We are proud to introduce our Featured Instructor, Shenel Williams. She is an incredibly talented dance teacher and has been such an amazing addition to our team! Shenel’s work has been truly inspiring and her dedication and passion for teaching have made her an invaluable asset to us. We are so grateful for her contribution and can’t wait to see what she’ll do next!
Born and raised in Toronto, Shenel is a professional dancer, choreographer, and teacher. Growing up she self-trained in Hip-Hop, Ballroom, African/Afro, Dancehall, and various other styles. She was the captain of the Downsview Dance Company in her senior years, where she performed at various events such as tdsbCREATES and collaborations with JustBGraphic. Through JustBGraphic, Shenel was featured in the Unplugged Festival: Middle School Tour in 2015 with artists such as Mike Black and Danny Fernandes.
Shenel graduated from York University’s Dance Program in 2022 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts with Honors. She is currently an active choreographer and performer in the Toronto dance scene. Some of the recent or ongoing projects include: choreographing a set for “ArtstartTO,” performing at Jean Augustine’s Black History Month Celebration, and training with York University’s Hip Hop dance team called “Integrated Entity.”
Aside from training, Shenel is teaching with a couple of dance studios in the GTA, and facilitating lots of exciting programs here at Playocity. As a dance teacher and an independent artist, Shenel continues to use her voice to initiate change in the dance community and beyond.
A: I connect with all parts of Playocity’s mission. It is what drove me to be a part of the organization. In particular, I connect Playocity’s mission to bring range and diversity into schools/organizations. Growing up, I wasn’t exposed to my culture or dance forms that resonated with me. Playocity makes it their mission to provide all learners with the opportunity to see themselves in the lessons. It is something that will stick with a child, and I’m grateful to be in the position to deliver it.
A: Surprisingly, no, dancing and acting do not run in my family. However, before coming to Canada, my mother – was born and raised in Grenada and partook in a traditional folk dance called “Maypole.” My mom states that I get my rhythmic ability from her side. Aside from that, I am the first to pursue dance at a higher level.
A: For the last few months, I’ve had the incredible opportunity to work with Playocity. The most enjoyable aspect thus far is having the ability to facilitate classes with enriched and vibrant content.
As a dance teacher, I appreciate that the content provided is not only diverse but versatile and flexible. Making it effortless to adapt and re-invent to accommodate various learning differences, environments, and much more. The lessons’ adaptable and re-inventive nature also allows me to be fully authentic and connect with the students.
A: Growing up, I wanted to be a lot of things – like inquisitive most children. I can recall wanting to be a chef, scientist, doctor, and “person who listens to people talk,” which I now know is a therapist. While I always loved the arts and performance, as a child, I never saw it as a profession.
A: I love this question because it always shows me that performing is truly more expressive than I’ll ever be. Based on my current career path, many individuals believe I am introverted when I am the opposite.
Performing has always been a way to show a side of me that only close ones ever see. When I’m performing, I am 100 percent myself and then some. Being able to showcase my ability and feed off of an audience is the best feeling ever. It is euphoric and humbling all at the same time.
A: I got into the performing arts in high school. I didn’t attend an art school, but I was a part of the arts program at Downsview Secondary School. My former dance teacher nurtured me and provided me with outlets and opportunities to pursue the arts.
Before that, I had no way of getting in due to a lack of connection, inadequate finances for training, and much more. I always like to accredit high school as the place I sank into my pursuit and allowed myself to become the person I am today in the performing arts.
A: Some advice for kids struggling in school is to find someone you trust and open up to
them. Our struggles have a way of making us feel like we are the only ones going through them. When in retrospect, individuals are experiencing similar struggles. I would suggest not stopping at talking it out but asking or proposing ways to help in whatever area.
Moving forward from the stages of addressing/figuring it out, don’t become consumed with the reality of your struggles. Find community, activities, and other outlets to express those feelings and allow yourself to feel a sense of comfort. Most importantly, remember that you’re capable of overcoming any obstacle placed in front of you. Ask for help, find moments of freedom, and advocate for what is needed for your success.
A: What people may be surprised to learn about me is my burning desire to acquire knowledge. I love delving into different realms of knowledge like religion, the human mind, the global economy, etc. I spend a lot of my time learning new vocabulary and advancing my understanding of the world, people, and things around me. I can become hyper-fixated on a topic or point and find myself researching it to gain a better understanding. I really enjoy learning for learning’s sake.
A: My dream vacation would be to Israel. As a little kid, I’ve always been fascinated with the Dead Sea and looking back now, it is because I wanted to become a mini scientist. Aside from that, there are a lot of sites that I would love to visit. If I could travel anywhere right now, I would travel to Norway to a place called “the land of the Midnight Sun.”
While there are several places in the world the sun never sets, Norway is one place you can visit during that time. That would definitely be an incredible bodily experience and change in living. It goes beyond visitation and site-seeing as I would have to adapt to having no night.
