The Calgary Italian Dancers have caught the travel bug and are preparing to showcase their tradition-inspired dances at a cultural festival in Thunder Bay, Ont.
The dance group was formed in 1987 for the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary.
Today, the group has 43 dancers ranging in age from four to 20, three instructors, and three junior instructors.
“We think it’s a fantastic opportunity because Thunder Bay is 40 per cent Italian,” said Carla Mosca, the group’s secretary.
The Culture Days event takes place on the August long weekend, and the dancers are excited that four of their groups will be able to participate on the trip.
“The girls are going to get a very cultural experience this time because they’re very Italian,” Mosca said.
The Calgary group caught wind of the festival while performing in Montreal two years ago with the Thunder Bay Italian dance group.
A relationship was formed, and after meeting with the president and board of the Thunder Bay troupe in Calgary, the two groups were able to come together.
Grace Lupi, the president of the Calgary Italian Dancers, said the two groups are hoping to collaborate on a dance.
“We’re just playing with the idea right now,” she said.
According to one of the instructors – and former dancer – Rosa Petrillo, this isn’t the first time the group has travelled across and outside the country to perform.
In 1998 and 2005, the dancers went back to their cultural roots and performed at festivals around Italy.
In 2012, the dancers were invited to perform at Disney World and Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla. They have also participated in festivals in Alberta, B.C., Nova Scotia, and Quebec.
Trying to put together a trip is no simple task, and the group has already started to prepare.
Mosca said that in addition to the regular practices every Thursday, the instructors have also put out six workshops for the next couple of months.
Decisions need to be made on costumes and props, and the necessary funds need to be raised to send all the girls to the Culture Days festival.
The dancers will be hosting their annual gala fundraiser in March, and this year the theme is the 1940s.
They will also doing smaller fund-raising through Spolumbo’s Fine Foods and Deli and Balzac Meats.
Recently, the dancers purchased their own studio, which Petrillo said is “a big thing.”
“It’s nice having our own dedicated space and a place we can actually have storage.”
Lupi said that they had low registration for their youngest group, and are going to focus on advertising and expanding their dancers next year.
“We don’t want to see this demise after all this work has been put into this,” she said.
The group used to focus more on traditional dances, but has since evolved to incorporate modern dance styles and music to keep the younger dancers interested.
“We start with traditional music and try to find a modern twist to them,” Petrillo said.
The group hopes to continue to do trips like the upcoming one in August, and is proud of what they have been able to achieve over the years.
“We step it up a notch every year, which is very exciting and challenging,” Petrillo said.
“It keeps us all here.”
For Mosca, the satisfaction comes from the dancers performing for the Italian community, especially for the older members.
“It’s just so wonderful to see a little old Italian nonna [grandma] clapping her hands to a song she remembers from the old days,” she said.
“We’re just always so proud of them.”