By Soni Rajan
TORONTO: Dancing Damsels, a Toronto-based, federally incorporated not-for-profit organization, that promotes Multiculturalism, Community Development and Empowerment through the performing arts, celebrated International women’s Day on Sunday March 07th. Each year, the International Women’s Day celebrations and Women Achiever Awards conducted by Dancing Damsels, is held at Toronto City Hall. This year, due to unprecedented pandemic restrictions, these celebrations were held on a digital platform in the presence of dignitaries and women exemplars from different walks of life, in the most laudable fashion.
The celebrations began with a welcome address by the Founder and Managing Director of Dancing Damsel, Mary Ashok. Her message about rebuilding a resilient post-COVID-19 world, with the interests of women at the center of it, set the tone for the evening’s theme.
The ceremony was inaugurated by the Chief Guest, Madame Hazel McCallion, former Mayor of Mississauga. In her endearing inaugural address, she spoke of her experience and struggles as a businesswoman, a female politician and a long-established political leader. She attributed her success to the advice her mother gave her. “Don’t do just what you are assigned to do. It’s that little extra that you do that makes the difference”.
Virtual greetings and congratulatory messages were received from Federal, Provincial and Municipal leaders in praise of Dancing Damsels’ ongoing efforts to promote women empowerment and multiculturalism. Video messages were received from Hon. Bill Blair, Minister of Public Safety, Hon. Salma Zahid, Mayor John Tory, MPP Doly Begum and Councillor Nick Mantas. Breathtaking and dazzling dance performances by Saswathi Sahoo and the MCAO added delightful colour to the evening’s proceedings.
The keynote speech was delivered by Dr. Vasundara Venkateswaran, a highly accomplished researcher and a distinguished professor, from the University of Toronto. An award-winning entrepreneur herself, she said that the barriers for her as a woman researcher and a visible minority, only strengthened her resolve to become a scientist.
In addition to holding numerous research patents, she is also the co-founder of an established pharmaceutical company today. Dr. Venkateswaran’s motivational speech for upcoming women entrepreneurs and young girls was the highlight of the evening. Her analogy of women to tea bags strongly resounded with the audience.
Each year, the Dancing Damsels honour women who possess vision, innovation, entrepreneurship, leadership, individuality and tenacity with the IWD Women Achiever Awards. The awards are conferred to exceptional Canadian Residents or Permanent Residents who have excelled in their field of work or made a significant contribution to their community through voluntary services.
The awards section of the ceremony was inaugurated by Councillor Cynthia Lai Ward 23. The 2021 award recipients were Vaishali Panwar – Performing Arts / Dance, Vaidehi Raut – Community Leadership, Sulochana Krishnamurthy – Volunteer Service, Dr. Marjorie Dixon – Healthcare, Doina Oncel – Science & Technology, Jeannette Chau – Community Service, Paola Gomez – Leadership in Arts, Annie Koshy – Media & Communications and Dilesha Stelmach – Rising Star. Hon. Dr. Asha Seth, the first Indo-Canadian female Senator did the honor of presenting the Lifetime Achievement award to Lata Pada, the artistic director of Sampradaya Dance Creations. Lata Pada is also a recipient of the Order of Canada, the highest honor given to any Canadian Citizen. The entire event was hosted seamlessly by the organization’s directors Gita Sankaran and Dr. Soni Rajan.