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Pointe Shoes and Perestroika: Ballet During the Cold War — March 28, 2018

Pointe Shoes and Perestroika: Ballet During the Cold War

Today Jolie is here to tell us about ballet, and its importance as part of the Cold War. So put on your pointe shoes and let’s get started!


Today, most people think of ballerinas as whip-thin willowy figures, dancing endless turns on glowing stages. Critics may decry dance as meaningless and dancers as vapid, but less than fifty years ago, ballerinas were centre stage of the rapidly heating politics of the Cold War.


A painting of a ballerina in the 1700’s. Source: Ballet Dot

Russia has long since prided itself on its national mastery of the ballet, so much so that one of the top-searched Google queries on ballet concerns whether the art was originally French or Russian. Spoiler alert: it’s French. But that didn’t stop Tsar Alexis Mikhailovich (1629-1676) from featuring it at his wedding, nor did it prevent Jean Baptiste Landé (d. 1748) from asking Empress Anna Ivanovna (1693-1740) for permission to found the St. Petersburg Imperial Ballet School. From then on, it became de rigeur for the aristocracy to sponsor ballet academia.


George Balanchine teaching in the American School of Ballet, 1959. Photograph by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Source: Pinterest

Ironically, ballet took root in America partially from Russia. Having left Russia for Paris in 1924, George Balanchine (born Giorgi Melitonovich Balanchivadze, 1904-1983) co-founded the New York City Ballet with Lincoln Edward Kirstein (1907-1996) in 1933. In 1934, Balanchine went on to found the School of American Ballet as schools and companies popped up across the United States. Other dance styles also found themselves infused into ballet; Twyla Tharp (b. 1941) is a notable performer and teacher who founded Twyla Tharp Dance, a ballet company using elements of jazz and contemporary music.

American ballet’s origins in the Russian school of ballet failed to buffer the cultural and political clash during the Cold War. Both nations’ ballet companies toured across the world, including in their rival countries. The Russians derided the American form as mediocre and undisciplined, while providing their own dancers with a luxurious life even in the day of socialism. The most successful performers were allowed to drive cars and own dachi (vacation homes in the countryside), not unlike prominent politicians.


Mikhail Baryshnikov and American ballet principal Lesley Collier. Source: Pointe Magazine

Russia prided itself on slim figures and a delicate aesthetic, often turning down talented dancers with muscular body types or short stature such as Mikhail Baryshnikov (b. 1948). When dancers like himself and Natalia Makarova (b. 1940) defected to the West during tours and received higher positions in American companies, it was a shame to the Soviet government. Dancers quickly took their spots. Yuri Grigorovich (b. 1927), Soviet choreographer, famously declared that “The Soviet Union is a ballet factory—we can replace anybody.” Citizens in the Soviet Union and the United States were not connected by the Internet or cell phones as we are now; ballet was their universal medium and a point of political tension.


Maria Khoreva, a current Vaganova Academy of Ballet student in St. Petersburg, Russia. Source: Instagram, @marachok

Today, tensions have defused and we no longer live in Cold War paranoia, but ballet remains. Today, ballerinas from both the East and West have social media accounts lined with dance photos and product promotions, bridging the divide that plagued nations and dancers from the 60’s to 80’s. When students learn about the conflicts now, the focus is on political tensions and the prominent powers—Dwight Eisenhower, Nikita Khrushchev, Joseph McCarthy, the like. The cultural and social aspects of the Cold War, and nationalism on both sides, is perhaps best illustrated with pliés, dégagés, and tutus.







Celebrating Our Heritage & Understanding Our Culture — March 27, 2018

Celebrating Our Heritage & Understanding Our Culture

This week, Gita brings us a personal post about her Mama Ji (maternal uncle), and how his story impacted her life and her understanding of culture and heritage. If you have time, we recommend watching this Tedx talk given by her Mama Ji.


My Mama Ji (maternal uncle) shared with me a part of his story when I was young.

My Mama Ji’s story has over the years impacted my sense of culture and belonging. Most recently, it has impacted my perception of racial stereotyping and discrimination.

My Mama Ji’s story altered my understanding of culture; what has culture become but another way to draw lines between us and apply labels to generalize groups of people whom we do not personally understand? In saying that I belong to a singular, particular culture, what I am saying is that I don’t belong to yours. What my Mama Ji’s story taught me is that culture cannot, and should not, be simply defined and assigned to a group of people.

From my Mama Ji’s story, I also learned that sometimes there is pain that comes from cultural and racial stereotyping, and that this pain is never forgotten. Therefore, I value acceptance and diversity.

