Dalhousie graduate helps promote Halifax jobs

Work Local aims to help recent graduates find employment and stay in the province. Yesterday, Work Local started working with the Halifax Partnership.

Finding a good job in your field can be difficult. Finding a good job in your relevant field in Halifax is even more difficult. Work Local is a free website designed to help.

Work Local allows users to submit video interview questions along with their job applications. The business has grown quickly since launching in January and is now working with the Halifax Partnership.

Leslie Gallagher, founder and owner of Work Local, says a site like hers is needed.

“I went to Dalhousie and am from Halifax, so when I graduated a lot of my friends left because they couldn’t find a good job, something meaningful or relevant to their education or what they wanted to do,” she said.

Gallagher, an English and creative writing major, wasn’t impressed with the online hiring procedures she experienced as a student and young professional. She felt that many job search websites focused on specific requirements and didn’t allow users to showcase their strongest qualities.

After conducting extensive research into the hiring procedures of small businesses, Gallagher discovered that many companies were frustrated with the hiring process too.

“If employers were able to see (the candidates) or even bring them in for an interview then they would hold on for dear life, but when they first get the resumé in then they are lost in the stack,” said Gallagher.

When clients submit their resumés, cover letters and required documents to a Work Local job posting, the site prompts them to record a three-minute video in response to specific interview questions provided by the employer.

The video allows employers to see if the person would be a good fit for their workplace.

“Finding somebody that their personality meshes really well with the rest of the team is just as important as hard skills, because they can teach you all of those hard skills. You can’t teach anybody to be a great team player or be really patient, or a leader or a risk-taker. It’s those sorts of things that you can’t get across with a resumé,” said Gallagher.

The list of job postings on Work Local ranges from graphic designers to personal trainers and accounting clerks.

Under the arrangement with the Halifax Partnership, Work Local will promote the Connector Program, a free face-to-face referral process that works with recent graduates and young professionals.

Program manager Denise DeLong said each participant is paired with a “local connector who is a leader in their field,” and the two of them have a 30-minute chat. After the initial meeting, participants are then given three other referrals, who in turn give three more referrals.

“This person would, over a span of a few months, meet 12 or 13 people in their industry. This is a tool for building a professional network, and one in three last year got hired in the process,” said DeLong.

Gallagher is one of these experts, or connectors. She stresses the importance of making connections when it comes to navigating the Halifax job market.

“Get engaged in the community outside of the university,” she said.

“If you know the area you’re interested in working in or learning more about, then find somebody that is somehow involved in that area and ask them to go for coffee. That’s it.”

Halifax streets in a hole lot of trouble

As spring arrives, Haligonians are facing an entirely new obstacle on the road.

Halifax has had a late-blooming winter this year and as a result, spring has been postponed indefinitely. Two snowstorms in the middle of March had the city reverting back to a White Juan mentality and reminiscing about simpler, snowless December days. On the plus side, it’s supposed to be 10 degrees on Monday.

As the snow finally begins to melt and layers of ice that have covered the streets since mid-January begin to disappear, Haligonians find themselves facing an entirely new problem — potholes.

The Halifax Regional Municipality website says potholes form when the topmost layer of a street’s asphalt wears away, leaving a sizeable gap to the rest of the asphalt underneath. They tend to pop up near the end of winter and beginning of spring, after the pavement has spent a few months in a freeze/thaw cycle. These dents in the road can be hard to spot and are often unavoidable unless the driver swerves into an oncoming lane.

Like the thick layers of uneven, pavement-warping ice that came before them, potholes have been wreaking havoc on vehicles in the city.

Car trouble

Anna Cormier has seen what potholes can do to a car first-hand. While driving in Halifax, Cormier and a friend hit a pothole off Barrington Street, near Casino Nova Scotia.

“Immediately the air was gone from her tire,” Cormier writes in a Facebook message. “We quickly pulled over and luckily her girlfriend was with us and she knew how to change a tire. So she put on the spare, and everything worked out.”

Other drivers have not been so lucky. In some cases, they haven’t had a spare tire and in others, the damage has been more severe. A new winter tire can cost upwards of $100, depending on the brand and type of car it’s made for.

HRM crews at work

Street crews dispatched by the city are working to remedy the city’s poor road conditions. In 2011, municipal operations acquired an asphalt recycler. The tool gives workers easier access to hot asphalt, which had not been the case during winter months in previous years. Hot asphalt allows for street repairs to be made that are less likely to break up over time.

