Throughout my life experiences I have come to learn the positive influence dance has on any community. People of all ages have experienced the social, emotional, intellectual, and physical health benefits of dance. I feel so grateful to have had the opportunity to watch students and communities flourish during my twenty-five years as a dance educator.
Growing up I was very fortunate to have been able to train competitively and study the disciplines of Jazz, R.A.D. Ballet, Lyrical and Hip-Hop with Showtime Dance Productions for over 10 years. After graduation, I continued to pursue my dance studies in Calgary and attended teacher workshops when possible in New York. I also started my post secondary education and accepted an internship in the Florida Keys. This was the one time in my life when I wasn’t dancing and although I was living in one of the most beautiful places on earth, I felt like a big part of me was missing. After I completed the internship I moved back to Canada, finished my Kinesiology degree and started my Bachelor of Education at the University of Lethbridge. As a university student in Lethbridge, I found there were limited opportunities for dancers in their early twenties. I decided to start up a dance program at the University of Lethbridge. The company flourished and I felt so much more joy having a strong connection to a dance community. I was the director and owner of the company for ten years and I am still connected with some of the dancers to this day.
During my last year of studies at the University of Lethbridge, I received my final professional semester placement at G.S. Lakie Middle School. I basically equate this opportunity to winning the lottery. This was a new vibrant school bursting with energy and innovative ideas, thanks to the creative leader and Principal, Doug James. He found teachers and support staff that were passionate and he did what ever he could to help their dreams come true. I never thought in a million years I would eventually have the opportunity to create a full-time dance program within a middle school. Thanks to a very supportive atmosphere and a little hard work, the G.S. Lakie dance program was born. The program evolved from a small classroom with a boom box to a state-of-the-art dance room equipped with a sound system, stage lighting, convertible theatre and best of all, over 300 eager dance students.
I can honestly say these past 17 years at G.S. Lakie Middle School have been some of the most rewarding and memorable times of my life. I have had so many open doors and opportunities thanks to dance and our school community. There are many highlights throughout my career that have created vivid lifelong memories. I will never forget the proud moments watching students overcome their fears of performing onstage. Feeling the strong sense of community and belonging students had after working together as a performance ensemble. I still to this day experience the joy of having a team of staff that feel more like family than they do co-workers. This is because I am surrounded by people who care, people who want to help make this world a better place by being there for our future generations.
Dance is a historical reflection of the social, political, and cultural movements over time. To develop a greater appreciation, I wanted Lakie dance students to get a new perspective and learn from authentic experiences by extending the walls of the classroom to explore other dance cultures and communities. What better place to do this than the “Big Apple!” (New York). Unfortunately, this had not been done before at the middle school level. With some persistence and a lot of planning I was given the opportunity to present to our district board of trustees for approval of an international trip. The goal was to inspire our dance students and show them the diverse dance cultures beyond our borders. I admit, I was very nervous to pitch this to the table of 10 or more trustees. I felt like I was walking into a teacher’s version of “Dragons Den.” Luckily, I had the support of my administrator, Doug James by my side and we received the great news that our trip was approved! Once again, I am still so grateful for the amazing team atmosphere at Lakie that helped to make our three international trips possible.
I will always remember the excitement of seeing New York City through the eyes of a middle school student, who had never even been on an airplane before. Watching real buskers perform on the streets had our Lakie Gators in awe. I loved how inspired our students were seeing stars like, Lin Manuel Miranda perform live on Broadway during “In the Heights”. Learning about fundamentals of traditional West African “Sinte” dance with an emphasis on an understanding of the accompanying live drum rhythms in the beautiful Alvin Ailey studio was an epic experience. Stepping out onto the Radio City stage and giving the students the dancers perspective was a sight to see. Being in the same city as DJ “Cool Herc” where Breakin’ was born, this was an honour in itself. I am so grateful for these travel opportunities and I am hoping I continue to have the opportunity to create new ones with our students.
The highlights of my teaching career are endless! Watching our Lakie gators dance side by side the Harlem Globetrotters on tour. Seeing our students in awe when they got to meet Lex Ishimoto and Travis Wall after their spectacular performance of “Shaping Sound”. Meeting up with one of the performers from Alberta Ballet after their stunning performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Teaming up with the “World drumming group” and the University of Lethbridge to choreograph a flash mob to welcome the new university president performed by G.S. Lakie and U of L dance students. Taking the dance students to see a live Break battle in Calgary was something I will never forget. Partnering up with a high school to create an alumni mentorship program and bring in renowned guest choreographers from all over Canada. Creating an original musical with talented and passionate colleagues. The list of positive memories is always ongoing when you work in a vibrant school with active and engaged staff and students.
As we embarked on the year 2020, the next chapter of my life as a teacher looked much different. Seeing students through a computer screen during COVID restrictions was heartbreaking. I believe physical and mental wellness are strongly connected and many of our students were not very active during Covid. Our staff did perceive an increase in depression, anxiety, and withdrawal from our students during this time. In addition to the stress caused by a pandemic, I am convinced that the lack of physical activity lead to an increase in these negative thoughts and actions. I was so grateful to get my program back after restrictions lifted.
Dance has a way of connecting the mind, body, and spirit. It is far too common for this young generation to be glued in front of a screen. Video games, streaming platforms and social media have become an addiction for many. Giving students the opportunity to dance within the school day can improve their confidence, coordination, balance, strength, stamina, flexibility, discipline, connection, cognitive function and it reduces their screen time!
I am so grateful I got to spend the last three decades of my life learning more about the wonders of dance. It is an evolving language beyond words that builds community and improves mental, physical, and emotional wellness.