Heritage defines part of who I am. I believe that it can have as great an impact on a community. In this, I have realized that celebrating heritage ensures that a community will always maintain a connection to its past, continue to celebrate diversity, find pleasure in the differences that define us, and overall contribute to the unity of our community.

Provincially, I have worked towards creating a strong social media platform for the BC Heritage Fairs Society (BCHFS), including a blog to keep teachers, students and parents updated with the BCHFS’s initiatives, and a video project to assist Heritage BC in promoting the importance of heritage sites across the province.

Regionally, I have presented in schools to spark a passion for history, encouraged students to participate in the Richmond Regional Heritage Fair (RRHF), acted as a spokesperson for the RRHF to dignitaries and politicians, and assisted with the planning and execution of the RRHF, including emceeing the opening and closing ceremonies.

I am dedicated to the work that I do because I believe that celebrating heritage leaves an invaluable impact on a community. My involvement with the BCHFS has been rewarding as I work to demonstrate the reasons to celebrate individuality and identity. Celebrating heritage allows community members to take time to reflect upon the hardships and sacrifices that were made for them by individuals from all walks of life, at times much different from today. This is essential in order for a community to be able to experience growth, and ensure that it takes steps forward to fulfill its potential, rather than recede in denial. Celebrating heritage encourages community members to embrace their diversity and appreciate exactly what makes individuals unique. I believe that every community member has something to offer to those around them. Through the celebration of heritage, we can encourage everyone to also realize this fact.

The connections that are built when people are brought together to celebrate heritage immensely benefits the community by fostering a long-term sense of pride and belonging in each of its members and overall crafting an ideal atmosphere in which people wish to raise a family and grow old.

Today, as Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary of Confederation, it seems that now, more than ever, we must remind ourselves that all these aspects of community must not be forgotten or dismissed. As generations grow, it will always remain beneficial to take time to celebrate heritage, a piece of us, handed down from our past.

Finally, when you are interacting with a group that you think is different than your own, or with a member of that group, get to know them as an individual. Get to know them uniquely. Try to find at least one thing in common with that person. As a doctor, my Mama Ji has also guaranteed me that you will have more in common with that person than you will have different.

History of the Vote — March 15, 2018

History of the Vote

As BC is facing the possibility of electoral reform, Lucas is here to tell us about the history of the vote in Canada (and possible alternate voting systems)! Yes, some of them are more complicated, but which one do you think is the most fair? Let us know in the comments! 


Citizens from all democratic nations often take the act of voting for granted; simply filling in a piece of paper and placing it in a cardboard box often seems like a necessity rather than a privilege. However, voting was not always so automatic a task, and even today, Canadians face the difficult problem of considering whether our way of voting is actually the most fair.


History of the Vote in Canada

The first elections held in Canada occurred before it even became a nation – residents of Quebec (then known as New-France) selected representatives, or syndics, to sit on a colonial council as early as the 17th century. The role of the syndic was to simply act as a messenger between the people and the council. Eventually, citizens were allowed to choose a few council members who could make decisions.

The section of Canada under British rule began to hold parliamentary elections in 1758. However, the elected assembly members weren’t very powerful, as various other councils and houses had veto power over them. Elections were usually held in a public area, where choices would be declared verbally. Interestingly, from 1791 until 1849 in Lower Canada, women were actually allowed to vote – if they met the property and income rules set out by the government.

After the Dominion of Canada was formed, various voting practices we use today were put into place. However, some ‘tactics’ used by parties to try and convince voters to choose them would be considered very questionable today. For example, since the party in power had the right to hold elections, they would visit different ridings on several different dates, starting with the ‘safest’ ridings (sections that they would easily win). This method would convince the more undecided ridings that the ruling party was stronger. In 1872, the Conservative party held an election for three months! Eventually, after the first Liberal government came into office, they passed more strict and transparent voting laws: elections would occur on a single day, and the votes would be through a secret, written ballot. Fraudulent voting was still prevalent, however, and candidates would try to ‘purchase’ votes through giving outlandish meals and resources to citizens. Companies were also incredibly partisan: one Montreal manufacturing business stated that “we feel it is only fair to notify employees that, in case of a change in government [to Conservative], we will be unable to guarantee the wages you are now being paid; neither will we be able to guarantee work of any kind to all the employees employed by us at this time.”

Rampant racism was also a systemic part of Canada’s voting system: Indigenous and Chinese people were banned from voting in British Columbia. It took until 1918 that women were allowed to vote in federal elections, and until 1929, after the famous Persons case, for them to be permitted to sit in the Canadian Senate. The last province that granted the right for women to vote was Quebec, in 1940.