HRM says pothole repairs are prioritized according to the volume of traffic on a street. Potholes on main streets (such as Agricola, Barrington, Oxford and Robie) that are more than eight centimetres deep are the highest priority. The city aims to fix them within seven business days. The same size potholes on local roads are supposed to be fixed within 30 business days. Potholes less than eight centimetres deep are attended to “as resources permit.”

Concerned city-goers can report potholes via a 311 online service request on the city’s website.

In the meantime, Haligonians can take comfort in the fact that potholes, at least, are a sign of spring.

Societies relocate for SUB renovations over the summer

Major renovations on the Dalhousie Student Union Building start this May, which will make the building more environmentally friendly and create a new ‘Society Hub’ on the third floor.

Major renovations to Dalhousie University’s Student Union Building (the SUB) are beginning this May. Though the renovations are set to be done in 18 months, the most disruptive parts of construction are going to take place during the summers.

The DSU offices and the societies who have offices in the SUB are being relocated over the summer during the renovations. They need to be packed up and moved by the end of April.

The Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG) is one of the societies with an office on the third floor of the SUB. They are sharing the Wellness Room with the Loaded Ladle over the summer.

“We’ve had a lot of knowledge about the renovations but we don’t have much knowledge about the process … like when we’re going to move out,” said Holly Lobsinger, a NSPIRG board member.

She thinks the moving process will be difficult, especially because NSPIRG is bringing its library to its temporary space.

Lobsinger believes they will “be down to the bare minimum of functioning” over the summer because there will be limited access to their resources. In moving to a smaller space, she expects the way the NSPIRG office is used as a meeting place will change.

Other societies in the SUB, like the Dalhousie Science Society (DSS), are not active during the summer. Most of their things will be put into storage.

The renovations will also create the Society Hub on the third floor, a more central space for societies.

The Society Hub will have 12 private offices for larger societies, desks and cabinets that can be used by smaller societies, a full service copy centre, a formal meeting room, an informal meeting room and a kitchenette.

“I’m looking forward to not sharing the space,” said Tori Taylor, president of the DSS. Currently, the DSS and NSPIRG offices are in the same room, separated by dividers.

This shows what the renovated SUB should look like from University Avenue. (Photo courtesy the DSU).
This shows what the renovated SUB should look like from University Avenue. (Photo from the DSU)

Renovations

The SUB opened in 1968 when Dalhousie had 4,500 students. Since then, Dalhousie’s student population has increased to over 18,000, but these are the first major renovations to the building.

The project, first proposed in 2010, is expected to create more comfortable social and work spaces for students.

The design is being headed by Lydon Lynch Architects, who also designed the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market.

The first expansion will include a canopy over the University Avenue entrance that will create an extra 1,500 square feet needed for the DSU’s new 50-seat council chambers. About half the student area will also be renovated this summer.

During the second expansion, a glass atrium will be built around the canopy. There will be another glass atrium added facing LeMarchant Street. This atrium will be about 5,500 square feet and will most likely serve as a social space.

The renovations are also going to make the building more environmentally sustainable through more natural lighting, plants, a green roof, solar panels and rainwater collection for toilets.

Mooseheads play 3 home games at packed Forum

The Mooseheads played their three home games of the playoff season at the Halifax Forum because the Scotiabank Centre was being used. Fans said the atmosphere was nostalgic and lively.

The old time hockey feeling returned for some Mooseheads fans last week when the team played its three playoff home games at the Halifax Forum.

The team left its home at the Scotiabank Centre, with an 11,093 seating capacity, so the rink could be used for the 2015 Ford world men’s curling championship. The Mooseheads played at the north-end Forum, with a 5,600 seating capacity, where they won two out of their three games against the Shawinigan Cataractes.

While the team had no control over losing the Scotiabank Centre for the games, a spokesman for the Halifax Mooseheads said they did what they could to make accommodations.

Scott MacIntosh said the players loved the atmosphere of the Forum. “We were hoping to go on that old time hockey feel, and it really worked out well for us.”

Season ticket holders were let into the Forum earlier than general admission ticket holders so they could pick their seats first.

The doors to the Multipurpose Centre, the building attached to the Forum, were opened at 3:30 p.m., before the games started for those who had lined up early. The team offered free coffee and played a video with trivia and important Mooseheads hockey moments.

While some ticket holders didn’t attend because the games were held at the Forum, the stadium was packed all three nights, MacIntosh said.

Team banners were hung across the stadium and the logo was painted on the ice, reminding fans that this was a Mooseheads game.

