By Dimithri Wijesinghe
Danceworld is a school of modern, jazz, and ballet situated in Colombo, dedicated to inculcating the passion of dance in young girls in the island. The first school in Sri Lanka to offer a jazz dance curriculum, it’s also the first to offer training in the multiple styles of modern, contemporary, street jazz, African jazz, and ballet to young girls from the age of four upwards.
Danceworld Founder Sureka Gunawardena Buell, who was later joined by Shaanee Deen Olegard as Partner/Business Director, was credited as the visionary for the academy and the driving force that brought the school to play a leading role in stage shows, represent Sri Lanka on an international scale, and that continues to shape the cultural landscape of Colombo.
We spoke Buell, whose driving passion in life is to instil in her students valuable life lessons that extend beyond the studio classroom, who explained to us her philosophy. She said that in maintaining exclusivity by continuing to create a non-competitive environment, she ensures that her students receive the best possible dance training in Sri Lanka.
We also spoke to her about the invitation the academy received, for the second time, to attend Dance Excellence, a prestigious global and hot ticket event of the season for anyone in dance.
This is the second time you have been invited to Dance Excellence. How instrumental was the exposure you got from it the first time around?
Danceworld, after our most successful participation in April 2017, was invited again by Founder/Director Ms. Annie McQuitty for their 28th Annual Spring Festival Dance Excellence 2019, scheduled between 14 and 20 April 2019.
In proposing this rare and exciting opportunity with a unique chance to represent Sri Lanka at a highly-publicised event, 36 dancers and their families grabbed this epic opportunity of a lifetime, placing their confidence and trust in us again.
As a result of the exposure and experience gained from our participation in 2017, eight out of the 36 dancers were encouraged to register to participate once again for Dance Excellence in 2019.
Could describe your experience at Dance Excellence last year?
Dance Excellence, an international festival for young dancers, is a global dance event where studios are selected from each of the 50 states and over 30 countries from around the world to represent their locale during a week of classes, workshops, and to international performance boards. The goal of Dance Excellence is to bring together the finest young dancers globally and to inspire dancers and teachers to fulfil their artistic dreams through education and performance. The highlight of the programme is the opportunity to perform at Disneyland, California.
It is an overwhelming opportunity for these young talented dancers to share our culture with the finest dancers, dance studios, and master teachers from 30 countries and five continents – totalling about 800 participants – as they learn side by side, communicating through a shared love of the language that transcends all – Dance!
How did you come into the radar of this global movement which prompted the first invite?
In my search for motivation and inspiration to re-energise my passion for the art and the business of teaching dance, and encouraged by my Business Director, Shaanee Deen Olegard, we attended the 2016 Dance Teacher Summit in US.
The summit is a global event with a world-renowned faculty which combines the expertise of legendary master teachers, dance professors, and business professionals even in the field of dance kinesiology, and was attended by studio owners, teachers, and professionals from across the globe.
At the summit, we were introduced to the Founder of Dance Excellence, US, who in recognition of our outstanding contribution to the world of arts and culture, extended an exclusive invitation to Danceworld to the 26th Annual Dance Excellence – International Festival for Young Dancers in April 2017.
It was a time to place Sri Lanka on the world’s creative map and this was our chance to show the entertainment world our level of talent and vision for Sri Lanka’s youth.
What do you hope to achieve from this year’s visit?
Performing is an important part of any dance curricula and the Danceworld School focuses much effort and takes pleasure in offering our dancers opportunities to showcase their talents both locally and internationally.
While there, dancers will have the opportunity to learn from celebrity choreographers, musical directors, and many more leaders in the entertainment world – including the opportunity to audition for Disney and Disney Cruise Lines and the Performing Arts School – The Young Americans.
Dance Excellence has also invited Danceworld to showcase one key performance at Disneyland – Los Angeles and has provided us with the opportunity to present five entries to the International Performance Board in three age categories.
In 2017, Danceworld earned three awards for Excellence and two awards for Superior Performance, and our goal is to better this achievement.
How will the tour be funded? And in addition to the event, is anything else planned on your tour?
Considering the prestige our participation at these global events has brought to the arts, cultural, and entertainment industry in Sri Lanka, this year too, each of the 57 attendees funded the tour individually. However, we hope that with our affiliation with the International Dance Council – CID, UNESCO, that future such international tours will be granted some sort of funding as there are a number of students who were unable to afford the cost of the tour.
What are your future plans for Danceworld and how do you hope to springboard off of this opportunity moving forward?
As we embark on another exciting year of dance, with our most recent affiliation with the International Dance Council, CID – UNESCO, we are excitedly preparing for our much awaited show titled “JAZZIN’ 2019 – Raising The Barre” scheduled at the Lionel Wendt Theatre on 9, 10, and 11 August 2019.
Together with our international affiliation, Danceworld’s ultimate goal is to be launched soon – a state-of-the-art studio facility. This exclusive, modern, purpose-built studio will enable its dancers to reach new heights and hone their skills to convey nothing but the best of their abilities. The new studio will allow us to introduce movement classes for children with individual learning differences and special needs as well as movement therapy classes for senior citizens.
Sureka wishes to thank and is grateful to her team – Shaanee Deen Olegard for her unending energy, support, and guidance; Deshana and Shyomie for their input, enthusiasm, assistance, and dedication; Mitabi Gunawardena for the fabulous costumes, patience, and endless support; all the dancers, parents, and families for their commitment, sacrifices made, and understanding.
Founding Partner/Artistic Director Sureka Gunawardena Buell, Partner/Business Director Shaanee Deen Olegard, Assistant Choreographer/Dancer Deshana De Alwis, and Student Intern/Assistant Teacher/Dancer Shyomie Kulatunga
Seniors: Liana Lawrence, Tanalia Rekawa, Krsana Bakshani, Vihani Tennakoon, and Ishika Ratwatte.
Intermediates: Ashenka Sumanapala, Hasali Fernando, Nischka Nanayakkara, Dulanga Fernando, Talia Rekawa, Alisha Balasubramaniam, Kimaya Balendra, Tamara Wickramasinghe, Asesha Dharmadasa, Ginhansi Jayasekera, Reanna Bakshani, and Rishika Singhal
Juniors: Anitra Johnpillai Tara Gooneratne, Leandra DeHoedt, Lynelly DeHoedt, Jeanna Weeratne , Rhia Srikumar, Shruthi Ramanan, Sheraya Perera, Sanuki Samarasinghe, Meha Balendra, Kenuli Karunanayake, Himara Gankande, Annika Jayatilleke, Linaya Jayatilleke, Sara Musajee, Akithya Pelpola, and Aaryaana Labrooy
Photos: Nilantha Anuruddha