By Greg Smith – The Day
Published March 12 2016
New London — There was salsa dancing, song, poetry and even a bit of old school breakdancing Saturday at the Garde Arts Center as more than 60 artists from 10 different communities showcased their talents at the 6th Annual New London Youth Talent Show.
The show was sold out, and the more than 1,000 people attending were treated to the kind of talent that show coordinator Curtis Goodwin said highlighted the richness of diversity sometimes overlooked in the community.
There was also a lot going on in the weeks leading up to the show.
“It’s not one of those talent shows where kids just get up on stage and do their own thing,” Goodwin said. “We utilize the arts as a way to transform their lives and take them away from those different pressures they are facing.”
He said the individuals were coached and mentored and in many cases formed bonds with their fellow artists in preparation for the event.
“When we’re talking about bridging the gaps,” he said, “what place do you have so many people from all social and economic backgrounds in one place, and all for the right cause. The school system can’t do it. Parents can’t do it. But somehow through the arts we have that proven success model.”
Saturday’s show was emceed by City Councilor and New London police Officer Anthony Nolan, and opened with the New London High School band drum line.
Performers included Casey Flax, 15, a freshman at Fitch High School in Groton, in her second year at the show, as a solo and in a group performance.
“I’ve met so many people, and it’s really cool because I keep the friendships going,” she said. “The people I’ve connected most with are the singers, but we all have the same interests. Even though we’re from different towns, the music brings us all together.”
Cory Santana, 19, moved to the area five years ago from Puerto Rico and is a 2014 New London High School graduate pursuing studies in civil engineering at Three Rivers Community College.
On Saturday he performed a mix of salsa and bachata dance with his partner, Mariel Duran, to a roar of cheers from the crowd.
Santana said his interest in dance was rekindled during his time with Higher Edge, a local nonprofit aiding students through the college process.
The organization connected him with “Dancing for Degree,” at Connecticut College and had his college text books paid off for a semester.
“Events like these always bring people together. It’s full of heart, I like to say,” Santana said.
The idea for the talent show came in the wake of the murder of Matthew Chew in 2010 by a group of teens in New London.
Goodwin, Frank Colmenares, Nolan and Susan Connolly saw the talent show as an outlet for area youth.
Nolan said the show has grown each year as evidenced by the more than 100 people who showed up at the Crystal Mall to audition.
The number of potential contestants makes it more and more challenging to choose who is included.
“The kids are just so good,” Nolan said.
As for the show, Nolan said “kids need to believe they can make it, that there are opportunities out there, avenues they can have for success. Being at the Garde might be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity thing.”
The idea of holding auditions at the mall was something Goodwin said helped to make it more inclusive, highlighting the show’s theme of “Bridging the Gap.”
Proceeds from the event are dispersed in the form of scholarships to local organizations, individuals and some of the performers attempting to develop their artistic abilities.
Saturday’s special guest Braiden Sunshine of Old Lyme, a semi-finalist on NBC’s “The Voice,” was expected to close Saturday’s show with two songs, including an original called “A Place for Me.”
Prior to his performance he said he was as nervous as any of the other youth performing.
“These kids are so amazingly talented. To see them doing something they love on stage — it’s really just cool to see,” he said.
The last time Sunshine was at the Garde was when he was about 6 years old.
His uncle ran a playhouse, and he recalls he played Snow Miser and his sister was Heat Miser during a song at the intermission of a Christmas play.
“It was my first big break,” he said half-jokingly.