At the Scotiabank Centre, seating is much more spread out and farther away from the ice than at the Forum. “You’re almost on top of the ice,” MacIntosh said about the Forum.

The size of the rink brought the players and the fans closer together. MacIntosh said the players had a lot of fun being a part of that atmosphere.

Mooseheads fan Lukas Macmillan was at the games with his father. “It was a lot more intimate and felt like a community hockey game rather than a corporate game,” he said.

Tim Feely said he’s been going to the games since the team first started playing 20 years ago. Feely lives in the north end and enjoyed being able to walk to the games last week with his wife.

“It’s old, it’s nostalgic,” he said. “It brings back a lot of the old school hockey stadium feeling. It’s noisy. You hear the puck, you hear the players.”

“It was a lot more personal,” Macmillan said. “It felt more intense. Plus, the crowd was right into it.”

Feely said that while the Scotiabank Centre is the better location, it would be a good idea to get the team out of the big arena and into somewhere smaller like the Forum a couple of times a year to remind fans and players of the old traditions of a hockey game.

“It’s just nice to revitalize the place every once in a while,” Feely said.

This was the third time the Mooseheads played at the Halifax Forum. There are seven games left in the playoffs, with the final game on April 21 in Moncton.

SMU students lead workshops for incarcerated women in Nova Scotia

SMU students who work with incarcerated women in Nova Scotia to help integrate them back into society are finishing the second phase of their project.

The student Enactus team at Saint Mary’s University has created a project called OPtions Nova. Jake Porteous, founding project manager, says they focus on empowering inmates at the Nova Institution for Women with the skills they will need to be successful once they are released from custody.

Porteous says that their goal is to give the inmates “a sense of entitlement, confidence and empowerment.”

Enactus Canada is a community of students focused on entrepreneurial action. There are Enactus groups all over Canada who start projects, such as OPtions Nova, in their communities.

The project had a pilot run last summer to see how well the women would react to university students working with them. After receiving feedback from the women and staff at the institution, the OPtions team reworked the structure of the program and started a new set of workshops 10 weeks ago. They will complete this first round next week.

The OPtions Nova team is made up of six SMU students. They travel to Truro every two weeks on Friday to run the program. The program runs for 12 weeks at a time, in three stages. The initial stage consists of workshops that teach basic business skills, financial literacy and employment skills.

When a woman involved with the project is released, she is paired up with a member of the OPtions team, who mentors her.

The women create their own co-operative business structure in the third stage of the project. Porteous says the goal is to encourage an entrepreneurial venture that the women can pursue once they are back in society.

One woman from the program has been released from custody so far, and she has had two job interviews since her release two weeks ago, Porteous says. The team has visited her in her community and has been helping her find a job.

Another woman from the program is being released from custody soon. Porteous says she has been reaccepted to the culinary arts program she was in before her incarceration.

Porteous is a third-year student majoring in criminology and sociology. He says his education in these areas have helped a lot with the project. “It’s given me a little bit of a deeper understanding of what these women have gone through.”

OPtions Nova co-manager Simon Gordon is another SMU student who has been influenced by the project. He says being a part of this project has made him rethink his career path. Initially, Gordon was working towards a career in marketing, but is now planning on going to law school.

Gordon is the business co-ordinator and focuses on the development of the workshops.

The second co-manager is Nicole MacPherson. She does community outreach and sets women up with their mentors.

Each member must be security trained by institution staff before entering and working one-on-one with the women. Porteous says the staff at the institution don’t want a huge number of students who can go in whenever they want, so they’re careful about who they train.

Porteous says they look for members who have initiative and show that they “will be there for the long run.”

Porteous says their long-term goal is to be inside the other five women’s penitentiaries in Canada over the next five years. He says they will likely involve other community organizations and Enactus teams from the cities these institutions are in.

Staying afloat: Former environmental engineer to open the first flotation centre in Halifax

Lindsay MacPhee, former environmental engineer, hopes to share the benefits of meditation through her new flotation centre.

Wires hang and pipes poke out from the unfinished ceiling. Pieces of plaster, insulation, tubes and tools are scattered around the space. Several workers tinker away in separate rooms. The space will soon become a sea of meditation and tranquility with decorations inspired by Wes Anderson. When the job is done, this will be the first flotation centre in Halifax.

An environmental engineer for five years, Lindsay MacPhee, 32, did not plan on opening her own business. However, after an environmental consulting job fell through, MacPhee decided to open her own flotation centre on King Street, in the north end of Halifax.

