Three days a week, eight-year-old Ceilidh MacDonald walks into the Ambition Performing Arts (APA) studio, puts on her dancing shoes and waits with her friends for class to begin.
With tap, jazz, ballet, hip hop, acro and musical theatre, MacDonald spends a lot of time at the studio but she doesn’t mind. She has been dancing for almost her entire life – seven years – and says she was just “born to do it.”
MacDonald is just one of 530 students that walk in and out of the APA doors every week; each one learning to find their passion for dance and their place within the studio.
For Tara Pickford, APA has always been about more than just dancing. Since opening the studio 11 years ago, Pickford and her team have worked hard to provide an environment for young dancers to not only learn proper technique and skills, but to grow as people.
Says Pickford: “Dance is a passion; it’s a physical outlet, it’s an emotional outlet, it’s a creative outlet. The studio is a place where kids can go and be physically active.
“They can use their creativity. It is a place where they can interact with other people without screen time. It’s a second place to be loved; it’s a second home.”
Dance continues to be very popular for youth – especially young girls – and Pickford attributes this popularity to media coverage. TV shows like Dancing with the Stars and World of Dance bring the sport into the limelight; however, Pickford adds, this prominence has contributed to the ever-rising standards.
“It is so easily consumed by the mass media and the mass public; it’s definitely growing,” she says. “The result of that is that what’s required of students at a young age has absolutely changed and it’s maybe not for the better because not everybody is ready to do those advanced moves when they’re younger. That’s when we see the burnout, we see the injuries and we see families and kids being done with their sport really early.”
Pickford brings her background in kinesiology to APA to ensure the studio is always teaching dance techniques in a way that is developmentally appropriate. She and her staff are also continuously taking courses and learning to bring the newest methods into their classrooms.
Rachel Viner has been teaching with APA for 11 years and says the studio stays on top of industry trends and research to ensure students get the best dance experience.
“The dance world is consistently evolving,” she says. “It is completely different from when even I was a dancer so it’s really important as a staff for us to continue growing and educating ourselves to keep up with the standard that’s being held in the dance world today.”
Pickford says APA’s goal is to set students up to succeed, whether that be as a professional dancer or in any other pursuits. She says several of her students have gone on to perform in Vancouver for various dance companies, but all of her students go on to become major forces in their communities.
Jillian Frederick has been dancing for 13 years and as she enters her final year of high school, attributes many of her successes to her time in dance.
“They try to teach a lot of lessons in life like perseverance and working for what you want,” she says. “I wasn’t just learning how to dance, I was learning how to be a great human after I graduate and even how to get a job. Even though it’s just dance training, you learn so much more.”
Frederick adds that the studio is like a second family and she would not be able to do what she does without their continuous support.
For Viner, it is watching these friendships form and the culture of the studio grow that makes her feel like she has succeeded as a teacher.
“Of course we put a lot of thought and effort into seeing the kids grow as dancers but it means so much more to see them grow and create friendships and just find themselves as people.”