In 1982, Pierre Trudeau maneuvered his way to creating one of the most important documents in Canadian history, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In the document, Section 3 declares that “every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein.”


The Current Voting System and Other Proposed Systems (see this set of videos for a more in-depth discussion)

Around 25 years ago, the idea of electoral reform was pitched to the government. By this point, the issue wasn’t about who could vote, but how Canadians could vote. Below is a breakdown of the current voting system, and other proposed plans:

First Past the Post: used in Canada, USA, France, and Britain.


  1. All representatives (or MP’s) are selected from geographically created ridings.
  2. The MP who receives the most votes from the residents of that riding wins the riding.
  3. Each riding won by an MP gives one ‘point’ to the party they belong to.
  4. All the total riding ‘points’ are added together, and the leading party becomes the governing party of Canada – with exceptions! If the leading party holds less than half the ridings in the country, and therefore less than half the seats in the House of Commons, it may be difficult for them to take power. In this case, a number of options could occur, similar to the 2017 BC Provincial Election and 2008 Federal Election.

This system has been in use for hundreds of years under British and French rule. Since a whole nation is condensed into a few hundred seats (338 for Canada), the whole voting process is much simpler, and the winner-takes-all fashion of the riding system helps more majority governments come into power. The largest issue with this system of government is that a party doesn’t need more than half of the votes overall to form a majority government. For example, in 2015, only 40% of Canadians voted for the Liberal Party, but since they won more individual ridings, Justin Trudeau took power with 54% of the seats. Also, the concept of ‘strategic voting’ is favoured under the FPTP system. If someone’s favourite party has very low support nationwide, they can give their vote to another party that has a higher chance of winning.

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation, where a Green Party supporter named Steve was voting in the 2015 election. He knows that Elizabeth May has no chance of becoming Prime Minister, and also hates the Conservative Party. So, he gives his vote to the Liberal Party instead and helps Justin Trudeau win the election, because Trudeau’s ideas are more similar to the Green Party than the Conservative Party. This is the basis of strategic voting, and is commonplace under the FPTP system.

Alternative Voting: used in Australia


  1. Similar to FPTP, voters choose candidates in their riding, and the party with the most ridings won becomes the governing party.
  2. However, the majority of voters are better represented in this situation:
    1. Instead of choosing one candidate, voters rank the candidates.
    2. If one party receives more than 50% of the voters’ first choice, they win the riding.
    3. If not, then the candidate with the LOWEST amount of votes is eliminated. Then, the second choice of the voters who chose the lowest-ranking candidate is calculated, and added to the other competing parties.
    4. If one party now has more than 50% support, they win the riding. If not, the process is repeated again with the candidate with the next-lowest number of votes.

Alternative voting is seen as a major alternative to the FPTP system, because the party with the most support (usually the first or second choice) will win the election. However, a major deficiency about alternative voting is that smaller parties still aren’t well-represented, because the candidate with the lowest amount of votes automatically loses. Also, more neutral parties have a massive advantage, since having more second-place votes from parties that are eliminated can add up. In Canada, the Broadbent Institute calculated in 2015 that the Liberals would have won 217 seats under the alternative voting system compared to the 183 that they actually received.

Party List Proportional Representation: used in Austria, Belgium, Finland, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, Denmark, South Africa, Netherlands, and Switzerland.


  1. Rather than voting for candidates in their region, voters choose a party on a ballot.
  2. The party receives the number of seats completely proportional to their votes.
    1. In closed-vote party list PR, the members are ranked on a pre-determined list by the party, with the highest-ranking members receiving first priority for seats.

This kind of voting is more accurate to what the voters want, because votes will directly result in seats. However, this would make for more minority governments, which will make law-making incredibly difficult. Also, voters aren’t choosing candidates that are from their riding, which means that some regions might receive more attention than others.

Single Transferable Vote: used for Australia’s upper house, and Ireland. [Editor’s note: This is the system that BC had a referendum on in 2004.]


  1. MULTIPLE MP’s are elected in a riding.
    1. Parties can run more than one candidate in a riding.
  2. Voters rank local candidates on ballots, similar to FPTP.
  3. Candidates win seats by reaching a set-number of votes, or a quota
    1. If a candidate meets the quota outright, they win one spot.
    2. The extra votes (i.e. from the quota number and up) are divided among the other parties, through the second-choice ranking mechanism outlined in the Alternative Voting system.
    3. If no other candidate has won, the lowest-ranking candidate is eliminated, and the ballots are spread again to the other candidates through second-place votes.
    4. The process is repeated (candidates above the quota passing votes down, and eliminated candidates passing votes up) until all the seats for that riding are filled.