“It was definitely a blessing. I had known for awhile that it really wasn’t how I saw myself living my life,” says MacPhee. “I wanted to do something very fulfilling.”

What is flotation therapy?

Developed by Dr. John C. Lilly in 1954, flotation therapy is used as a form of sensory deprivation, detoxification and meditation to decrease stress and anxiety. MacPhee says flotation therapy can relieve chronic pain, such as whiplash and muscle recovery, due to the amount of magnesium sulphate in the solution.

“The health benefits are amazing,” says MacPhee.

In a flotation session, a person enters a tank filled with 10 inches of water and 800 pounds of dissolved Epsom salts. Denser than the Dead Sea, those who enter the tank will become buoyant and float. The temperature of the water is approximately 34.2 C, which is warmer than a public swimming pool. The tank is closed during the session to reduce sights, sounds and smells.

“When you get into that meditative state, which floating assists with, some pretty profound changes can happen,” says MacPhee.

From environmental engineer to flotation therapy

MacPhee got into floating in May 2013 in Vancouver, where she was finishing her degree in chemical and environmental engineering. She returned home to Nova Scotia six months later. Over the years, she never lost her interest in floating.

“I’ve been waiting for years for someone in Halifax to do this,” says MacPhee.

“We have such an amazing and creative community who are into meditation and the arts,” she says. “I think this can help and assist with that.”

Through the Self-Employment Benefits program and Employment Insurance, MacPhee was accepted into the Centre for Entrepreneurship Education and Development program, which helps entrepreneurs start their own small business with government funding.

MacPhee says that the main challenge of opening her own business was having confidence and educating others about floating.

“I had lived in a world where I worked a nine-to-five job as an engineer. It was such a major shift to what I’m doing now,” she says.

MacPhee says there has been an overwhelming response to her business idea. She says she has received numerous phone calls and emails from as far as Cape Breton and New Brunswick.

“It’s been general excitement,” says MacPhee. “That provides a bit of a push. On the days that are very difficult and I’m experiencing challenges, just knowing that provides a lot of support.”

In addition to flotation sessions, the centre will have a wellness co-ordinator, who is a trained naturopathic doctor, as well as a massage therapist and dietician.

MacPhee originally hoped to open The Floatation Centre by April 1. She expects to open the centre within the next few weeks.

“If I can just help people recognize their positive potential within the universe, whether it’s enhance their creativity, to decrease their stress levels … then I think that I’m doing a pretty great job,” says MacPhee.

Cut it out: Why are women’s haircuts so expensive?

Stylists from around Halifax explain why women’s haircuts cost more than men’s.

UPDATE: Information in the graph was corrected on Feb. 1, 2016

Chatter and music fill the air. The soft snick of scissors mixes with the sound of blow dryers and spray bottles. Tufts of hair are trampled underfoot as stylists dart to and fro. Shannon Bower squeezes her eyes shut as her stylist pushes her bangs onto her face. She is sitting in the Stanhope and Company hair studio, receiving a new haircut that will cost her $28 more than the haircut of the man sitting beside her.

This is not an uncommon occurrence. Not just for Bower, and not just at the Stanhope and Company studio. Nearly every hair salon in Halifax prices women’s haircuts significantly above men’s haircuts. A typical men’s wash and cut costs about $30, while a women’s wash and cut costs about $50.

Graph depicting the difference between the cost of women's haircuts and the cost of men's haircuts.
Graph depicting the difference between the cost of women’s haircuts and the cost of men’s haircuts. CORRECTION: The numbers above for Thumpers Salon are incorrect. They should be $52 for women and $43 for men. (Graph by Leah Woolley)

This begs the question: Why?

Haircut statistics

Women’s cuts are generally booked for 45 minutes to an hour, while men’s haircuts are usually only booked for half an hour. If clients are being charged for time, this would explain the higher prices for women. But it still leaves us wondering why all women’s haircuts take longer than men’s.

Another possible reason for pricing disparity could be how much product is used in women’s cuts compared to men’s cuts. Several hair stylists say that generally both men’s and women’s haircuts require the same amount of product.

One patron suggested that men’s haircuts are cheaper because men get their hair cut more often. According to many stylists, people with short hair tend to get haircuts about every four to six weeks, while people with longer hairstyles tend to get haircuts every eight to 12 weeks.

But not all men have short hair, and not all women have long hair. Our question remains: Why do women’s haircuts cost more than men’s haircuts?