A: Since I was a little kid, the one exercise I’ve disliked is push-ups. Even though I am capable, I’ve always hated the feeling of having all my weight on my wrists and trying to defy gravity coming up. I’ve resorted to other methods to get an upper-body workout. Fun fact, I have a hard time allowing my students to partake in them because I have a touch-and-go relationship with them. I would still highly recommend it!
We are thrilled to introduce Keelmount Day Care Centre – our amazing Featured Client. Established in 1983, Keelmount Day Care Centre is a licensed daycare located in Keele Street Public School (Toronto, Ontario). They are a non-profit, community-based daycare that caters to children from 18 months to 12 years of age. Playocity has been partnering with Keelmount Day Care for several years by facilitating extracurricular programs for its learners. It’s been such a pleasure watching their students grow and flourish year after year.
At Keelmount, the children learn through play-based activities and hands-on experiences. They also benefit from daily physical exercise, which helps them develop healthy habits and social skills that will serve them well in life. Keelmount’s management and staff are truly dedicated to creating a fun, nurturing, and stimulating learning environment and we feel incredibly proud to have been part of that journey!
Keelmount Day Care believes that active play encourages exploration and inquiry and helps maximize a child’s success. This allows children to meet their needs for acceptance, affection, and approval. Children gain a strong sense of self-esteem and social competence through hands-on experience in a safe and supportive environment that respects individual needs, cultures, diversity, and preferences.
“Our goals are to encourage positive self-concepts in each child as well as to build resilience through co-operation and self-regulation. Each child naturally learns and flourishes when they belong, when they are engaged, when they are free to express themselves, and when their wellbeing is addressed.”
We are excited to feature our Instructor of the month, Sarah Hodkinson. Sarah has been teaching dance classes for kids here at Playocity for several months now and there’s no doubt that we feel lucky to have her onboard. Since she began teaching dance, yoga, creative movement, and acting programs, we’ve received nothing but praise for her stellar work. Now, our partners are requesting Sarah to come back and teach more programs across multiple locations. We are beyond thrilled to receive such wonderful requests!
Sarah is a Toronto-based performer who has more than 20 years of experience under her belt. She has worked in various industries, including theatre, TV, and film.
As a passionate performer and instructor, Sarah started with ballet when she was five years old. From there, she branched out and started exploring other styles of dance in her teens, including jazz, modern, and hip hop. Around the age of 15, Sarah started facilitating dance classes for kids.
In high school, she got into choreography and started helping with musicals and dance shows. She further honed her acting skills by taking part in school plays and at a local theatre in town.
“I’m from a small town and always dreamt of moving to Toronto to pursue acting and dance,” shares Sarah. Her high school drama teachers also played a big role in her development as they encouraged young Sarah to pursue her dreams.
Sarah obtained her Intermediate from the Royal Academy of Dance, and she is trained in the Cecchetti method, musical theater, contemporary, jazz, and hip hop.
When she moved to Toronto, Sarah got into the Randolph College for Performing Arts. Staying true to her dreams of pursuing TV and film, she got an agent, and from there, Sarah went to numerous auditions and participated in various productions, ranging from TV shows to short films and commercials. Her journey led her to a new path, where she discovered her love for writing and producing her own films. In fact, some of the short films that Sarah produced have been screened across the country. In addition, Sarah has also acted in principal roles for short films featured in prestigious film festivals such as the Canada Shorts Film Festival and the HollyShorts Film Festival.
But Sarah’s journey wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
“It sounds easy to describe it this way, but this has taken my whole life working hard, staying focused, and getting up every time there’s a rejection, setback, or real life gets in the way. Being a performer has made me very resilient,” she shares.
Sarah’s talent and passion for performing runs in the family. Her grandmother was a ballet teacher trained by Betty Oliphant herself, who then encouraged Sarah’s grandmother to become a ballet teacher. Sarah’s grandmother also stayed true to her dreams, having started her own ballet school in Dryden, Ontario. What’s more, all of Sarah’s uncles took dance classes, and her father was such an excellent dancer that the National Ballet wanted him to be a part of their company.
Growing up, Sarah always wanted to be an actress. “I never thought I would be dancing or teaching. At this age, your body takes a toll. I’m grateful to do both,” she says. According to Sarah, her favorite thing about performing is being able to live and explore a different reality. The experience allows her to connect with something beyond herself, she just loves being on set or onstage and working with other creatives. Furthermore, she thinks that the energy of make-believe is nothing short of magic.
Today, Sarah is an integral part of Playocity, where she uses her talents, knowledge, and skills to teach learners about the transformative power of the performing arts. Embodying Playocity’s values and mission, Sarah is all about creating safe, engaging, and positive learning environments for students of all ages. Like her Playocity family, Sarah wants to help kids discover and explore their creativity and combine fun and learning to make a positive impact in their lives.
