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Student stories credit the impact of women on Canadian history

Young people ‘dancing backward’ through history
Founder of Dancing Backwards Sandy Mayzell with student project.

This summer will see the launch of a politically engaging eight-week online program for students grades 5 to 8. Dancing Backwards explores citizenship, gender parity and women in leadership through use of creative media, where students complete their own projects and upload them to the “Her Story Archive” on the program site for public viewing.

“It’s about demonstrating to young students that girls can and should be as politically involved as boys,” Victoria-based founder and executive director Sandy Mayzell said. The program covers often overlooked areas of Canadian history while satisfying the curriculum for certain social studies, English, language arts and arts courses in BC and other provinces. Teachers can register for free online.

Mayzell became inspired to create the program while working on a women in politics documentary ten years ago. After attending the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians’ Conference in 2012, she understood that women were missing in politics and the best place to start was with youth. “Dancing Backwards felt necessary,” she said. “Young people have an innate sense of fairness and justice that should be tapped into on issues like this.” Mayzell said that whenever she has taught younger classes about women’s suffrage, the boys become as upset as the girls. “Grades five to eight are ideal for values-based education.”

Dancing Backwards centres around encouragement of youth voters, gender balance in government and the necessity of women in leadership roles today, in the future and throughout history. The program begins with five “reflective” weeks where students learn the impact politics have on their own lives and why they should become involved.

Mayzell explains that young people do not vote often because they do not realize how politics affects their lives. “Dancing Backwards teaches that politics affects everything from cell phones, to drinking water, to school years,” she said. When a young person understands how an election might impact their own life, they are more likely to vote. “[In Dancing Backwards], they go through the democratic process of voting and they create three minute storytelling that becomes part of our site’s Her Story archives.” The Her Story Archives currently features stories on prominent Canadian women such as Agnes MacPhail, Kim Campbell and Elizabeth May created by students from 5 Greater Victoria schools - though the collection will be ever-growing. “Women have contributed big time to the building and maintenance of the country. The kids are writing a missing chapter of history,” Mayzell said.

Dancing Backwards has potential plans to partner with Equal Voice’s Daughters of the Vote and looks to create a national Dancing Backwards Youth Advisory Council. Sandy Mayzell will address the BC Teachers Institute on Parliamentary Democracy and the Education Policy and Direction Committee this year.

Visit Dancing Backwards online at