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Quantity vs. quality

It all comes down to how much hair you have, and how long it takes your stylist to cut it.

“We’re providing a service, so the deciding factor is really time,” says Jenn Greene, a stylist at Kara’s Urban Day Spa.

Jill Ernest, a fellow stylist from Bowtique Hair and Makeup, agrees.

Ernest says that women’s hair usually takes longer to cut, but if a man comes in with long hair she will usually charge him the women’s rate. “It’s the difference between a 20-30 minute service to a 40-60 minute service.”

Local student Tora Oliphant is sitting in the next chair over, receiving her monthly trim. “As a kid, my haircut would cost twice as much as my brothers’, but I would also spend twice as long in the chair,” she says.

Ernest’s co-worker, Teresa Fisher, says sometimes men’s cuts can take just as long as women’s. “Some men are just as picky, if not pickier, than women. You wouldn’t believe it, but it’s true.”

Stylist Angelina Bistekos at the Casa Dante Hair Studio says that even if women have short hair, the cuts still typically take longer than men’s.

“Women’s are a little more expensive just because there is more work put into it than men’s cuts. There is work that goes into men’s cuts, but women get a hair styling, a blow dry, and in my experience lots of product gets used. Women are also more likely to want extra services, whereas men are kind of more easygoing,” says Bistekos.

At Stanhope and Company hair studio, Redmon Giovanni is cutting Shannon Bower’s hair. He says “for a women’s short haircut, I charge them the men’s price, but I don’t always charge men more for a longer haircut.” He says that even with long hair, men’s cuts are still generally more basic than women’s.

Fisher explains how “prices do vary depending on the skill level of the stylist. There is demand on time, experience, and for specific things they’ve studied over the years.”

Greene and Giovanni agree. “We pay money to go to classes and learn new techniques, and we go to hair shows to see what’s new. We invest a lot into what we do,” Greene says.

Giovanni says the technique that he’s using to cut Bower’s hair took him about 10 years to learn. “I think you pay for the experience of the stylist as well as the time you spend in the chair,” he says.

Stacey Turpin, an employee at Vitality Medi-Spa, points out that a women’s short haircut may be considered a men’s cut, just based on the amount of work that has to be done. She says most stylists make a judgment call when they see a client, and can charge them the women’s or men’s rate depending on which best suits their cut.

Ernest says she considers all aspects of the haircut when deciding on a price, not just the gender or hair length of her client.

 

Greene does it too. “Sometimes I’ll lower my price, depending on what I’ve done,” she says, as she sorts through a box of new hair products that have just come in.

Is it fair?

Greene thinks so. “The people who do this because it’s their passion tend to charge a bit more, because they know their value,” she says.

Ernest says it often depends on who’s running the place. “We have the benefit of being locally owned, so we can take our own prices into consideration. Some places have to stick to prices set out for them,” she says.

Some places, like Casa Dante, have their own set standard prices, but “it also depends on the stylist, because everybody kind of mixes it up and makes their own prices for their own clients,” says Bistekos.

Giovanni says, “It’s fair if you charge by time, but if you charge by the haircut then it’s not. I always charge by the time. Time and technique should be the determining factors of price.”

Camp Courage empowers young women to pursue first responder’s career

Firefighter Andréa Speranza, founder of Camp Courage, encourages young women to try careers as first responders in Halifax.

Founder and executive director of Camp Courage, 45-year-old Andréa Speranza is encouraging young women to try careers as first responders in Halifax.

The one-week intensive program aims to introduce females to emergency first responder’s services. Speranza created Camp Courage in 2006.

“As far as I could understand they just didn’t know what they’re missing,” said Speranza.

Speranza is currently a firefighter at the Eastern Passage Fire Hall. She spent four years as a volunteer firefighter before gaining a paid position.

The camp is free and accepts 24 young women into the program to develop confidence, leadership skills, and problem solving abilities.

Speranza fundraises $25,000 each year the camp runs. Due to a decrease in donations, Speranza is considering charging a fee for 2015 participants in order to sustain the camp.

“We need to invest more in our youth,” said Speranza. “I never went to camp when I was a kid and Camp Courage is everything I would have wanted to do if I did.”

Camp Courage runs every second year and is located at various fire stations around Halifax.

Applications for the program were due March 31 and participations are currently being chosen, said Speranza.

Speranza chooses applicants based on a written essay explaining how they would better life within their community if they attended Camp Courage.

“If the applicant is committed to implementing what they write about in their essay they will be accepted to attend the camp,” said Speranza.

