In 2010, mainstream media cast Winnipeg’s Youth For Christ in a negative light for receiving substantial government funding toward construction of a new youth activity centre on a blighted downtown corner. In 2012, the new building quietly opened its doors to scores of youth, and media limelight fell on YFC’s dance studio as Kristie Sidwall, Masterworks director, was awarded a Future Leader of Manitoba in the arts.
The award “recognizes and honours a young Manitoban who is quickly making a name for himself/herself in their field” and “making a concerted effort to give back to the community,” according to the FLM website. “Kristie has judged when it is time to learn and time to lead,” said judges Bill Pope and Rosemary Vodrey. “She is a bridge-builder through her art to her church community and to the community of Winnipeg.”
“God can use our passions to show his love,” says Sidwall, a member at The Meeting Place (MB church), Winnipeg. She urges every student to “express themselves, gain confidence, explore worship, be healthy, and expand their levels of creativity.”
Dance “has no language barriers.” Masterworks staff and teachers’ intent “is always to point toward Jesus, not ourselves,” says Sidwall.
In her fourth year as director of Masterworks Dance Studio, Sidwall seeks to make the school “a place where youth can be cared for body, spirit, and soul; where they can feel part of a community; where youth who couldn’t afford classes can dance; where we can talk openly about our faith and experiences.”
Classes range from creative movement for three-to-five-year-olds, to ballet, breakdance, or hip hop for teens, taught by 18 qualified instructors. Masterworks organizes pick-ups for local youth four times a week, and has sponsorship, subsidy, and work-for-trade programs to ensure lack of finances will not be a barrier to participation.
God’s love is key to excellence
Sidwall says starting with “God’s calling to love” is the way to bring out “a high level of excellence” in each student. Dance is a highly disciplined activity, but Masterworks’ mission is to make it accessible to youth regardless of skill level. “The challenge is addressing each youth individually and finding what helps them to reach for that goal,” she says.
Even as the dance studio seeks to “give back to the community” by sharing their art with all who are interested, Masterworks also provides opportunity for students to give back. They have been involved in performing at and fundraising for the Winnipeg Children’s Museum and the Children’s Hospital, have performed to schools, churches, and at a residential care home, have raised money for an international orphanage, and took 16 dancers on a mission trip to the Dominican Republic.
Sidwall trained with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers, and earned a BA in dance at the University of Winnipeg. She served as creative arts coordinator at The Meeting Place before taking a position at Masterworks. “I couldn’t imagine working in this role and not being able to speak about Jesus or to pray with students, teachers, and their families,” she says. “It’s a privilege and a joy.”