(* Note to B.C. employers: learn how to receive a 100% subsidy for WIL Digital students at the end of this profile.)

If not for COVID-19, West Kootenay-based SQx Dance Company would still be doing what’s it’s been doing since 2012: crisscrossing Western Canada with a troupe of diverse artists, putting on live dance performances that promote kinship, collaboration, and teamwork.

“Our work targets vulnerable populations,” says the not-for-profit’s Executive Director and Choreographer Carmen Moreira.

This means that SQx’s 15 artists, like the audiences the perform for, are made up of people from vulnerable populations: Indigenous, racialized, rural and remote communities, people with disabilities, LGBTQIA2S+, and newcomers to Canada.

But two years ago, when the pandemic shutdown public events, SQx needed to find a way forward. The obvious answer was to create virtual performances and programs. For that, SQx needed a new skill set, so it turned to ICTC’s WIL Digital.

“We now have two students through the WIL program. Kéïta [Fournier-Pelletier] is a queer Metis Franco-Manitoban artist from Winnipeg. The other student is Sydney [Ewert], who is from a small town in Nova Scotia and is currently studying dance at York University in Toronto,” Carmen says.

Sydney Ewert

The technical work Kéïta and Sydney do for SQx includes developing promotional and marketing materials, blogs, and vision impact snapshots; online evaluation tools and online surveys; using Zoom to collaborate with other artists in developing choreography for new digital performances; creating a new digital performance and teaching platform for dance; and forming new databases to identify and align vulnerable participant communities with online registrations.

ICTC WIL funding allows SQx to provide all the work Kéïta can take on while continuing their studies. WIL also allows SQx to plan for retaining Kéïta when they are done their education.

“What I like about ICTC WIL Digital funding, as opposed other funding providers, is that it’s less paperwork, and it’s realistically flexibility.” Carmen says.

As an example, Sydney sometimes has a heavy school load and is only able to work a few hours for SQx. Other times, like during the holiday season, she has more time to work. WIL Digital can accommodate that.

Kéïta, on the other hand, still has a few years of studies ahead of them, and SQx will potentially need to renew their WIL Digital contract several times. Again, this is not an issue with ICTC’s WIL Digital.

Irrespective of the pandemic, Carmen recognizes that online performances are probably here to stay, so in 2022, SQx will work towards a hybrid model of delivering both live and online performances.

A hybrid model also presents an opportunity to lighten the dance company’s environmental footprint. Pre-COVID, no one in SQx thought twice about piling into the company’s three massive Toyota Sequoias and driving to Yellowknife, across the Prairies to Manitoba, or to Vancouver to present dance. But that racked up about 50,000 km per year on each SUV—hardly ideal from a carbon emissions perspective.

“We want to align our organization with Canada’s sustainability and ecological targets, but we also want to provide an excellent, meaningful, and transformative artistic experience for communities,” Carmen says. “So we’re educating our audience that online performances can have quality and value.”

The blunt reality is that the proliferation of online art during COVID shutdowns led to some… well, pretty bad presentations. Quality is paramount for Carmen. SQx’s online performances and inclusive programming need to retain the same powerful unique audience experience for disrupting discrimination, intolerance, racism, and hate as its live performances.

This is also why SQx works with top shelf composers like Miles Jones (of CBC’s Kim’s Convenience) and Anushka Chkheidze from Tbilisi in the Republic of Georgia.

SQx’s important mandate has been bearing fruit for close to a decade now. Its digital transformation is also making important strides. Just since November 2020, its Active Inclusion Program (a three-year youth-focused program created to disrupt discrimination, intolerance, hate, and racism as a method for increasing awareness about Canada’s cultural diversity and the issues that face underrepresented populations from fully participating in society) has already reached more than 10,000 youth.

“I didn’t want just art for art’s sake,” Carmen says of her motivation for starting SQx. “I wanted to make our communities better and to deepen the social fabric of our society through arts and culture.”

Check out the trailer for a new SQx Dance Company digital performance.

ICTC’s WIL Digital website is here.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Employers registered and operating in British Columbia may be eligible to receive both the standard WIL Digital wage subsidy of 75%, up to a maximum of $7,500, plus an additional 25% top-up wage subsidy, up to a maximum of $2,500. Through ICTC’s WIL Digital partnership with the Innovator Skills Initiative, the combined wage subsidies offered to approved B.C. employers covers 100% of the student’s wage, up to a maximum of $10,000. See details here.

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