For the majority of us, we have been given fairly clear guidelines to follow through this pandemic. We have all become accustomed to wearing masks, sanitizing everywhere we go and washing our hands too often. Even gyms and leisure centres have either closed their doors or limited the amount of people permitted in at one time.
But what about the dance studios?
They seem to have been left without direction.
“No one has ever told us what to do,” says Debbie, owner of Can Dance in Downtown Mission.
COVID-19 has certainly taken its toll on everyone and Can Dance has suffered its disastrous effects in more ways than one. Tears and confusion played a major role, as they initially shut its doors in March.
“For the first time since we opened, there were no children around.”
Trying to manoeuvre a seemingly unmaneoverable situation, this downtown dance studio attempted everything from 8-foot dance squares to online instruction. Children were left waiting outside in the cold, devoid of the usual change rooms and bathrooms - normal amenities that are required for a dance studio. Health and safety had always come first and of course, now, it is of utmost importance.
“We have to do everything we can to keep the kids safe and healthy,” says Debbie.
Debbie started her dancing career at the young age of three. It wasn’t always an easy road, and she faced many challenges, as she was born with a club foot. It was believed that ballet would work to stretch her bones and muscles out and it worked. In fact, it worked so well that Debbie developed a passion for dancing and the more she learned, the more confidence the exercise brought her.
As she grew and her dancing improved, Debbie eventually moved into advanced classes of jazz, tap and lyrical, and eventually had the astounding opportunity to begin teaching the art of dance at the age of thirteen.
Winning choreography competitions with scores of 100%, Debbie was teaching full programs at the Abbey Dance Factory, by the time she was sixteen years old. Branching out to other studios gave her the experience, the proper training and the confidence necessary to open her own studio. Although she was still very young, she knew it was the right time.
In 1989, Debbie hit up every bank for a commercial loan, but was met with slamming doors. No one was willing to invest in a nineteen year old with a dream. When she finally found a private investor who offered her a loan with 27% interest, she jumped at the opportunity immediately and hit the ground running.
Debbie’s dream is still alive.
Thirty two years later, Debbie has had the privilege of seeing some of her students go on to Broadway, perform in Europe, dance on cruise lines and some have even gone on to become teachers themselves.
Can Dance is a dance studio… but it’s not always about the dance.
It’s more than dance.
“There have been kids that have come to me from all walks of life,” Debbie explains. “Kids that are lost and feel they have no real purpose in life.”
Debbie has contributed a significant amount of her time to help these kids keep their dreams alive. Over the years, Debbie has brought in specialists such as new teachers, art therapists, social workers, youth care workers and psycologists. Anyone that can help to develop these kids in to amazing adults is welcome through the door.
“I want to see them to fulfill their goals,” she says, knows that her purpose is to always put the kids first. The Studio has always been a location where the kids come first. Community second. Dance third.
Online instruction has been difficult, as the studio has always been such a social atmosphere. It has been a challenge to try and make the adjustments, and the kids definitely miss the daily interaction.
Opening at less than half capacity was hard as well. Turning away students was something Debbie had never faced before. The Studio remains closed for the time being, but Debbie is confident that they will endure this devastating time and come back stronger than ever before.
“There will always be kids and there will always be dance,” says Debbie. “And I will be here with open arms when this is all over.”