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Fun-loving city dance instructor wins national honour

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Troy Shantz

The owner of a Sarnia studio has been recognized as one of the top dance instructors in Canada.

Hana Omar-Craig was runner-up for the title of Dance Educator of the Year, an award presented by Canada’s National Academy of Dance Education.

The award recognizes teachers, studio owners and assistants who demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning and professional development in the field of dance.

“I almost passed out. I was balling my eyes out,” Omar-Craig said after being notified.

She was nominated by Luanne Deery, who’s daughter Payton has trained the past three years at Omar-Craig’s Maxwell Street studio, the HOC Dance Academy.

“Hana just gives kids a love and passion for dance. She cares about the kids,” Deery said. “Because of that love and passion… the technical has come on it’s own (for Payton).”

Hana Omar-Craig.
Troy Shantz

Omar-Craig, 35, emigrated with her family from Somalia to Toronto at the age of four. She left the hustle and bustle of her Dixon Street neighbourhood in 2001, opting to study sports and recreation at Lambton College.

Upon arriving in Sarnia-Lambton, she recalled, her mother was bewildered by the endless flat fields stretching out around them.

“My first year living here I would go to the Chemical Valley just to see the lights. I needed my light fix,” Omar-Craig said with a laugh.

She joined Sarnia’s Elite Dance Academy, and four years later began teaching at the former Exmouth Street studio. She has called Sarnia home ever since and opened HOC in 2012.

She realized dancing was her thing at the age of 12 when she stunned family members by performing a traditional Somali dance at a family wedding. The dance is one normally performed by someone more mature.

“I don’t even know if it was condoned or if it was wrong,” she said with a laugh, noting she picked up the moves from her mother.

“My mom would be cleaning and listening to Somali music. I’d grab whatever I had to put around my waist and I would dance.”

The same carefree approach dominates her classes today, which she offers at the studio, schools and Pathways Health Centre for Children.

She said the key for students is to feel the music.

“I can see them thinking about it,” she said of newcomers unfamiliar with her approach. “Don’t. Just dance it. That’s all you have to do. Kids are already structured with school and chores and all that.

“Any extra-curricular activity should just be a fun atmosphere for kids. And that’s how I make it.”

Omar-Craig offers classes in hip-hop and other disciplines in 12-week programs.

She often plans recitals, and some of her students have gone on to study dance at George Brown College and York University, she said

Recently, she teamed up with Rally Engineering’s Mike Thompson at the annual Dancing with the Stars event.

She’s convinced even adults with two left feet can dance with the right mindset and training.

“Everyone has rhythm.”

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