Choreographed dance up for national award

Contributed photo
Natalie Tusow, Marcella George, Sophie Nelson, Hailey Selly and Stella Hunt perform “The Village” at the Groove Dance Competition and Convention in Minneapolis.
Contributed photos
NLDA dance team includes: Front row: Stella Hunt and Sophie Nelson. Back row: Natalie Tusow, Hailey Selly and Marcella George.

By Robert Willams


Northern Lights Dance Academy choreographer Kiala Rae Velde and her team of five area dancers have used a meaningful message in their performance of “The Village” to garner big time recognition on the national stage as a top five finalist for the Industry Dance Awards People’s Choice Groove award.

The team competed in Minneapolis at the Groove Competition last spring receiving three Industry Dance nominations for choreography in Open, Hip Hop, and the People’s Choice Award. 

“The Village” was one of five voted through to the preliminary round out of 400 dances.

“You don’t think much of it because there are a lot of dances going against you and a lot of big cities with dancers that dance seven days a week; my dancers dance two days a week,” said Velde. “When we got the nomination I thought that’s pretty exciting.”

Kiala Rae Velde

Professional dancers and judges announced two weeks ago that the local team was in the top five of their category and up for voting online that finished Aug. 26, with another round to go after that is completed.

“I really don’t know what it gets cut down to because I’ve never gotten this far,” said Velde.

Velde and her team found out over the weekend that they did advance to the finals.

“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we are officially finalists for an IDA award,” Velde announced via Facebook Monday morning. “This is one of the biggest moments to happen for our studio and I’m overwhelmed. Today starts the last round of voting and we need everyone to vote and share. This will be a tough competition against a lot of talented and very big studios, but our hopes are high.”

The IDA People’s Choice Award will be determined by a popular vote of nine different dances that will take place online between Aug. 29 and Sept. 2, with the final winner announced Oct. 12 at the Industry Dance Awards and Cancer Benefit Show in Los Angeles.

The dance team consists of Sophie Nelson of Frazee who took Velde’s advice to audition for the Minnesota Timberwolves Dancers and made the team last week. The local team also consists of Miss Frazee Marcella George and Hailey Selly of Frazee. The Hornet trio is joined by Stella Hunt and Natalie Tusow of Perham. Besides being from different towns, the group is also composed of five different school grades from eighth grade up to a senior.

Expressing meaning through dance

“The Village” was created in honor of Velde’s cousin’s transgender son who ended his life this summer. It also has a personal meaning to the dancers after a Frazee student ended their life last spring.

“It all just kind of manifested itself,” said Velde. “I’m not really good with my emotions, but I can do a dance. No matter what you believe in, our words matter. That was my big thing. Words clearly matter and we need to show the younger generation that we need to be kinder to one another because that’s clearly a problem.”

Velde found the perfect song and had an intuition of which five girls she wanted for the dance, but had to clear it with them first.

“I know it’s a touchy issue so I made sure they were okay with it and their parents were okay with doing the message and it took a little convincing because you don’t want your kid to be judged,” said Velde. “The kids were all for it. That was the fun part. All five were like I want to be in this; it means so much.”

The team was competing in Fargo the week of the tragedy in Frazee.

“I was like we don’t have to do it this weekend,” said Velde. “It was a lot. We said we were going to do it and they said it was important. Clearly now it’s been brought to our attention that it is a big deal and it’s not just a big city issue. It happens everywhere.”

Coming up with the choreography is an intuitive process for Velde that starts with meaning.

“I find a story that either has hit me personally or I read in the paper,” she said. “For me, it’s the easiest for me to choreograph; it’s the easiest for them to get the concept as young kids. I try to find something that they can also find meaning in the story. They might read it differently but it doesn’t matter, that’s what brings out the beauty in the dance.”

Once a storyline presents itself and a song is found, Velde plays it over and over in her car.

“I’ll go into the dance studio and record myself moving, but there were pieces in this dance that were so easy,” she said.

Velde found a lot of connections between the lyrics to Wrabel’s “The Village” and how to interpret that in her choreography.

“It’s like therapy to me and I tell the girls we have dance on Thursdays and we call it Therapy Thursdays,” she said. “You set your backpack full of grades and boy drama down at the door and you come in here and pretend none of that exists.”

Velde honed her skills in Las Vegas for five years working up from the front desk to instructing at a conservatory there, learning as she went from numerous choreographers and instructors.

“I did anything I could and took everything in, so when I moved back here I felt knowledgeable,” she said.

She attends multiple choreography conferences per year to continue her learning.

“I need to open up my brain and think of things differently so it doesn’t come out as the same thing over and over again,” she said.

Velde was really into sports as a kid, but dance was not one of them initially.

“I only did dance because my sister did dance and I wanted to be like my sister,” she said. “I definitely didn’t like the practice aspect. I liked the stage aspect and the attention being in the front. I learned to love it when I got older and learned from every teacher I took a class from. It was something that didn’t come to me as easily as other sports.”

Being a part of Frazee dance history and the successful program started from the ground up by Ta Fett is something Velde is also proud to continue. Much of Fett’s legwork in starting dance at Frazee and making the Fly Girls program into a state championship program is why Velde and her quintet find themselves with the ability to gain national recognition.

While Fett retired from the school’s dance program, she still remains a fixture of dance in Frazee.

“She can’t get out of it; she’ll try, but she can’t,” Velde laughed. “I have pictures of her in the corner rhinestoning costumes for me, but I’ll have her come in and I’ll listen to all her input.”

Four of the five dancers, sans Nelson who has graduated high school, will be working on Velde’s next piece, “Thoughts and Prayers,” a dance about school shootings. Tackling social issues has obviously proved successful for Velde both in critical acclaim and personally.

“Social issues work well and I think they speak to everyone,” she said. “I thought this is a subject that no matter where you are on the spectrum—that’s what I felt about my Village  dance. No matter what you believe in you still believe that words matter and we need to be kind to each other. We all believe that. The core of this is there’s enough school shootings. What are we going to do? So that’s the dance. I’m tired of seeing this; I want to fix it. I don’t know how but I’m going to dance about it.”

Not all of Velde’s choreography is out to save the world. She openly admits she also does cheesy ones, but notes that the more meaningful performances are the ones dancers and parents remember most.

To watch “The Village” and vote visit or @industrydanceawards on Facebook. Easy links are also available at Velde’s Facebook page.