Kiwanis Festival showcases Okanagan’s top talent

Kiwanis Music, Dance and Speech Arts Festival in Penticton picks up again to showcase top talent in the Okanagan.

Abby Sherwood

Abby Sherwood

Abby Sherwood has been dancing since before she could tie her own shoes.

“I can remember being pretty young and one girl in my class was saying she could tie her own shoes and I couldn’t,” said Sherwood, who dances at Okanagan dance studios in Penticton.

At just 13 years old, the longstanding tradition of participating in the Kiwanis Music, Dance and Speech Arts Festival is not lost on her. The 87th annual festival ran into trouble last year after a number of positions were left vacant on the board of directors. The festival, which started last month, survived with new people stepping up to fill the roles that keep the event going and actually saw an increase of entries this year.

“It wouldn’t be as fun without the festival because basically all year we are training for the festival, learning dances and practicing them. If the festival didn’t happen anymore we wouldn’t have a place to do that,” said Sherwood.

Sherwood hopes to follow in the footsteps of Okanagan Dance Studios students before her that have won numerous awards, scholarships and provincial recognition. Studio alumni have gone on to train and perform all over the world with Ballet B.C., Tokyo Disneyland cruise lines, Toronto Dance Theatre and more. Students have also been accepted to summer schools at the National Ballet of Canada, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Banff Centre of the Arts. Sherwood has already danced her way to New York and Disneyland with the studio show group to take classes, learning things such as Broadway dancing from a cast member in the musical Annie and audition workshops. While Sherwood has her sights set on becoming a professional dancer once she is finished school, dancing is more than just being able to travel to new places and building a camaraderie with her peers.

“It’s an outlet for me. If I have a bad day or something bad has happened to me, it is a way I can let go and just be happy again,” said Sherwood.

Practicing hard throughout the year, the Kiwanis Festival is a proving ground of sorts for Sherwood and many others who enter in a variety of performing arts disciplines. It is a chance to showcase their growth year-to-year.

“I don’t really care about the competition aspect of it. What I love is when the adjudicator gives me things to work on because it is a different point of view from my teachers,” said Sherwood.

The young dancer practices in multiple disciplines including modern, ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, pointe and is also involved in musical theatre. On Friday she will take on the modern dance solo for her age group at the Cleland Theatre alongside other dancers from the Okanagan. She is also entered in intermediate workshop ballet, intermediate workshop modern, lyrical solo, jazz solo, intermediate workshop tap and intermediate workshop jazz.

Sherwood already has punched her ticket to the provincial level competition in Chilliwack from May 26 to 30 after competing at the Kelowna festival. Last year four Penticton festival winners also took top spot in their categories at provincials. Competitors from Penticton were also awarded runner-up and received honourable mentions.

Awards are handed out to Penticton Kiwanis Festival winners as well as scholarships to those 20-years of age or younger.

The Kiwanis Festival not only provides an opportunity for amateur and young performing artists to demonstrate their achievements to their peers and adjudicators, but to the general public. The festival culminates with a two-evening event featuring the artists on April 26 for the music and speech arts highlights and awards concert and April 27 for the dance highlights and awards concert.

The music and speech concert takes place at 6:30 p.m. at the Cleland Theatre. The dance highlights concert is on the following evening at 7 p.m., also at the Cleland Theatre. Tickets for the concerts are available at the door and festival venues for $8 or a  family price of $25 for four tickets. For more information on the concerts visit