Hello Act Alive Community!
Welcome to the very first ever Act Alive Academy blog post. This blog will be a place for our people to come together to be inspired, hear stories, and learn new things about singing, dancing, acting and yoga. The blog will mainly be written by me, Ms.Jessica, with some special guest contributors along the way. It is my hope that this blog will be a place of inspiration, and broaden the reach of our community.
Who We Are
The Act Alive Community includes anyone who is in our programs, has taken our programs previously, or may ever take our programs. It includes anyone with a love of theatre, music, acting, dance and yoga or anyone who might be curious about them. It includes anyone who has been to our birthday parties, participated in our school programs or sat in our audiences. It includes our parents and our teachers. It includes people in Squamish, as well as supporters, teachers and art makers far and wide.
Our community includes people of all shapes and sizes, abilities, races, religions, sexual orientations and gender identities. Our community includes anyone who gets excited about what we do. So if you’re here, our community includes you.
I have been teaching in the Squamish community for the past 10 years, but you might not know how I got here. In this blog I am excited to share the journey that I took to become the leader of Act Alive Academy.
The first dance class I ever took was a tap class when I was 3. To be honest I don’t remember much about class except shuffling and holding the barre, but the moment I first stepped on to the stage in front of an audience is something that I will never forget. Everything got quiet as we clip clopped our way onto the stage, and then the lights came on and warmed my face as I shuffle toe heeled with the best of them and smiled my 3 year old tooshie off in a rainbow bright costume (did I mention it was the late 80’s?) in front of the blurry audience. By the time the applause came I was completely and absolutely hooked on the stage.
The next few years I spent taking ballet lessons from an ex-professional ballerina from Russia who was very strict. I remembered feeling criticized, embarrassed, and inadequate. My 4 and 5 year old self just never seemed to meet her expectations and I stopped wanting to go to dance. The joy that I felt during my first experience on the stage vanished and I quickly started faking injuries to get out of attending. The following year I decided to quit dance.
As fate would have it however the next year in school I made a new best friend who absolutely idolized her ballet teacher. After sitting in on a class of hers, I asked my mom if I could join her, likely a question that would shape the direction of the rest of my life.
Just as my friend did, I idolized my new teacher Ms. Douglas. She was kind, fun, sweet, encouraging, beautiful and exuded a love of dance in every moment. She too was an ex-professional ballerina, however carried none of the harsh critical qualities of my former teacher. Though we studied the Royal Academy of Dance Syllabus and took yearly exams, she made dance fun by making up dance games and creating accomplishment charts that we filled in at the end of every class. She brought me back to loving dance, and her studio Douglas Ballet Academy became my new home away from home. Even after my best friend quit, I continued to dance there as I was now deeply ingrained in the community and studio culture. I also began auditioning for and performing in local talent shows and community theatre productions.
Though I loved dance and performance, I was not the most natural ballerina. In order for me to pass my exams I remember taking countless extra lessons with Ms.Douglas while she showed me over and over how to ‘Pas de Chat’ by leaping over her purse, taught me head spot by whipping my head around manually, and snake step by lying down on the floor and a physically shifting my feet side to side, and in and out until I internalized the movement. She never gave up on me.
I remember one year she took me aside privately to tell me I had done poorly on an exam. My legs were and are quite hyper-extended and I received some low marks and comments on my inability to correct my hyper-mobility as well as other technique issues. She explained that it was something that was mostly out of my control, and focused my attention on the positive remarks that I received for my story telling and presentation. Looking back, after that she made an effort to choreograph numbers for my group that would offer me opportunities to act and perform as well as execute choreography. Another year our school’s new jazz teacher wanted to cut me from my group's competition number and she forbade it. I was short as well as dancing with older dancers, so generally I was in the front of group formations, which was not ideal as I was not as strong as some of the older girls. Ms.Douglas’s support of me meant the world, and I spent hours rehearsing that tricky choreography so that I did not let her down when I danced front and centre in shows and competitions.
Somewhere around that time Ms.Douglas choreographed a small group demi-character piece called “The Hairdresser” for my group. I played a hairdresser who gave horrific hairdos to my clients; giving one a blue perm, one a red rockstar shag, and shaving one completely bald. That dance allowed me an opportunity to show off my acting skills in addition to dancing, and was incredibly well received at shows and competitions. In finding a way to showcase my talents, Ms. Douglas gave me the greatest gift of my life and I grew a new confidence at a time when I was struggling to find a friend group at school. That season at the year-end show I was awarded an Artistic Achievement Award and scholarship, and for the first time in my life felt really valued and seen for my talents.
The next year Musical Theatre class was added to our studio and I was instantly obsessed. Musical Theatre became my obsession, my passion and my life -line. Now in addition to acting I could also sing! At this point I was at the Douglas Ballet Academy 5 days a week, taking as many classes I could afford and assistant teaching as many classes as I could fit into my schedule. I was 15 when I was asked to choreograph and teach my first musical theatre duet for other students to perform.
Once I started participating in and competing musical theatre numbers my heart soared. Clumsy, hyper-mobile, full figured me, was finally excelling at something! At a time when my social life at school had crumbled completely, I had dance and performing as a safe place, support system and confidence creator. The dedication, hardwork, failure, success, passion and teamwork that I experienced in that studio became who I was, and dictated who I wanted to be.
The year I was graduating from high school I auditioned for the inaugural Musical Theatre Program at Capilano University and was accepted. The next 3 years were filled with training, laughs, friendships, tears, sweat, broken bones and more, as I ate, slept and breathed musical theatre. I left with the inspiration and skills to enter the Performing Arts world and, taking any and every opportunity to grace the stage as well as taking on serving shifts and teaching jobs that I would work around show schedules.
As the years passed by I became a sought after musical theatre and dance teacher for various dance schools and theatre companies, and I started teaching and performing exclusively. I began offering programs at Brennan Park Recreation Centre in 2011 and before moving to Squamish I was managing the North Vancouver locations of popular Vancouver Musical Theatre School, Lights Up, as well as directing and choreographing for their teen company. In 2014 I became a certified yoga instructor after yoga helped me get through the unexpected death of my father. I have since been teaching yoga as well as continuing to train as a student, and am an ERYT-550 with the Canadian Yoga Alliance.
While teaching in Squamish I fell in love with the local community as well as the beautiful natural landscape. In 2017 I decided to relocate here and have never looked back. Nothing fills me with more joy than walking the streets and running into children and youth that I have taught over the years. There is not a name or a face that I do not recognize and I am humbled and joyed to have been a trusted mentor and teacher for so many years. It means the world to me to be the supportive teacher I once had, seeing and encouraging my students as they explore and hone their unique gifts and talents, helping them to create new shapes instead of trying to fit them into boxes.
To be a leader in my community is so important to me, and words cannot express the joy I feel when I see my students building each other up and supporting one another for being their authentic selves. I truly feel that being a teacher is my calling and am so grateful to my community for allowing me to fulfill my destiny.
We would love to hear from you! If you’ve read this far, please let us know what excites you about Act Alive, or ask us any questions that you might have for us about yoga, the performing arts or our journey.