Over seven days, Camp Courage teaches participants self-defence, how to shoot a gun, put out fires, and repel down walls. They will also learn basic paramedic training.

“The whole idea of the camp is really more about changing these young girls’ mindsets and getting them to challenge themselves to try new things even if they fail the first time,” said Speranza.

According to Canada’s 2006 national census, only about 3.6 per cent of firefighters were women.

“With more information and training and education more young women will be attracted to these fields of work,” said Speranza.

Cristy Webb, 19, attended Camp Courage two years ago.

“It really decided for me what I wanted to do with my life. Camp courage made me want to be a firefighter.”

Webb has since continued on to post-secondary education at the Marine Institute where she studied fire rescue and will be doing eight weeks of on-the-job training at Fire Station 13 in Dartmouth.

Belly dancer shimmies her worries away

Empowering women to be comfortable with their body image through the art of belly dance.

Emily McEwan is 44 years old and has a love for belly dancing that is clearly visible by the way she smiles when describing the feeling it gives her. She believes that belly dancing has a positive impact on her life.

McEwan has always been interested in belly dancing and took classes in Scotland in 1992. However, the reason why she decided to start taking lessons in Halifax was to help her cope with the stress in her life.

Emily McEwan gets read to start her belly dancing class at Halifax's  Serpentine Studios (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)
Emily McEwan gets ready to start her belly dancing class at Halifax’s Serpentine Studios (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)

“It takes your mind off things. The thing that finally drove me to sign up for lessons was that I was having a hard time with some other aspects of life and I thought that I needed to try something that was completely different but also that I always wanted to do,” said McEwan.

McEwan quickly fell in love with belly dance and how it made her feel.

“I got some positive feedback when I started doing it so I kind of tucked that away in the back of my head because I had never gotten any positive feedback for how I moved my body to music before. I thought of myself as a klutz growing up, so it was kind of a shock to find out I could actually do this and feel good,” said McEwan.

While belly dancing was creating positive change within her own life, she was very happy to discover that her love for belly dancing could help empower other people as well.

McEwan became a member of a local belly dancing organization called the Halifax Shimmy Mob. The volunteer group of women tries to raise awareness about domestic violence and raise money for women and children’s shelters.

This is an issue that is very important to McEwan.

“I can’t go into any detail but domestic violence is a very personal cause to me. I relate to it very personally so anything I can do that can help, I will. I’m glad that I get a chance to help an organization that’s addressing it,” said McEwan.

Members of the Halifax Shimmy Mob practice their belly dancing (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)
Members of the Halifax Shimmy Mob practice their belly dancing. (Photo by Katlyn Pettipas)

The Halifax Shimmy Mob raises donations by taking part in multiple charities throughout the year. The belly dance group also creates and takes part in an organized flash mob where different Shimmy Mobs from around the world dance to the same song and do the same choreography. This is scheduled to happen on May 9, also known as World Belly Dance Day.

The Halifax Shimmy Mob also has a goal of raising awareness about the positive impacts associated with belly dancing. McEwan is very enthusiastic about promoting belly dancing because she believes it can be very empowering for women.

McEwan thinks this style of dancing is a great way to help improve women’s confidence, especially in regards to different body images.

“I have found the more I do it the more confident I feel about what my body can do in regards to my ability and also my shape. Which probably like a lot of women I was kind of socialized from a very young age to be obsessed with that and worry about it all the time,” said McEwan.

While McEwan witnesses the positive effects that belly dancing has on women, she believes that there is a common misconception that surrounds belly dancing and she would like to end the stigma.

“Some people have a really mistaken idea about what it is and why people do it. The thing I would want people to know the most about belly dance is that it’s not about women showing off their bodies for men’s pleasures, it’s actually most of the time, by women for women.”

McEwan is also very happy that her nine-year-old daughter, Eri, joined the Shimmy Mob with her because not only are they spending quality time together, but she is also witnessing the positive aspects belly dancing can have on women.

“I think it’s good for her to see women of all ages enjoying this and doing it out in public as well as doing it for a good cause,” said McEwan.

News Digest: April 6-9

News from around the peninsula, as reported by other news outlets.

Boy, 9, dies in Halifax hospital after house fire, mother remains in critical condition (Metro News) 

A nine-year-old boy lost his life Monday morning at the IWK Health Centre due to critical injuries from a house fire. The fire took place on Friday evening in Cape Breton, where police said they found the boy and his 34-year-old mother standing outside the burning home. His mother remains in critical condition and police say the investigation is ongoing.

