New Luminato event brings hundreds of local dancers to Nathan Phillips Square

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New Luminato event brings hundreds of local dancers to Nathan Phillips Square

A dance lover, a woman dealing with grief, and a 92-year-old ballerina are just a handful of the stars in a feel good show that will feature hundreds of local dancers in performances at Nathan Phillips Square for this year's Luminato Festival.

The project, titled Le Grand Continental, has brought together 210 non-professional dancers from across the Greater Toronto Area to train for a 30-minute show each night of Luminato, with the debut on Friday evening. Fourteen professional dancers are helping teach the choreography.

"For me the project is a homage to social dancing so it's really about simply enjoying dancing and different styles of music," said choreographer Sylvain Emard.

"It's really emotional for me to watch all the people really dancing together," said Emard at a rehearsal ahead of the show's debut.

There will be three more performances Saturday and Sunday.

Ahead of Friday night's show, some of the dancers told their stories to CBC Toronto.

Mina Alberga​ 

Three months ago, Mina Alberga's life was dark.

"I was in a very low period in my life. I had lost my job of 23 years, unexpectedly lost my mom and feeling disconnected…very alone," Alberga told CBC Toronto.

After scrolling through Facebook, she saw an ad looking for dance enthusiasts, and that's when things started to change.

"Music and dance have always brought me joy and I could hear my mom whispering, 'Go for it, audition, try it out,'" she said.

Fast forward three months and she has "indeed found joy," Alberga says.

"There was a spark in me that had dimmed and coming to rehearsal ... just hearing the music focusing on the steps [and] just slowly my spark is coming alive again."

Alberga said she knows the moment she puts on the "sparkly dress her mom made for her" on show night, the spark will be back.

Dorothy Gordon

At 92, Dorothy Gordon is Le Grand Continental's oldest performer.

"I take ballet twice a week, free classes at the Sony Centre, and they emailed me and told me I should audition for Luminato," said Gordon.

"I went and auditioned and I got in and here I am."

Gordon says she has been dancing since she was 24 — around 68 years.

"I haven't stopped because I love it."

Gordon said the 30-minute routine has been one of the hardest she's ever done, but commends the team of dancers and choreographers around her for making it fun.

"I just like moving to music. It used to embarrass my granddaughters when they were little because music would come on [and I'd start to dance]," she said as she displayed some of her dance moves.

"I'm not just normal, I'm a little crazy… Crazy is good."

Melissa Chance

Melissa Chance says dance is like food and water — if she couldn't dance, she would die.

"It's a lifelong joy of mine to dance," she said during a rehearsal on Wednesday.

Le Grand Continental will be Chance's third community dance project, and the third family she has gained in the process.

"In my experience in dance projects, you meet strangers and they become like family," she said.

"Dance is being who you are and being vulnerable and taking risks and that's what we need more in this world to come together as people."

Mae Schiel, Violet Chee, and Chione Redhead

Mae Schiel, 12, stands out at dance rehearsals in a bright green jumpsuit, but she isn't the only one wearing the bold ensemble.

Violet Chee, 11, and Chione Redhead, nine, are wearing the same thing.

Despite the matching outfits, the girls are relatively new to one another, having only met three months ago.

"We were doing the auditions and then I saw (Violet) and we just smiled at each other and it was really weird," explained Redhead.

"Then I met Mae then we just kept smiling at each other…then we said hi and now here we are."

"Here together," chimed in Chee, locking her friends in a hug.

Chee, Redhead and Schiel are the three youngest dancers in the group, and all agree the routine is "very hard," but a lot of fun.