Sarah shares that her experience working with Playocity has been amazing and refreshing. “I feel seen and heard, and like many people, I have a lot on the go, and Playocity has only helped me make everything work.” She adds that she feels lucky to be able to teach kids while still being able to pursue her acting career.
Sarah knows that school can be tough for kids. Having been through the rigors of school herself, here’s her advice for kids who are having a tough time in school:
“Stick with it. There’s growth in finishing something. Try to find something to connect with at school – sports, arts, photography, student council. Remember, we don’t all learn the same, so try not to compare yourself to others and maybe get off social media. I couldn’t imagine having that when I was in school.”
Now, people might be surprised to know that Sarah is an introvert. We all know her as an upbeat, energetic, and enthusiastic teacher, and while she is incredibly passionate about what she does, she admits that it can drain her battery. So, she emphasizes recharging and learning the value of rest, something that she believes is not something that’s earned but is essential.
When she’s not teaching dance classes for kids or holding yoga, creative movement, and acting programs, Sarah loves to go hiking and just being out in nature. She also loves connecting with family and friends, as well as cooking good meals, and of course, getting plenty of rest. According to Sarah, if she could eat only one meal every day, she would love to have her mom’s tuna casserole.
Last summer, we had the opportunity to work with BronxWorks for its Summer Rising Initiative. This was a fantastic collaboration that allowed us to provide enrichment programming for kids in New York. The program was a huge success, having had more than 500 participants from various elementary and middle schools in the Bronx community.
We at Playocity are beyond proud and honored to have shown our support for this initiative by providing acting and dance workshops to the learners. Through our carefully curated workshops, participants were able to learn and hone their acting and improv skills, giving them more room for self-expression and creativity.
We believe in every child’s innate need to play, which is why we’re focused on creating unique enrichment programs that tap into that spirit of creative play and learning. The Summer Rising Initiative allowed us to share our play-based, engaging classes with young learners while nurturing their mental and physical well-being.
BronxWorks’ 2022 summer programming kicked into full gear with programs such as the Summer Rising Initiative, summer camps, Cornerstone Programming, and Summer Youth Employment Program.
The six-week program was free for elementary and middle school participants and offered a variety of activities that aimed to develop different learning aspects and abilities.
Aside from our acting and dance workshops, BronxWorks’ Summer Rising Initiative offered a varied roster of activities that were made possible through partnerships with different organizations. Participants learned about engineering and architecture with the help of the Salvadori Center. This contributed to enhancing the initiative’s STEM program through lessons and projects that highlighted the significance of math, science, and the arts. The STEM component of the program culminated with a STEM Expo that gathered all the participants from BronxWorks’ other summer programs.
SNAP-Ed Educators from BronxWorks carried out nutrition and fitness programs, which were complemented by a hands-on culinary program called Teen Battle Chef (TBC). Learners also had the opportunity to learn from officers from the NYPD 40th precinct through the Bigs in Blue partnership, where they were mentored by officers on an array of important topics.
BronxWorks also worked with its Children & Youth and Older Adult Services Department, bringing together different generations of participants to create and strengthen their bonds through activities like gardening, cooking, and arts and crafts.
The initiative offered a balance between indoor learning and outdoor activities. Participants were able to learn about how to bike safely in an urban setting thanks to Bike NYC. They were also introduced to the joys of tennis by Gotham Tennis, which offered a scholarship to one student, allowing them to continue their lessons.
Summer participants enjoyed a diverse array of field trips. They visited Coney Island, the Central Park Zoo, the New York Aquarium, and the Museum of Natural History, among many other entertaining and educational locations. The children also had the opportunity to venture into the woods. This experience enabled them to learn critical outdoor skills like orienteering and other wilderness skills. This was made possible through BronxWorks’ partnership with the NYC Parks Department.
Participants included students from X149 Bronx Preparatory School, PS 42, and PS 130. The activities were divided into two sessions. During the morning sessions, learners received academic support from DOE-certified educators, while the afternoon sessions were steeped in enrichment activities that were facilitated by the BronxWorks staff.
Including BronxWorks’ other summer programming activities, the organization was able to reach out to a total of more than 800 participants.
BronxWorks has been offering programs and services aimed at helping individuals and families achieve better economic and social well-being since 1972. The organization works with a diverse group of individuals from the Bronx, from toddlers to seniors, to enrich and strengthen this vibrant community. Some of the services that BronxWorks offers include Education and Youth Development, Health and Wellness, and Workforce Development.
We are delighted and grateful to have partnered with such an impactful organization. We were able to create memorable experiences and had such a great time working with the BronxWorks staff and learners. Our dedicated team of educators was able to share their decades of experience in the field, bringing their expertise to BronxWorks’ Summer Rising Initiative.
