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Searles dances in South Africa

Tillsonburg dancer Emma Searles has competed on the world stage in Poland and Germany, and this week she is at the Sun City Resort dancing at The Commonwealth Cup Dance Championships.

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Held every two years, dancers from all Commonwealth nations – 55 in total including Canada – were invited to compete July 16-20, 2019.


The host team, said Searles, was expected to be one of the dominant nations.

“I’m a little nervous,” she admitted two days before leaving for South Africa on the 11th. “They were saying at the studio that this competition for them in South Africa is just like what a normal studio competition here is for us.”

The Canadian team, consisting of about 50 dancers, would be outnumbered by a large margin.

“South Africa, they could have like 1,000. So that’s a little nerve-racking, but it’s all worth it in the end. I’m excited, it’ll be fun.”

Searles had been asked by Team Canada Dance to try out for the 2017 Commonwealth Cup, but it was a last-minute request. She didn’t have time to raise funds and declined. When they called Searles again in 2019, she gladly accepted the audition invitation.

Again, she didn’t have a lot of time to gather sponsors, but several local businesses, groups and individuals were very generous in their support.

“I want to say thank you to all my sponsors, for sure,” she smiled.

Her major sponsors included the Max Partlo Memorial Fund (Derek Partlo), McClay’s Transportation, the Tillsonburg Rotary Club, Jim Battin, and Dr. Sawhney (Smiles By Design), Chris Kyriakopoulos and the Bailey Family. She was also grateful for the support from many other businesses, family members and friends who helped make the trip possible.

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The main incentive, she said looking ahead to South Africa, was to gain experience.

“It’s another experience, and more memories. Moving away, going to school, ‘adulting’, it’s very different, very hard to find those family moments. To look back and say ‘I danced in South Africa,’ you can’t do that every day. And I’ll be representing Canada… Tillsonburg and Oxford County and Ontario…

everything and all of the above.”

So it’s partly to see South Africa, partly to compete again on the international stage, and partly to meet new people.

“A little bit of all of them. I have a long travel bucket list, and South Africa is on it. But it was also nice that it’s the Commonwealth Cup and it’s a little bit different (from Worlds),” said Searles, who has competed at three IDO World Championships in Poland and Germany, the last one in 2015. “It’s just the Commonwealth countries, so it’s Britain, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand… And before, I’d be going (to Worlds) for jazz or tap, whereas this is everything.”

Commonwealth dancers are competing this week in ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, modern/contemporary, showdance, hip hop, breakdance, electric boogie, disco, bollywood and new this year, acro.

“I do everything, but contemp and ballet and all that, that’s my favourite.”

With enough time to prepare she could have prepared solos to compete in any of the divisions. With only a short time left before competing, she chose jazz, modern and contemporary – seven routines (three solos, three groups and a duet) in total.

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Tillsonburg’s Emma Searles was still 12, by a few days, when she competed in the World Jazz and Modern Dance Championships in Frankfurt, Germany, Oct. 2-8, 2012. She brought back three medals – gold, silver and bronze. (Chris Abbott/File photo) jpg, TN

“Usually, with World Championships, you would train for months and months, and then go. For this one I trained for a week straight, then go on Thursday (July 11). It was kind of nice because it’s not taking up all of my summer, all of my school. So I kind of like it better this way.”

It was a crash course learning her routines – she had one week to learn seven, dancing from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. every day in Vaughan.

“You’re drilling it every day… it’s a habit, you get used to it. It becomes muscle memory. Usually what we do is we’ll learn a dance, then leave it. Then learn the next one and leave it. Learn the next one and leave it. And then three days after learning the first three dances we’ll come back to it, fix it, clean it, make it look good. Then go on to the next one. The last two or three days we just run everything over and over and over again.”

In her Team Canada modern/contemporary group of 10, the majority of the dancers have 4-5 routines.

“We all have three groups, quite a few of us have a duet, and most of us are taking a solo.”

Other Team Canada groups, like showdance, have established teams that had more time to prepare. Searles helped teach/assist the Canadian showdance team for Prague last September. And the Canadian tap team competed at Worlds last November.

Searles, 19, is the oldest in her group, which ranges in age from 12-19.

“I like my group because it’s very versatile.”

It won’t be all dance in South Africa, however. Searles plans to see some of South Africa on the trip. And Paris on her return trip when they have a lengthy layover.

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“I plan to go on an African Safari while I’m there. And one of the world’s fastest zip lines is there. So those are the two things I want to do. I pretty much only dance the first two days and I teach the last day… so I have some time off.”

Searles, who this past season danced on a very competitive Ryerson University team (DancePak) in Toronto, finished her first year of university in the child and youth care program. She has switched into Ryerson’s four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts performance dance program beginning in the fall.

“It’s dance classes, plus a little bit of kinesiology – anatomy, how the body is and how it moves, history.”

She also taught at a dance studio in Burlington, using GO transit for the one-hour commute.

“I didn’t mind the commute.”

A lifetime dancer, Searles’ time at Elite Dance Centre in Woodstock, which has moved to Bysham Park Drive, ended in 2018 when she left for Ryerson. It was the same studio she had joined at the age of three.

“It was very, very emotional. It was hard, too, because it was our largest group of seniors that left the studio. It wasn’t just two or three, it was something like 10 of us. It was very emotional, very sad.

“I was there every day, that’s my home. And not just a dancer, I was a teacher too. Even when I was in school I’d come back to take a class or just pop my head in. I got to see all the littles and they got to see me.”

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