Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Amy Derkson - My Dance Story

Hi dancers and parents!

This is my first year being on the official teaching roster at ESB, but I didn’t get here in the same way that most teachers do, so I thought I would give you a bit of my backstory.

I started dancing in the way most of us at the tender age of 3 or 4, in a combined tap and ballet class at the studio near my house. I hated it. I thought ballet class was boring and though we weren’t raised to be quitters, my poor mother gave up the fight and stopped dragging me (kicking and screaming) to class when I was 6.

Fast forward to my mid-teenage years, and I wanted nothing more than to dance. Our ‘social dance’ units in gym class were the only times I ever truly thrived in phys. ed. I couldn’t hear music without moving to it. I couldn’t even play my clarinet without moving around as I played. I would try and make up my own contemporary choreography to my favourite songs, but I was sorely lacking any sort of training so I had no movements in my repertoire and no experience on which to draw. I knew I had some natural talent in dance and desperately wanted to start taking classes, but this was long enough ago that there wasn’t much opportunity for beginner teenaged dancers (at least not that I was aware), so I had to wait until I was old enough to take adult ballet classes.

The summer after my first year of university, I did a simple Google search for adult ballet classes, and I chose to go with ESB as they offered the greatest variety of adult ballet levels, and their teaching staff were all highly qualified. My first classes were the ESB summer intensive that year. It was sweltering, the studio was crowded, and my body hurt for every day of those two weeks. But I loved it. I knew this was what I’d been waiting for. (In case you were curious, my brief training in childhood gave me NO advantage. I had forgotten everything from those dance classes. I didn’t even know what a plié was. It was like I’d blocked the memories or something.)

I continued on that year in Adult Beginner ballet, and I added a second ballet class and adult modern in my second year. I continued taking two ballet classes and modern, and in my fourth year I added adult tap and jazz as well. I loved all of it: I loved the technical aspects, tradition, and artistry of ballet; I loved the fact that I really felt like I was dancing in modern because we got to just move; and tap has always been the most FUN I’ve ever had dancing, even though I was the only beginner and experienced quite a steep learning curve in that first year. I’ve always loved performing and have taken every opportunity I could to get on stage, be it for a competition or for ESB show.

I continued to expand my dance horizons where I could. I attended workshops when the opportunity presented itself. These have mostly been in modern and ballet, though I’ve also taken workshops in some really different styles like creative movement, salsa, Broadway, burlesque, bellydance, go-go dancing, traditional Swiss dancing, Hula, Bollywood, traditional East Indian dancing – Bharatanatyam and Bhangra, and bachata. I’ve even been inspired to workshop in things which have had nothing to do with dance like aerial silks, hooping, Garuda, acro yoga, and poi spinning. I took intermediate contemporary and Afro-Cuban classes- at the U of A. I took floor barre, contemporary, jazzfunk, and tap classes at Grant MacEwan. More ballet, tap, jazz, and contemporary, as well as some new things like stretch & strength, hip hop, and Irish dance at some smaller studios around town. I’ve done my best to really expand upon my traditional training and make myself a truly well-rounded dancer.

I really got the opportunity to take my ballet training further in my sixth year at ESB, when my teacher took me aside after class and asked me how I felt about getting pointe shoes!! Can you imagine? Me, an adult, getting en pointe?! This was well before ESB began offering adult pre-pointe and pointe classes; in fact, by this point I had never even heard of another adult dancer getting recommended to go en pointe, and I certainly never thought I would ever get there. I was shocked. And elated. Isn’t this every dancer’s dream? I gave a vehement YES to the idea, and after Christmas that year we attended my first pointe shoe fitting. I spent an entire shift at work one day sewing ribbons onto my shoes (the first time takes AGES, let me tell you). I had a few private pointe classes with my teacher, and then I started wearing my shoes in my adult class – just for the first part of barre, then the whole barre, and then in the centre for adage, and eventually even for allegro. It truly was a dream come true, and to-date I still consider it one of my major life accomplishments; I never ever in a million years thought that I, who started dancing at the ripe old age of 18, would ever earn a pair of pointe shoes. It felt really good to know I’d earned it, too! I knew a few dancers who, against the advice of their teachers, snuck out and bought themselves a pair and fumbled their way through pointe in their kitchens at home, but knowing I’d waited for permission made it that much sweeter.

Despite all of my training in a whole list of styles, and even making it en pointe, I never thought that I would be able to do anything with dance beyond having a rather expensive hobby. That is, until later that same year I was approached about auditioning for ESB’s Cecchetti Teacher Training Program. I hadn’t dreamed of being a ballet teacher when I was growing up, nor had I ever thought as an adult that it would be a possibility for me, having started as late as I did. But by this point I had a physics degree I was never going to use, no life plan to speak of, and I was advancing leaps and bounds in my ballet training, so this really was the perfect opportunity, and one I wanted badly to explore.

I auditioned, but having only trained in adult classes and not having taken a syllabus exam in my life, I was required to take a “Provisional Year” and play catch up. I started taking Cecchetti and RAD syllabus classes for the first time and successfully passed my first ever Cecchetti exam. I’m now in my third year of part-time studying with the program and I continue to attend the Associate (theory) and Cecchetti syllabus classes, as well as assist with other ESB classes (Junior Grades and adult ballet). I have had many opportunities to hone my craft by substitute teaching countless classes in a variety of levels (ages 3 to adult and everything in between) and styles (ballet, tap, modern, hip hop, and acro) at a number of studios around the Edmonton area in addition to ESB. This past year I became certified to teach the ESB Junior Grades, and this year for the first time I have my very own classes! Subbing is one thing, but to teach and choreograph for your own classes is something ENTIRELY different. It has been quite the experience – I’ve gained such a deeper understanding of ballet through teaching it, and my own technique has improved immensely!

I have been told by many of my fellow adult dancers that my journey has been inspiring to them, and I hope that by telling it here I can inspire a few more. You’re never too old to chase your dreams, and so much can be possible if you just set your mind to it! Never give up on your passions, no matter what they are. If it’s calling to your soul, pursue it!
– Miss. Amy

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