We at Playocity are also excited to share with you some good news. We’re taking our partnership with BronxWorks to the next level by continuing to work with them into the school year! We’ve started several programs in different locations, offering enrichment programming for kids in New York through weekly Acting and Dance classes. We’ll be working with young learners from kindergarten to Grade 5.
Our enrichment programs cover a rich selection of topics with the goal of cultivating social and transferable skills in all our students. We want to help our students become more confident and inspire them to become community leaders. Through our thoughtfully designed programs, we aim to promote not only inclusivity and diversity but also multiculturalism.
Our programs have lesson plans that are created in-house by our team of educators. We’ve designed our activities to help enhance our learners’ mental and physical wellness by adding an element of creative play. Our edutainment specialists come from diverse backgrounds and have extensive experience in fields like theatre and film. Their years of experience have given them the knowledge and skills necessary for creating and facilitating classes that not only educate but also empower and inspire learners of all ages.
We believe that through this partnership, we will be better able to help communities and chart a path for more innovative, play-based learning.
Aside from our partnership with BronxWorks, we also work with a diverse range of private and public schools, organizations, daycares, and community centers. Some of our programs include The Art of Nature, Hip Hop 101, and Creative Writing. Learn more about our enrichment programs and discover how we can help you nurture a healthier and more creative future.
An education in the arts empowers children and youth in so many important ways. It encourages self-expression, curiosity, innovation … and, of course, creativity. Now more than ever, this world needs creative thinkers. We need people who can imagine beautiful and radical possibilities for our future, and who have the courage to manifest those possibilities in the world around them: through song, dance, images, and through the relationships they forge with their peers. I look forward to helping my students cultivate these skills, so that they can move forward into this challenging year with hope, confidence, and kindness. – Mirka Loiselle
Thinking back to my school years, the happiest and most exciting memories are not associated with studying a multiplication table, or writing endless chemical equations. It’s the priceless experiences and discoveries born in the playground. It’s all the valuable lessons learned while making DIY costumes for a talent show, rehearsing choreography, or creating props for a school play. Today, more than ever, children need more opportunities to connect, collaborate, and have a feeling of togetherness. I believe our programs can help make a difference. Participation in fitness based activities and creative discovery will ultimately help kids to be more emotionally resilient and deal with many challenges they are faced with today. – Alena Tuchina
As adults, we are responding to this pandemic differently. Some of us with courage and compassion, and others with reasonable fear. I’m curious about what kids are thinking. If we can unearth their inner thoughts, we can help the next generation of leaders to become aware of uncertainty, and to respond with strength. Lively debates, “what if” scenarios, and multiple perspectives can foster empathy. Let’s give little humans an opportunity to have many thoughtful conversations about our current realities. – Orchid Chen
Extra-curricular programs and the arts are the reason I am the person I am today. As a professional dancer, I have realized through the pandemic that no matter where I am – I need to dance. Whether in my living room, an empty yet spacious Wal-Mart parking lot or a studio, dance is my fuel. It has been the bright spot in my day for the six months and having a moment to connect with other dancers sharing that same need for joy gives me so much energy. I have been fortunate enough to dance across the world and if there’s one thing I know, it’s that dance is a universal language that connects us all. It’s organizations like Playocity that we need more than ever right now, wherever you may find yourself. – Bailey Woodman
As we are moving forward with technological progress, it becomes more noticeable that our kids have fewer opportunities to engage in active play. In other words, children spend less time learning through play. Some examples of playful activities include storytelling, painting, singing, exploring, dancing, pretending, and imagining. Above all, playful learning is a very important part of early childhood education and development. It is something that adults have an obligation to provide for their kids. Art and movement-based programs for kids are great ways to introduce playful activities in childcare, school, or homeschooling learning environment.
Jessica Smock talks about the importance of learning through play and why kids deserve a preschool that lets them play. She does a great job explaining the benefits of enrolling children in schools that understand that play.
An extensive body of research claims the gains of extra-curricular activities translate into improvements in academic skills.
According to the article written by Sam Alhadeff, published in Cornell Policy Review, “Involvement in these activities could have dramatic impacts on the future success of individuals and allow children and adolescents to develop an identity, interact with peers, and experience following orders from an adult role model. Examples of socio-behavioral skills developed through EA participation include non-cognitive skills – e.g., attentiveness, task persistence, independence, and eagerness to learn – and social skills – peer-to-peer interaction, respect for authority, and teamwork. An extensive body of research claims the gains of EAs are found in these socio-behavioral skills, which then translate into improvements in academic skills.”
In conclusion, Enrichment Programs offer amazing high energy activities that focus on movement, arts, and team building. It is a great opportunity for children to learn through play, explore, and discover their talents. Participation in extra-curricular clubs reinforces creative learning as a tool to initiate improvements in academic skills.