Red carpet event brings passion and purpose
By Robert Willams
Northern Lights Dance Academy (NLDA) instructors Kiala Velde and Katelyn Colliton recently returned from the Industry Dance Awards in California, an unlikely place for a small academy in Minnesota. The event was held at the Avalon theater, a large venue located at the world-famous intersection of Hollywood and Vine. That’s about as L.A. as one can get.
While not taking home the people’s choice award, the road to being nominated and the trip to Los Angeles were validating to the efforts put into their dance, “The Village,” performed by Stella Hunt, Sophie Nelson, Natalie Tusow, Hailey Selly and Marcella George.
“It’s insane. It’s hard to put into words,” Velde said. “I needed some time with everything I saw and was part of, all I kept saying is I can’t believe we’re here. I can’t believe we’re part of this; this is insane. We’re just a small town and I did a dance based off something I was passionate about and that was a big part. Not that I don’t love all my dances, but the story and everything behind it.”
“The Village” was created in honor of Velde’s cousin’s transgender son who ended his life this summer. It also had a personally experienced meaning to the five dancers after a Frazee student ended her life last spring.
“I’ve learned from teaching that my best dances are the ones that the kids have a story that they can be passionate about when they’re dancing,” said Velde.
After an initial round of professional judging to qualify, the remainder of the competition was judged online by voters, something that put a small studio at a big disadvantage.
“I kept telling my girls we’re small, to get to the next round is going to be tough, we just probably won’t get the votes,” Velde said. “It’s just not going to happen for us.”
However, it did.
Velde credits the meaning behind the dance as having struck a chord with viewers, along with rallying support from other small studios in Minnesota and even some competitors.
“There are studios that we competed against that I’ve never met and they were like, ‘vote for this dance. I saw it live and it was amazing,’” said Velde. “I would see it on Facebook and they would tag me. I don’t even know this person; I’ve never met them; I don’t even remember their studio name, yet they remember our dance.”
The Industry Dance Awards lasted multiple days with a dinner and benefit presentations, along with the official awards ceremony.
“It was kind of overwhelming,” said Velde. “Big names and A-list stars were just walking around with you. I was just living in the moment.”
NLDA’s home state was well represented, which was somewhat baffling to people from the west coast.
“There were two other Minnesota studios nominated for two different categories too, which was cool,” Velde said. “I think we were maybe one of the only states to have three. Which is interesting, because someone from California was talking to me and said, ‘You’re from Minnesota? Where do you even compete there?’ We have some pretty big names in the dance world; I hate to break it to ya.”
Velde made a connection with another small studio online that was up for an award and they collaborated to help get each other votes. Ironically, they ended up at the same table during the ceremony.
“How small of a world that we were sitting next to each other,” said Velde.
Velde and Colliton were sat at a table with a group of smaller town studios and the table had direct access to the stage and that prompted a few guests to make a few nerve-wracking comments their way.
“Everyone kept saying you must have won,” said Velde.
Compounding the nerves was the people’s choice was saved for the final presentation of the evening. NLDA was one of nine finalists from a pool of over 8,000 entrants.
The awards eventually went to Stage Door Studio’s performance of “I surrender.”
Not having to make a speech was a bit relieving and winning was not the reason both NDLA representatives attended.
“We were just happy to be there and be a part of it,” said Velde.
Dinner the first night was highlighted by the benefit behind the awards.
“The dinner is not really about awards; all of this is a benefit for Dancers Against Cancer,” said Velde. Ninety-nine percent of the proceeds go to dancers or dance families who have been affected by cancer.”
The first night featured speeches from cancer-affected dancers and families and studios who have put on galas and fundraisers to raise money for the cause.
“That got my brain spinning, well, we should do this and I’ve been thinking about this the whole time,” Velde said. “We should be involved in this.”
Despite representing a small studio at one of the industry’s largest events, Velde and Colliton found a lot of common ground.
“Everybody at our studio has been affected and I can think of so many other people,” Velde said. “We all have been. It’s a cause we can all be passionate about.”
Commonality also stretched to the day-to-day operations of a dance academy regardless of size or location.
“I really realized no matter the size of the studio, big, small, whatever, we all have the same problems,” said Velde. “We all do it for nothing more than we love to teach kids dance and the experience. It kind of brings you back to when you were in high school and you were a dancer. I knew how much that meant to me, so now I want to do that for kids. It was kind of cool to see these big studios and yet, we were talking and we have the same stuff happening and the same passions even though you’re in the big city and my kids are living in rural Minnesota.”
The event featured speeches by famous dance stars from television to Instagram, like Kim Hale, Derek Hough, Kent Boyd, Mollee Gray, Jojo Siwa and others. Siwa donated $100,000 to the cancer cause.
“That was a cool moment,” said Velde.
Stars from other disciplines were also on stage, including Melissa McCarthy.
“She talked about anytime she’s on set if there’s any kind of dancing and a choreographer she’s like I’m in. I want to learn it and be a part of it,” said Velde. “Her speech was so good; it was epic.”
The entire experience has led to a newfound surge of motivation to not only continue the success of Frazee’s dance academy, but to use that momentum to go beyond making sure people understand dance concepts and the stories to making a bigger impact with those performances.
“I definitely felt the rev that we’ve got to get going,” Velde said. “I always feel like I have goals and once I crush them, then I’ll be set, but you never are. Now I have to do something bigger and better. I definitely have that fire under my butt.”