined Studio K radio host Jo Jordan on November 12th, 2017 for an interview regarding her organization’s inclusive arts programs (click here to listen to the interview).

The association holds Celebrating Inclusion events at its 99 West Road location twice a month.

“We’re very lucky to have a community that embraces those values,” Johnston explained of Huntsville.

A highlight of the programs is the All Abilities Dance Troupe. Open to people 13 years of age and up, the troupe has seen great success in its five years of operation.

When Johnston first got the idea for the group after seeing a similar performance at the Algonquin Theatre, she expected eight to 10 people to join, at most.

Today, in its fourth season, the dance troupe has almost 30 participants.

“It’s well exceeded my wildest dreams,” she stated.

Their work is getting noticed too—they’ve performed at the Business Improvement Area’s Midnight Madness, their local YMCA, at Huntsville’s Got Talent, twice at Nuit Blanche North, and many local sidewalk sales and celebrations.

With dance instruction and choreography by local teacher Tasha Bryant, the group rehearses together once a month, and shares moves and steps with one another to practice in between.

“The end goal is to shift people’s perception of disability,” Johnston mused, “because maybe people hadn’t seen people with visible disabilities performing in art dance like we do.”

On days where they get together, they don’t just get down—they get emotional.

“Sometimes people might have difficulty expressing their feelings or emotions with words,” Johnston said, “so having this opportunity to dance in this trusted, safe space, we’ve all built these beautiful relationships and we really care about each other in that group.”

“We celebrate when somebody might be achieving milestones in their lives, but we’re also there to embrace each other when, maybe, people are having some trying times. I think dance is the mode or method that we all express ourselves with.”

Community Living Huntsville also supports a Visual Arts Group out of a community room it rents from Independent Grocer. It, too, is for people of all abilities—experienced artists or not.

“There’s now a waitlist to participate in that group, so that’s amazing…” Johnston described. “Engaging in the arts can be costly, and so it was really important to us that we were being very conscious about having no physical barriers to participate in these groups.”

To that end, Community Living Huntsville uses funding from sources like the Muskoka Community Foundation’s Canada 150 Fund and the Pay It Forward Fund of Muskoka to cover its costs and ensure participants don’t have to pay anything to join these programs.

Other initiatives discussed during the interview included Community Living Huntsville’s Yarnbombing group, which covers storefronts and communities with knitting, and its annual Nine and Dine golf tournament.

Johnson loves seeing “people coming together for those mutual interests.”

The organization will be holding a holiday drop-in on December 7th from 1 to 3 p.m., featuring Christmas carolling and other activities.

To find out more about any of these initiatives, check out Community Living Huntsville’s website and their Facebook page, as well as the pages for People for Inclusive Communities and Creative Community Muskoka.

Daniel Share-Strom, Community Living Ontario

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