Probably the most complex proposed voting system, the Single Transferable Vote allows for more fair representation, because votes are being distributed from the candidates receiving the most and the least votes. Additionally, parties can run multiple members, meaning that if a riding is dominated by supporters of a single party, they can win more seats. However, that also leads to possible infighting inside a party.

Mixed Member Proportional: used by Germany, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, South Korea, and several other countries.


  1. Each candidate has two votes:
    1. The first is under the exact same system as FPTP.
    2. The second is for a specific party, which then distributes seats to its members based on an algorithm.

The Mixed Member Proportional system is seen as one of the best alternative to Canada’s current FPTP system. Not only are the results similar to the number of citizens that actually voted for a party, but voters can still choose members in their own ridings. Opponents state that the system can be difficult to understand.
Various proposals for electoral reform at the federal level have not come to fruition. In 2015, Justin Trudeau was elected on the promise that the Liberal Party was “committed to ensuring that the 2015 election will be the last federal election using first past the post.” The notion was supported by all parties. However, the specific kind of new system was hotly contested, as the Liberal Party supported the Alternative Vote, which would have possibly earned them 34 more seats in the 2015 election had the system been implemented. Other parties supported systems that favoured Proportional Representation. Ultimately, the issue was unceremoniously dumped from the Liberal government’s mandate in February 2017.

Canada has had a long and adventurous history with voting rights. A little more than 100 years ago, women and members of most minorities couldn’t vote, meaning that the voices of only a single demographic – rich, influential, white men – could have their voices heard. And although it’s a stretch to compare it to today’s situation, the fundamental and undemocratic issue of our voting system undermining the choices of citizens remains. In order for Canada to be able to tout the fact that we are the most democratic country in the world, we must first be able to ‘walk the walk,’ and overhaul its voting system.

And it probably won’t be very sunny.






All About Canada at the Olympics — March 8, 2018

All About Canada at the Olympics

The Olympics may be over, but what better time to reflect on Canada’s successes? That’s exactly what Vedanshi wants us to do in today’s post. And if you miss the Olympics already, never fear! The Paralympics start tomorrow, March 9 in the early hours of the morning PST. 

Canada has always sent athletes to compete at the Olympic Games (save for the Summer
Games in 1980). Our nation truly maintains an impressive streak in Olympic participation. Not just that – did you know that Canada has won at least one Olympic medal at every Olympic which was participated in? Quite a feat, and is representative of years of hard work, dedication, and determination on the part of athletes and their training teams. To date, Canada has won 472 medals, 125 of which are gold, 158 being silver, and the remaining 189 are bronze. In this article, I will be talking about some of the most memorable wins and notable athletes for Canada.

Clara Hughes is the record holder for being the first and only athlete internationally to have won multiple medals at both Summer and Winter Olympic Games. Cindy Klassen is the record holder (along with Clara Hughes) for the most Olympic medals won ever by a Canadian athlete of any gender. The first Canadian male athlete to defend his Olympic Gold medal was Alexandre Bilodeau in his sport, freestyle skiing. Rosie MacLennan became the first Canadian female to defend her Olympic Gold, winning the Gold medal in trampoline gymnastics at both 2012 and 2016 Games.

Canada as host:
Canada has hosted the Olympic Games three times to date, being: the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The 1976 games brought in the most athletes out of all three games, with 6 028 participants. It is notable, however, that the 2010 games comprised of 86 official events – 40 more than the 1988 games.

The Olympics in Vancouver brought with them many new changes to the metropolitan area – in fact, one of the largest to have ever hosted an Olympics. The Vancouver Olympic Committee spent $16.6 Million on upgrading all facilities at Cypress Mountain, a location used frequently during the Olympics for events under the freestyle skiing and snowboarding categories. The Richmond Olympic Oval was one of the most notable facilities built for the Olympics, and remains a top-class sports, recreation, and health centre in Richmond. What piqued the interest of onlookers was the fact that the Oval was built at sea level, which is a rare occurrence for any Olympic facility internationally.

Speaking of few-seen sights, Vancouver became the first city to have hosted the official opening ceremonies indoors! In 2010, Canadian athletes won the first gold medal at an Olympic game hosted by Canada – something which was not accomplished in either 1976 or 1988. The winning streak continued through the games as Canada broke the record set by the Soviet Union in 2002 by winning 14 Olympic Gold medals, being the most won by a host nation. These games also comprised of moments of true pride for other nations as well. Did you know that athletes from Slovakia and Belarus won the first-ever Winter Olympic Gold medals for their nations?

