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  • Writer's pictureAdela Cleverley

New Beginnings: Earthsteps 2022

In July 2022, the Owen Sound Dance Academy ran our first ever Earthsteps Environmental Dance Camp: an immersive summer camp for ages 9-12 which blended environmental education, discussion, and community action with an introduction to contemporary dance creation and performance.

It shouldn't be news to anyone that our Earth has been struggling for a long time under increasing exploitation of natural resources, capital-colonialism, and the fervent disregard those in power hold for the natural world that sustains us. But especially in the past few years as Canada has witnessed the effects of climate change in real time, with wildfires, floods, melting ice caps, and severe storms. We're used to snow days at the Academy, but did I ever think I'd have to cancel classes for tornado warnings? Never! But in the past few summers this part of Ontario has become a new tornado alley, giving us stronger reminders every year that climate change is going to change the rest of our lives, and the longer we go without stopping it, the worse it will be for our kids and their kids in the generations to come.

Ever since I began paying more attention to the environmental justice movement, I have been looking for ways to bring climate change and environmental justice awareness into the Academy, and using dance as a way to spread this essential education into the community from there. This year, our new youth contemporary dance company Wildflower Dance Arts had the opportunity of creating and presenting a climate change-focused piece at Earth Day Grey Bruce in April, and I realized that there is so much more that can be done when you combine activist education with the arts. And so Earthsteps was born.

Earthsteps Environmental Dance Camp 2022 was an experiment, and a learning experience for everyone including myself. I have witnessed through my time teaching (in elementary schools as well as at the Academy) how passionate younger generations are about the environment, the anger they feel for what older generations have done to destroy the world they have to grow up in, and the power of collective action from young activists speaking up all over the world. I wondered what would happen if I gave a group of kids - dancers and nature-lovers alike - some resources, education, and tools, and an environment where discussion is encouraged and all questions and ideas are valid. Would they learn something from it? Would they care? Would they carry it forward?

I suppose I should not have been surprised by the response. We had a small group of just 6 kids this year, but between them they had enough passion, questions, ideas, and heartfelt discussions to fill a school. We had dedicated reading a discussion periods each day, but the kids were starting important conversations without prompting too - a full inquiry into food waste and sustainable lifestyle at lunch; elaborate plans of how to eliminate littering during one of our daily walks; announcements of starting immediate climate change initiatives and future environmental protection plans. If you give kids a space to learn and a platform to speak, they will want to save the world.

For this camp, we asked families to drop off their dancers at a different park each morning, to start the day with an outdoor dance class of Isadora Duncan-inspired contemporary technique, connecting with our breath, our surroundings, and each other, followed by some creative movement and improv games. Then, our guest teacher Katie taught us hoop dancing!

After morning movement classes, we divided into teams to pick up litter around the park and on the walk back to the studio. The kids were amazed at how full their buckets got every day, and at all of the bizarre things that people choose to throw on the ground instead of in a garbage can! To share our discoveries and help people rethink their mindset on littering, we then turned our trash into mosaics to be displayed at our performance at the end of the week. Of course we found far too much garbage to be able to use it all for our art, so the rest we sorted into garbage and recycling to be picked up by the city's waste management.

(Don't mind their disgusted faces in the litter collection photos! That's just how we feel about the idea of caring so little for nature that you throw your trash on the ground without a thought!)

Arriving at the studio after such a busy morning, we had our morning snack and tallied our sustainable meal challenge for the day. Which prompted a lot of organic conversation in itself (pun intended): what makes a meal sustainable? Why does processed food use so much plastic packaging? Why isn't all food organic? What do pesticides and herbicides in food do to the environment and to our bodies? Why is eating less meat and more local produce more sustainable for the earth? What does sustainable agriculture look like? Luckily, we had books from our local library to answer these questions and more. All of the dancers improved their sustainable meal habits throughout the week and it was a tight race for the prize by the end!

The rest of each day was spent learning and creating: reading and sharing new discoveries, writing big questions and big ideas in our nature journals, learning about environmental activism and climate action projects around the world, working on some meaningful dance pieces for our performance, and creating upcycled crafts!

We learned about our families' carbon footprints and what actions we can take to reduce them, but also that the real problems are corporations and governments, and that's why activists work to change the minds of those in power to try to move them into a sustainable future. We brought in discarded clothing and magazines to make rag rugs and recycled bead bracelets, and on our Kelso Beach day we made wildflower seed bombs to throw in bare patches of earth to make better environments for bees and butterflies.

At the end of the week, we set up a display of all of our crafts, trash mosaics, and journals to share with the dancers' families, along with our performance of three environmentally focused contemporary dance pieces. Our younger dancers performed a quartet about people who spend their time immersed in nature, while our older two dancers performed a duet about the feeling of being stuck in routines and lifestyles and societal structures that are actively harming the planet. Finally, the whole group performed a piece about the awe and wonder of the natural world and how much you are missing when you ignore it and spend all of your time in buildings, cars, and concrete cities. How much you will miss out on forever as the environment continues to collapse.

We had an incredible week of learning and growth, creativity and community action with this smart and passionate group of kids, and we can't wait to bring more Earthsteps dance camps to the community next summer, and every year moving forward. Please enjoy a video compilation of our week followed by some testimonials from families involved in this year's camp!

➡️ If you are a parent interesting in having your child participate in Earthsteps next year, please keep an eye on our website and social media for registration coming out in March/April 2023.

➡️ If you are a local environmental activist or educator who would like to get involved in our future camps, feel free to send us an email sharing your ideas at


"She came home smiling and dancing every day with lots of ideas and questions about making the world a better place. The dance performance at the end was a beautiful embodiment of learning and growth, ideas and emotions." ~ Amber, parent

"I'm very grateful for the Earthsteps camp as it has certainly been a bit of a refresher for our family in reconsidering our purchases. I feel that my daughter was inspired in a new way to reexamine how we look at our lifestyle environmentally, and it has opened up the conversations about life choices with the earth in mind... There are so many vital lessons to share with our littles and I feel in a very beautiful way the class you gave them helped to tick a big box - the care for the earth one!" ~ Sharon, parent

"The final dance was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. I cried in the studio." ~ Ryan, Parent

"I loved it! The best part was dancing outside." ~ Aislin, dancer

"I think the people at the grocery store saw us picking up garbage at my dance camp and it gave them the idea to change the plastic clips for cardboard ones!"

~ Nadia, dancer

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