Steps dancer Chloe Salsiccioli. Photos: Jessee Allen

Steps dancer Chloe Salsiccioli. Photos: Jessee Allen

Trail studio looking forward to stepping back into dance this fall

Jessee Allen bought Steps Dance Centre in September 2017, fulfilling her childhood dream

One of the many things the Trail Times newsroom pined for during the pandemic was the sound of music, laughter – and dance steps – coming from the studio next door to our Cedar Avenue office.

Steps Dance Studio closed their doors early last year, and most of their classes have since been held online.

With restrictions easing in British Columbia and renewed hope for the finer things in life to come back, such as live dance lessons and live performances, the Times chatted about the upcoming season with Jessee Allen, Steps Dance Centre’s artistic director.

Steps dancer Xin Xin Zhou. Photo: Jessee Allen

Steps dancer Xin Xin Zhou. Photo: Jessee Allen

Trail Times (TT): Tell me how the studio has coped over the past year with the pandemic? How did you keep the dancers engaged?

Jessee Allen (JA): The pandemic was definitely an adjustment for us. We closed our doors in March 2020, for the remainder of the dance season. As we started the next season in September 2020, there was a lot of uncertainty, and we were starting the season with about 40 per cent less enrolment than in the past. We weren’t sure when we’d get to perform, or if we would at all. Our performance/competitive team typically starts performing within the community in November, and have multiple a month for the remainder of the year. We were suddenly looking at a year with potentially no performances. While our dancers work hard regardless, and our focus is always on technique, improvement, growth, etc., the dancers inevitably look forward to going on stage and sharing their love of dance through performing. Because we were unsure of what the year would look like, we decided early in the season to keep things positive, and focused even more so on technical growth and development. Despite our classes needing to look a bit different, due to social distancing and reduced numbers, we were able to keep the dancers engaged and excited, and proud of what they accomplished. We incorporated different educational games and activities, began learning class dances early, and offered in-house exams for anyone interested, to give them something tangible to work towards. In late November, we were ordered to close, due to rising case numbers. At this time, we pivoted to a Zoom format for short term. While not ideal, and significantly more work for the instructors, the Zoom classes were still fun, and the dancers received quality instruction and multiple benefits. We were thankfully able to continue our dance season, and finish strong!

TT: When was the last time Steps dancers could perform as a group?

JA: In April, our competitive/performance team, Step It Up, participated in a virtual dance competition. All of our routines were socially distanced, and the dancers wore masks while performing. The event was organized as a “live” event, so we were streaming our dances in real-time. And, in May, our entire studio came to The Bailey Theatre one class at a time, and pre-recorded their class dances for our virtual year-end recital. Again, all routines were socially distanced, and masks were worn. Although we had no audience, it was great to give the dancers the opportunity to perform on the big stage, with lights and music. One of our groups was actually too large to perform together for the stage capacity, so we needed to split all their groups in half – the 12 dancers were split into two groups for each of their six dances, and had to adjust spacing and choreography. They did amazing, and were all able to perform all the dances, so people watching our recital got to see their dances twice. Our year-end recital was virtual, pre-recorded with the help of The Bailey Theatre, and really turned out amazing. It was really great to finish off the year with a year-end recital.

Steps dancer Sophie Morris. Photo: Jessee Allen

Steps dancer Sophie Morris. Photo: Jessee Allen

TT: What has changed when classes start-up this fall? Is there any trepidation from the dancers/parents?

JA: At this point, we are looking forward to the fall, as many of the restrictions we needed to follow this year have been lifted. We will not require socially distanced squares on the floor anymore (we had socially distanced squares taped on our floor all year that the dancers needed to stay in). Our COVID safety plan is transitioning to a communicable disease safety plan, as per WorkSafe BC; our cleaning will continue to be enhanced and more regular. While it will not be a requirement for our class sizes to be smaller, we are choosing to cap our classes; this will allow for even more quality instruction, and of course, safety. As per provincial guidelines, masks will be recommended indoors for ages 12+ who are not fully vaccinated, and will be a personal choice for each dancer and instructor. I have not heard of any hesitation from dancers or parents, but understand that it may be there. Things are looking positive and moving in the right direction, but this past year has had a significant impact on our lives. We will continue to do everything we can to ensure dancers and parents are safe at our studio. After a year of reducing our class sizes and the number of classes we ran (we had to build into our schedule 15-minute breaks between classes for cleaning and reduced cross-over of classes), I’m excited that we are actually expanding this fall! In addition to our two studio spaces at our location, we will be utilizing a third space in a secondary location downtown.

Steps dancer Heidi Conci. Photo: Jessee Allen

Steps dancer Heidi Conci. Photo: Jessee Allen

TT: How are you feeling about finally being able to reopen up your dance studio?

JA: We have been so grateful for the support of our clients during this past year, and are so happy that things are heading back to “normal.” Dance, and physical activity is so important for the well being of kids and adults, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Steps was my second home and a safe space while growing up, and I am honoured to be given the opportunity to continue to provide that. I have taught kids of all ages, in various capacities, for the past 17 years, many of those years in dance. When asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, a dance teacher was at the top of my list. When my husband, Cory, and I purchased the studio in September 2017, it was quite literally a dream come true. I consider it an incredible privilege to get to teach kids of all ages (and adults) how to dance, and find their love for dancing, and to instill and foster confidence, work ethic and dedication, and integrity. The excitement of the dancers when they perform on stage, the moment a dancer learns a new skill after two weeks of practicing, seeing adults step out of their comfort zone and try something new, watching dancers work together to learn a group dance – I could go on and on; these are just a few of the things that I love and cherish about teaching dance and owning a dance studio. While it’s not always easy to run a business with four kids, my husband is an incredible support and helps with the aspects that I’m not as proficient in. Steps Dance Centre will be starting our 31st dance season in Trail this September!

Read more: Trail steps up restart plan, masks recommended indoors until full vaccination

Read more: Trail Blazers



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