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Dance, dance wherever you may be: Bella Dance Academy helps creates life skills through its programming

The performing art of dance is not only a graceful way to express oneself, it is also an eloquent way to stay fit and healthy.

But while the motion of dance is learned on the dance floor, it is the first of many skills one acquires in the process, Phoenix Smith, owner of Bella Dance Academy in Yellowknife, said.

“We are a more than just a great dance studio, it’s a group of affiliated studios that focus on all of the life skills that you get outside of just coming to dance class,” Smith said. “Teamwork and dedication, confidence getting up on stage and being able to perform in front of people, building friendships, all of those other things that come with coming to a class every week and getting more comfortable with yourself and your body and what you can do.”

The metamorphosis Smith sees amongst dance students from the beginning through the end of the season is inspiring.

“It’s just seeing how strong you are and watching yourself grow from the start of the season to the end and seeing all the different things you can achieve throughout the season. It’s pretty amazing.

“It’s everything that goes beyond it with the community,” she said of the life skills one acquires for beyond the studio walls.

Warm environment

The dance studio itself is a welcoming and comfortable environment in which to learn the many skills they offer, Smith said.

“We’ve got three beautiful studios. All of our studios have full length mirrors. We also have Marley sprung floors — sprung floors are really important in dance because they provide cushion for the dancers. So it’s always safer to be dancing on a sprung floor,” she said of the design, which was accomplished by using pool noodles that were sliced into little pieces and spread out over the floor base.

Also at the dance studio is a waiting room complete with a book nook corner so students can indulge in a bit of reading in between classes — currently, its shelves are brimming with the literary works of Northern authors.

“It’s just a nice, warm space back here,” said Smith.

While Smith has been the owner of the studio for the past two seasons, the studio is in its 20th year of operation and has 18 dance instructors.

In terms of dance lessons, Smith said she has over 600 students enrolled this year for a variety of dance lessons that include ballet, hip-hop, Acro, tap, to name a few. Classes are available online and for all ages and skill levels as well, she noted, and they run throughout the winter season.

She said it is inspiring to watch students - from the very young who are nervous to be away from their parents for the first time, to the adults, who have always wanted to try dancing, but who, too, are often nervous to learn something new.

“It’s really neat to see them come in and just sort of challenge themselves in that way,” she said.

Lessons learned

For 12-year-old student Elodie Scott, who participates in ballet, jazz and modern dance lessons, as well as being part of the competitive and troop teams, she has been participating since the age of three.

“I really like expressing my feelings through dance, like using my body as another way of talking almost. So I really like that,” Scott said of the enjoyment she gets from the variety of dances she does, adding that each dance enables her to uniquely express her feelings.

She said the skills she has learned in dance help her in her daily life.

“I think it’s really helpful, like, I know, like, whenever I’m feeling stressed or angry, I’m like, ‘OK, I know how to calm myself. I have that technique. And it also really helps self-esteem, because you’re like, ‘I’m really good at this thing. I’m sure I can be good at other things too.’

“So I think that really helps,” she said of her lessons for not only dance, but in life skills.

Dancers Shino Koyanagi and Lindyn Fraser, both nine years old, said they, too, get great enjoyment from learning dance.

“I mostly do almost all the dances and I started dancing when I was three,” Koyanagi said, adding that while it was hard to choose a favorite dance, it would probably be the contemporary style.

Fraser has also been dancing since she was three.

“I started jazz. Yeah. And now I do lots of types of dance,” she said. “I like it. You can just, like, move to the music and just feel so good.”

Celebrating the seasons

Smith said as it is the 20th season for the studio, they have been doing 20 events to celebrate, including recently hosting a dance convention in which they brought in three performers from Vancouver.

One upcoming event on April 6 and 7, a weekend of workshops called LEAD, which stands for Leadership, Empowerment, Action and Dance, is in collaboration with the National Ballet School and will be “full of peer networking, movement, and discussion about how female and gender non-conforming youth can be self-empowered leaders within their community.”

Smith said it is free for participants, including travel and accommodations for those who live outside of Yellowknife and that they are looking for female and non-binary youth ages 16 to 25 from the NWT and no dance experience is necessary to apply.

“You really get to be part of a community when you get to take part in all of these other events that we have in the studio,” she said.

—By Jill Westerman