North York Arts has been working with Ephraim’s Place, a community centre located at Jane and Sheppard, for the past three years to create and establish arts programming for the youth in the area. One program in particular that has seen much success is the dance program where professional dancers are hired to teach the participants. Since the start of the program, the youth involved have created a dance squad called “JNS Finest” and have competed twice at STOMP urban dance competition in Toronto.  

This year, Nina Blanc, who is a professional music and dance artist, is teaching JNS Finest. I had the chance to chat with Nina last month to learn a little bit more about her and her love for the arts.

Tell us a bit about yourself and your passion for music and dance.

My name is Nina and I was born in Nigeria and I came to Canada with my family when I was eight. Of course, I grew up with Nigerian culture – you know, the music, the food, the fashion – but I also experienced Canadian culture. It was a beautiful childhood having Canadian culture and West African culture blending.

Being born in a different place and growing up in Canada influences my art. I started dancing around high school (nothing formal) and then went to university. It was in university where, although we had limited resources, people who otherwise had nothing in common shared a passion for dance and came together. We were all so determined and motivated.

After university, I went to Calgary and that’s where I really fell in love with music. I played piano all my life but I never really considered myself a musician. I didn’t find as many dance opportunities in Calgary as I did in Toronto, and the isolation from my home and everyone I was used to being around pushed me to explore another outlet for my emotions and expression. So, I really think that going through these different phases in my life pushed me to art and music.

How would you describe the dance community in Toronto?

Funny enough people I meet nowadays assume I grew up in the studio training in formal styles like ballet, jazz, etc.  They don’t necessarily realize that Toronto is such a beautifully rich city for dance and, if you have the passion, you can come out with the same skills. The Toronto dance community is so diverse and has so much uniqueness. There are so many choreographers with their own styles – I stick to that and I appreciate that. There are also so many drop-in studios for adults where you can meet amazing people.

How do you think youth can benefit from dance and creative expression?

I think tremendously. It’s an outlet – especially for youth, which is such a vulnerable time. Dance and art can be something that keeps you grounded and motivated, or maybe it’s just a place to find connection. Life is so confusing and you have so much emotion, and when you are a part of something you can create a passion. I work as a registered nurse and now that I understand things better, I wish I was pushed to do more dance and music when I was a young.

What excites you the most about working with the JNS Finest?

It’s so funny – just hearing about the group I got so excited because I was told they are very spunky. You know, I can teach a bunch of steps but they have to bring that energy. I’m here to teach the skeleton, backbone, and structure, but I’m really excited for the attitude, the spunk, and the personality!

Nina has been working with JNS Finest since January and will continue until their STOMP performance in May. She is a dance and music artist specializing in Urban Alternative, AfroFunk, Soul, RnB, and Hip Hop. For more information on Nina and her work visit: www.ninablancmusic.com, @whoisninablanc, and soundcloud.com/whoisninablanc.

Interview by: Rachel Birnberg

Development and Communications Coordinator

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