“I had a ton of anxiety. I had northern kid-itis,” said Josie Nagel after attending a conference for young women in dance at Canada’s National Ballet School last week.
Nagel, from Yellowknife, has spent the past three years at Montreal’s Concordia University pursuing a degree in contemporary dance. She was among 30 dancers attending the summit.
“We did a ton of different dance classes and discussions about leadership, diversity, and dance inclusion, and what that looks like in our communities,” she said.
“The purpose of the workshop was to bring people from across Canada together and talk about dance in their community and inspire and shape the next generation of leaders in dance.”
Nagel said being a dancer in the North can be hard because of a lack of schools that offer lessons at her level. Being at the conference gave her the opportunity to work with others rather than train alone.
“I train really hard when I’m down in Montreal but then, when I come back, I don’t have anyone to train with. I’m kind-of on my own, and training as much as I can by myself,” she said.
“Going down to the National Ballet School and getting some classes was really nice, and just an excuse to dance and train.”
Nagel started dancing in Yellowknife at the age of six with the Bella Dance Academy, where her mom enrolled her to help with her stance.
“When I was younger, I actually walked with my feet turned inwards, so my mom put me in dance to straighten out,” she told Cabin Radio.
“And then I took my first dance class and I was hooked. They couldn’t get me to leave. I was called a studio bunny, I would just stay there all day.”
By the age of 15, Nagel was teaching at Bella Dance Academy, choreographing pieces, and even performing on Broadway in New York.
Now 22, Nagel says going to dance can be challenging at times due to the stigma surrounding arts degrees.
“The arts aren’t as widely supported in terms of a career as other programs are. I remember when I first mentioned I wanted to go to school for dance, everyone was asking me: ‘What are you going to do after that?’, versus if somebody is going to do sports down south, it’s celebrated and people are excited for them and they’re so proud of them,” she said.
“But I don’t really care. I love it so much. People can call me stupid – maybe I’ll be eating ramen noodles for the rest of my life – but I’ll be happy.”
Moving south for school, however, was difficult.
“You’re a northern kid, then you go down south and you think everyone’s going to be way better than you and that you had a disadvantage because you were from the North,” she said.
“Then I realized that because I’m from the North, in some ways I actually had more opportunities. I wouldn’t have had the chance to choreograph pieces on Broadway at 15 if I was down south, or teach at a studio.
“I think that’s one of the big reasons why I got a scholarship to my university and why I got into the National Ballet School summit. I also think it’s a little bit of a blessing to be able to come down south and remind people that people actually do live up here.”
Going into her last year of her degree, Nagel says she has “three million and six” things she wants to do when she’s finished. During the summers, the dancer runs a program for kids with disabilities at Inclusion NWT.
“I definitely want to do choreography, and maybe work with a company, but I was thinking some dance therapy too,” she said.
“Inclusion NWT has opened up so much, so I think I will go down that avenue as well. It’s a really new field, so I think it would be really cool.
“The biggest piece of advice that I’ve heard when it comes to choosing what I want to do is: ‘Don’t choose, just do all of them.’ So that’s what I’m going to do.”
Upon completing her degree, Nagel plans to move back to Yellowknife to work at her home dance studio.
“I just want to give back to the community that fed me for so long,” she said. After that, she hopes to land in Europe to start her career with a dance company.