Shell Canada’s $600K donation to Dalhousie University spurs protest (CBC News)

Students gathered on campus Tuesday to protest Dalhousie University’s relationship with oil and gas companies. The students were rallying against the university’s decision to accept $600,000 from Shell Canada, $100,000 of which will be dedicated to offshore exploration.

 Three-year wage freeze for Nova Scotia MLAs, non-union civil servants (The Chronicle Herald)

Halifax’s provincial government introduced a three-year wage freeze for MLAs and non-unionized government workers Tuesday. It also announced that the public service award would be frozen at current levels and inaccessible for new non-unionized workers. The MLA traditional allowance, which has a maximum payout of $89,000 when a fully pensionable member leaves office after 12 years, has also been cancelled. Finance Minister Diana Whalen said the government is looking at changing austerity measures to improve the province’s finances.

Police seek help in search for missing teen, 14 (Global News)

Investigators are seeking the public’s help in locating a 14-year-old girl who was reported missing on Tuesday. Ashley Mombourquette was last seen inside her Dartmouth home at around 11 p.m. Monday. Police say there is no evidence to suggest foul play but that there is concern for her well-being given her age.

N.S. forecasts $98M deficit, cuts public sector, hikes tobacco taxes (CTV News)

Nova Scotia is cutting public sector jobs, changing the restrictions on tuition fee increases and increasing tobacco taxes in a new budget with the attempt to bring down the province’s deficit. Reductions in the provincial tax credit for the film and TV industry were also made. Finance officials say this change might weaken the province’s ability to compete with other jurisdictions for film sector money. The budget predicts a deficit of $97.6 million for 2015-16 with the net debt pegged at $15.1 billion.

 

Sydney Jones

Capturing canines with Stephanie Sibbitt

Stephanie Sibbitt moved to Nova Scotia last year to pursue a career as a full-time artist. Since then, she has found her artistic niche and paints custom pet portraits.

With classical music playing lightly in the background, Stephanie Sibbitt reaches forward to pick out the colours for the first layer on her new painting. On the shelf in front of her workspace, dozens of paint tubes are lined up in the order of the rainbow, and a bulletin board features a sketch of her newest project; a custom pet portrait of Bradley, a wheaten-terrier mix.

Choosing to begin with multiple shades of blues and greens, Sibbitt squeezes small drops of paint onto the top of an old Becel container and begins lightly swirling the colours around until she is ready to make the first brush stroke.

As she begins working on the first layer, her cat Davis pokes its head around the corner and jumps onto the table beside her. Without pausing to take a quick break from her painting, Sibbitt absent-mindedly reaches over to her pet and continues painting while Davis leans in, excited for a bit of attention. Upstairs, her dogs Akima and Opie whine in protest at being let out of the fun.

Most days start out this way for Sibbitt, who moved to Halifax last year to pursue a career as a full-time artist. She and her boyfriend, Bernard Antinucci, made the move from the fast-paced lifestyle of Toronto to pursue their dreams of being entrepreneurs in Nova Scotia. Surrounded by animals, it is no surprise that Sibbitt has found her artistic niche in painting custom pet portraits.

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Sibbitt has been painting all her life. With no formal training other than visual art classes in high school, she relies on books and YouTube tutorial videos to learn different skills.

“I learn from other people. If I see something that inspires me from another artist, I want to go out and learn that skill, figure out how they did it and apply it to what I do,” she says. “For me it is trial and error. My drawers are filled with stuff that no one will ever see just because I’ll try something new and realize I hate it and instead of throwing it out, I’ll just keep it because you learn from it.”

The walls of Sibbitt’s house are covered in paintings of all shapes and sizes, ranging from large acrylic landscapes to postcard-sized ink and watercolour paintings, and of course, her pet portraits.

“I’m one of those crazy cat people too, so for me, the whole pet portrait concept started because I had to put my cat down. He was 19 years old and I was devastated.”

Even though her cat Calypso was gone, Sibbitt still knew she needed some way to connect with him, and being an artist gave her the perfect outlet. After friends and family saw what she could do with just a picture as reference, many people approached her to ask if she could do a portrait for them as well. “It started to turn into this whole group of just remembering your pet.”

For Sibbitt, it is all in the details. Before even bringing her brush to canvas, Sibbitt takes time to have a consultation with clients to gather photographs to work from and learn about their pet’s personalities and quirks. At the end of the day, her goal isn’t to simply paint a picture, but to capture the personality of the animal.

