A Dancer’s Life from Mud to Snow

It’s a beautiful, blue-skied sunny afternoon. We have just come from our SYIDA ballet class and are both commenting on how our bodies feel.

“Boy, I feel out of shape!” and “Ouch, I think my calves will be really sore tomorrow!”

It’s funny; Colleen Booth and I don’t really know each other all that well, but there is a certain unspoken bond between dancers that allows us to feel comfortable talking with each other.

Booth is a dancer and entertainer from Diamond Tooth Gertie’s in Dawson City, and her story is a lot like so many other Yukon dancers’ stories. I have to smile at how her tale, although very much her own, resembles one I could have told years ago.

Booth is originally from Victoria, B.C. She began ballet and tap classes at the age of five.

“I was a serious bun-head,” she says. “Life was dance six days a week. I didn’t do sports or any other extra-curricular activities. After school, I went to dance class. That’s all I knew.”

In high school, Booth became more involved in musical theatre: “We did some chorus girl style of dancing. I really liked it,” she smiles.

After high school however, Booth began searching a little. She was 17 and a lot of her dance mates were heading off to university.

“I was feeling a little lost. The routine I had with my dance friends was changing. Our regimented schedule no longer existed and I didn’t quite know what to do,” she sighs. “I knew I liked musical theatre, so I thought maybe I could become an actor.”

After high school graduation, Booth attended North Carolina School of the Artssummer school program in Winston-Salem.

“I loved it,” she beams. “Who knows where I would be now if I had really pursued an acting career, but then again … the paths we choose lead us to where we are and I love where I am now.”

Where she is now is living and performing in Dawson City.

Production companies mounting shows in the Yukon often draw from the talent pool in Victoria. Booth’s performing career in Dawson began when entertainer Sara-Jeanne Hosie introduced her to the producers of the Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Show.

Booth grins at the fact that she arrived in the Klondike, 100 years after the Gold Rush.

“My first surprise in the Yukon was the sunlight. I spent one night in Whitehorse and couldn’t sleep because it was so light out. Dawson was a bigger shock though,” she laughs. “When I saw the tailing ponds outside Dawson, I remember thinking this is awful. I didn’t know what they were. There was snow on the ground and mud on the streets, and I said to myself, What have I done?” she confides.

That summer though, despite a rough start with the show’s rehearsals and accommodations, Booth ended up having the time of her life.

“It was my first professional gig. I was wide-eyed and a little fearful, but I’m still there.”

We both chuckle … that old Spell of the Yukon.

“I didn’t stay for the winter after my first season, but I did come up in February for theTrek Over the Top Show. I saw what a different world it is up here in the winter. Coming up from Victoria, where there is no snow, I was just in awe. I couldn’t wait to return for the next summer season.”

After that summer, Booth made Dawson City her home, and has now, for the last 11 years.

“I have spent many a winter in Dawson City, but being young and without too many responsibilities, I am able to travel in the winter months. I can’t travel in the summer because of my performing, so winter is the only time I get out.”

We both nod and agree on this point.

“I’ve been to Southeast Asia and to Central America,” she continues.

Do you get a chance to dance while travelling?

“No, not really. Maybe a few salsa classes,” she laughs, “but experiencing different cultures is a dance in itself.”

I ask her about her future plans, because I know a curtain must eventually fall on a cancan dancer’s performing life.

“I know,” she says. “I love my Diamond Tooth Gertie’s life, but I won’t be kicking in the line forever. I have met some amazing people, I have performed for tourists from around the world and I am so proud when I see or hear a success story of someone I have worked with.

“Sadly though, right now, I can’t really see living in Dawson City without dancing in the show. Maybe I’ll use some of my acting training and transition into a job as a Parks Canada interpreter. I do a bit of that now anyway.”

We both reflect on that thought. It is hard to stop dancing.

We look outside. The sun is still shining, our lattes are finished and Booth has been unconsciously ripping her paper cup into a flower. We decide to wrap things up.

Since we both started our day at ballet class, it seems fitting to end with some ballet talk.

“The first time I took one of the professional development classes with SYIDA, I felt reborn,” she beams. “I realized then how much I missed being in class. There’s something amazing about a ballet barre.

“Since I’m teaching some classes here in town for the next few weeks, I will be able to take some more ballet classes as well. I want to tell the young dancers I teach to love it … to dance it … you’ll miss it when it’s gone.”

We walk outside together.

“You teach tonight?”

“Ya, me too. See you later.”

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