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Long-running Surrey festival dances online for a month after ‘difficult’ December decision

In ‘normal’ year, event welcomes several thousand dancers to Surrey Arts Centre, but not in 2022
Port Moody’s Caulfield school dancers perform “Fireball” during Surrey Festival of Dance in 2017, at Surrey Arts Centre. This year’s festival is a virtual one for competitors. (File photo: Gord Goble)

The long-running Surrey Festival of Dance sprang to life again Wednesday (March 30) in a virtual setting, not in-person at Surrey Arts Centre.

The pandemic has again pushed the festival online for the next month, after organizers were forced to make “a difficult decision” to go that route back in December, when COVID restrictions were tighter, the future unknown.

“At the end of January, everything was starting to change and open up, but it was too late for us to turn around and change it,” explained Carol Girardi, a longtime organizer of the festival. “Some of the videos were starting to come in already.”

This spring, for the festival’s 56th year, dancers submitted video of their routines for adjudicators to watch in a closed-door virtual world, with no public viewing.

“We’ll be going live next year, pandemic willing,” Girardi added.

Launched in 1966, the dance festival celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016 as one of North America’s largest such gatherings.

In a “normal” year the event welcomes several thousand dancers to Surrey Arts Centre, a venue for tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop and other styles of dance.

“The numbers are down slightly this year because of the pandemic, and some major studios have closed their doors, too,” Girardi said. “And the students would rather perform on stage, not in a virtual setting, no question.”

Virtual or not, the festival means a lot of work for the volunteers who make it all happen.

“The kids get the opportunity to perform – that’s the main thing,” Girardi emphasized. “They log in and get to see the videos and the adjudication results, and there are master classes as well, with the kids learning routines. We’re there for the kids because they are our future, they really are.”

As always, scholarships and trophies will be awarded – close to $60,000 this year, Girardi said.

“You know, we’ve given out $1.5 million over the last 10 years, in scholarships and prizes,” she noted. “They pay an entry fee to participate, and after theatre costs, everything that’s left over from that year goes back into scholarships the following year. We get donated scholarships and sponsors that help, of course.”

In February, Surrey Festival of Dance was named among 62 Surrey Cultural Grants program recipients, for $15,000 in operating costs. For 2022, Surrey city council approved nearly $500,000 in new grants for local arts organizations crippled by the pandemic.

• RELATED STORY: Surrey’s cultural grants save arts groups from ‘dire fiscal situation’ due to COVID.

Later this month, South Surrey’s XBa School of Dance will return to Surrey Arts Centre on Friday, April 29 with “I Can Hear Your Voice,” celebrating International Dance Day 2022. The 7 p.m. show will feature an eclectic mix of performances by XBa dancers, The Wee Drams Highland dance company, Macedonia folk dance group, a solo dance by Ishan Sekhon and also Nrityanjali Dance Academy.

The April 29 event will be directed by Nela H and choreographed by Amadea Hallwas, with visuals and film by Lyn Verra-Lay and Helmut Gruntorad. For tickets ($33), visit or call 604-501-5566.

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Tom Zillich

About the Author: Tom Zillich

I cover entertainment, sports and news stories for the Surrey Now-Leader, where I've worked for more than half of my 30-plus years in the newspaper business.
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