“For me, I’ll spend the time. I’ll take a really crappy picture and do everything I can to make sure it looks lifelike, and make sure it looks like your dog. I really try to take what they tell me about their dog, and what is important to them and then capture that.”

Stephanie Sibbitt absentmindedly pets her dog, Opie while concentrating on her newest painting. (Photo by: Rowan Morrissy)
Stephanie Sibbitt absentmindedly pets her dog, Opie while concentrating on her newest painting. (Photo by: Rowan Morrissy)

In order to achieve a distinctive portrait, Sibbitt uses unique backgrounds and props and tries to incorporate the pet’s name into the portrait to make it special for the owner.

As her business grows, Sibbitt is hoping to expand her services as well. Right now, Sibbitt does all her painting straight from photographs that owners have brought in. In the next few months, she is hoping to provide house visits.

“I’ll come out to you, spend an hour with your dog, and take a ton of pictures of your dog. That way, I get the best pictures I like to work with, and you can keep the rest.”

While her commissions keep her busy with around four to six custom paintings a month, Sibbitt is also working on custom greeting cards and drawing tattoo designs. But even with all her artistic ideas, Sibbitt Studios would be nothing without her strong communication and business skills.

“I am on Kijiji every day posting ads. I’m emailing clients and sending progress pictures to show how far I’ve come on their portrait. If I’m not out there talking to people, then I’m not getting the work, and I’m not getting the referrals,” she says. “It’s kind of a grind, but I don’t want to be a starving artist.”

Other than updating her website, Facebook and Instagram daily, Sibbitt tries to attend vendor shows on the weekend. “I hope to leave every show knowing that everyone got a business card, and at least three people are interested in getting a painting,” she says. “I love painting, clearly this is what I want to do with my life. If I could get paid every day to do art, that would be my goal. And that’s what I’m working towards.”

Moving out to Nova Scotia and making the decision to work for herself has opened up Sibbitt’s eyes to the possibilities that are available to those who are brave enough to seek them.

“It made me realize that it doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do, people are always going to judge you based on your style, or your skill. As long as you can stand up and do what you really want to do, that’s all that matters.”

Symphony Nova Scotia’s Adopt-a-Musician program inspires creativity

Halifax students showcase their newfound skills at We Are the Stars concert.

Students from three Halifax elementary schools and Halifax West High School showed off their skill and smiles at Symphony Nova Scotia’s Adopt-a-Musician program’s final concert on Thursday.

The concert — We Are the Stars — took place at the Halifax Central Library. Symphony Nova Scotia musicians have been “adopting” student musicians for 12 years.

Once a week, for seven weeks, students from Halifax West High School practiced under the direction of one of Symphony Nova Scotia’s violinists, Celeste Jankowski.

“The learning curve was huge,” said Faris Kapra, a Grade 10 student who was part of the high school string ensemble. “It made us become something more than just a high school group.”

 

For the final concert, students performed a piece called Agincourt by Doug Spata. The song depicts a battle scene and was set in a challenging 7/8 time rhythm, which was new to many students in the group.

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Westmount elementary and Grosvenor Wentworth elementary school students get ready to perform their original composition. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

“We learned a lot of skills that professionals would use, in both our technique and our style of learning,” said Kapra.

“We learned to go home, learn everything perfectly there, then come to school to really make the music. That was different from what we had been doing,” he said.

Violist Kerry Kavalo worked with 23 students from Westmount elementary and Grosvenor Wentworth Park elementary schools.

The students learned basic composition skills and how to create through a collaborative process. In the end, they composed and performed an original piece named West-Grove Tune.

St. Catherine’s elementary school’s Grade 5 class created a narrative tale and a percussion arrangement to perform at the concert. They named their story The Dragon Slayer and Hybrid Dragon.

St. Catherine's Elementary School Students (Photo: Rachel Collier)
St. Catherine’s elementary school students show off the instruments that they used. (Photo: Rachel Collier)

When creating their performance, the class practiced math, language and presentation skills.

They also discussed the complex natures of the main characters of their story and practiced working together.

“The program is good because it changes the dynamics of the classroom from what it usually is for academic purposes,” said Susane Lemieux, the Symphony Nova Scotia oboist who guided the class.

Lemieux noticed that students really had to pay attention while working in a new style.

“It was great to see when they started to get ideas and to speak up,” she said.

The program often depends on schools’ administrative support.

“They could be doing other curriculum work, especially this year with all of the snow days. We really had to convince everyone that it’s worth it,” said Lemieux.