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Trip of a Lifetime: PEAK Dance in New York

Jane Gibson, Mayson Kendall, Grayce Bush, Emily Beauchesne, Kiersten Gillis: PEAK students and Nola Antony, PEAK Instructor
BY Jane Gibson, Mayson Kendall, Grayce Bush, Emily Beauchesne, Kiersten Gillis: PEAK students and Nola Antony, PEAK Instructor
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PEAK (Passion, Excellence, Attitude, Knowledge) Dance Academy is a Fort McMurray Public School District program for student-athletes who are passionate about dance. Students in grades 3-12 at Ecole Dickinsfield, Christina Gordon Public School, Ecole McTavish Junior High and Westwood Community High School make up the academy. We offer certified instruction in many dance disciplines including ballet, jazz, modern/contemporary, tap, acro and hip hop. Recently, 10 PEAK dancers from Ecole McTavish Junior High School and Westwood Community High School spent six days exploring New York learning about dance and experiencing the city.

Nola Antony, PEAK Dance Director, accompanied the students along with a few parent chaperones. She has been with the program for three years.

“We chose New York as it is one of the largest dance hubs in the world with lots to see, and do. For many dancers, New York is the city of dreams,” enthused Antony, who also choreographs productions by FMPSD schools, and Keyano Theatre. She’s also an adjudicator for dance competitions across western Canada.

“Students were also able to participate in three dance classes at the famous New York dance studios STEPS on Broadway and Broadway Dance Center (BDC). Classes ranged from Floor Barre (a ballet class done on the floor to work on proper posture and technique) to Bollywood – experiences they don’t always get in Fort McMurray. The group was lucky enough to get a reservation at the very popular Ellen’s Stardust Diner where the waiters and waitresses are aspiring actors and actresses and you are treated to a show while you dine.”

In addition, one of the highlights of the trip was the opportunity for student dancers to watch three Broadway shows: “Cats”, “Kinky Boots” and “Wicked.”

“We were treated to a behind the scenes tour of “Wicked” where we met cast members, and learned all about the show. This included how it was produced, how costumes and wigs were made; as well as learning about contracts for performers,” Antony continued.

“I enjoyed the Stardust Diner, going to the MET Museum and the Broadway shows. I learned how hard professional dancers work and how they prepare in and for their classes,” shared Jane Gibson, a grade 8 student at Ecole McTavish.

Mayson Kendall, a grade 10 student at Westwood agrees.

“I enjoyed the Broadway shows the most and learned that dance can be really diverse. Going to New York with PEAK has made me push myself harder as a dancer.”

“I enjoyed being able to experience New York’s atmosphere; everyone was always on the move and busy! I learned to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. This trip has influenced me to push myself more as a dancer and to experiment with other dance styles,” added Grayce Bush, grade 10 student at Westwood.

“My favourite thing about New York was all the Broadway shows. There is a whole other variety of dance to experience,” noted Emily Beauchesne, Grade 7 student at Ecole McTavish.

For Kiersten Gillis, a grade 8 student at Ecole McTavish - learning about the different varieties of dance was memorable.

“I learned that there are many different styles and dance teachers, who have a unique way of teaching. This trip has (boosted) my confidence and passion for dance more than ever before!”

Students also explored iconic New York spots like Times Square, Rockefeller Centre, toured Radio City Music Hall (and met a Rockette). They saw Lincoln Centre (home of the New York City Ballet), Juilliard School, Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island (many of them found ancestors on the wall of honour). In addition, One World Observatory (top of the World Trade Center), 9/11 Memorial, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and the Metropolitan Museum of Art were also on the itinerary.

For Antony, seeing her students inspired by the trip on so many levels was priceless.

“It was amazing to see students learning so much in such a short span of time. Taking classes at STEPS alongside ballerinas, who were competing in the Youth American Grand Prix (the world’s largest global network of dance), seeing large-scale Broadway shows in grand theatres with professionals and even viewing the Statue of Liberty in person was an experience these dancers will never forget! I was very grateful to be able to share those experiences with them,” she said.


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