Canadian Olympic performance:
At the moment, Canada is the leading nation with the most victories ever in three Winter
Olympic Sports, and one Summer Olympic Sport. In the Summer Olympics, Canada is the world leader for Lacrosse, with two Gold medals and one Bronze medal. Lacrosse is, in fact, the national sport of Canada! Did you know that Canada has never won an Olympic medal in any of the following sports: Archery, Badminton, Canoeing, Fencing, Field Hockey, or Table Tennis?

Perhaps YOU or an athlete in your community will bring a victory back home at the next
Summer Olympics. At the Winter Olympics, Canada is a world leader in not one, not two, but THREE Olympic sports. These are Ice Hockey (21 total medals), Freestyle Skiing (25 total medals), and Curling (11 total medals).

In doing my research, I discovered so much more about Canadian accomplishments on the international stage that I never even knew about before. Hopefully, you were able to learn lots about Canada’s wonderful performances! As we all continue to monitor the 2018 Winter Paralympics in Pyeongchang, let us take a moment to talk about the legendary history our nation has woven at the Olympic Games. I am certain we are feeling proud as a nation collectively for our athletes’ performances, which they are able to do as a result of many years of dedication to their training and sport.


Writing Lives — March 6, 2018

Writing Lives

Today Sasha is here to share with us a bit about an important program taking place at Langara College – and her own family history. What are some other stories that are disappearing? How can you help save the stories from the past in your own life? Know of a similar program? Let us know in the comments!


The beginning of this academic year marked the second installment of Writing Lives:
The Holocaust Survivor Memoir Project at Langara College. Headed by Dr. Rachel Mines,
my aunt, this class gives students the invaluable opportunity to hear the stories of Holocaust survivors first hand, an experience that is getting rarer and rarer. Students spend the first term of this course examining the historical context of the Holocaust through literary and historical texts and are then paired up with Holocaust survivors in order to interview them and write out their memoirs in the second term. In the midst of what seems like a rise of anti-Semitism in Canada, with a 24% increase in hate crimes against Canada’s Jewish population from 2015 to 2016 and a bomb threat to the Jewish Community Centre in Vancouver in March of 2017, opportunities like these to truly understand and connect with survivors of one of the most horrific crimes against humanity cannot be underestimated in importance.


Alex Buckman, a child survivor of the Holocaust speaks to the Writing Lives: The
Holocaust Survivor Memoir Project at Langara. (photo by Pamela Post)

Mines, a child of Holocaust survivors herself, says about this class: “I’ve known… my
whole life… that these are important stories and I’ve also known that they normally don’t get told.” These stories are obviously close to the hearts of descendants of Holocaust survivors, such as myself and my aunt, but the more Holocaust survivors age and there become fewer stories they can share, the more important this transgenerational transfer of information becomes. Projects like The Holocaust Survivor Memoir Project that have an objective of telling the untold experiences of survivors are imperative to keeping the legacy of the Holocaust alive and ensuring that these crimes against humanity never repeat themselves. Through this class, the students’ written memoirs are archived at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre and the Azrieli Foundation. By integrating this all too often overlooked part of our history into both her profession and the lives of dozens of students across the Lower Mainland, Mines is successfully combating anti-Semitism in the best way she knows how: keeping
the stories of Holocaust survivors relevant.

Buckman, sharing his story with two students from the Writing Lives: The Holocaust
Survivor Memoirs Project. (photo by Pamela Post)

Alex Buckman, the president of the Vancouver Child Survivors of the Holocaust and
one of storytellers participating in the program has shared his story with thousands of
students. Spending his childhood in Belgium, Buckman survived Nazi controlled Europe
hiding with non-Jewish families and in an orphanage from 4 to 6 and a half, when the war ended. Both of his parents were killed at Auschwitz and so he was raised by his aunt,
Rebecca Teitelbaum, who made it out of the concentration camp Ravensbrück. She had
clandestinely written a recipe book while slaving in the camp and recipes that she could
remember, such as an orange cake, populated Buckman’s childhood after liberation. The
family immigrated to Montreal and settled in the best they could, though experiences during the war complicated things when it came to living a “normal” life. Buckman has been an active member in the community of Holocaust survivors, sharing both his story and his aunt’s orange cake recipe, by now a symbol of the power of love over hate.

Langara’s Writing Lives: The Holocaust Survivor Memoir Project gives the opportunity to survivors like Buckman to speak freely of their experiences and play their important and well-earned role in writing history and shaping the way new generations view the Holocaust.
Anti-Semitism on the rise in Canada: Statistics Canada