Dancing in Parallel

We’re sitting in a Waves Café, kitty-corner to Harbour Centre, where part of the new Simon Fraser University (SFU) Fine Arts campus is located in downtown Vancouver.

We left the apartment this morning at 7:20 in order to get to an 8:30 a.m. tutorial and squeeze in a quick interview.

We have survived the “sardine” morning crush on the sky train and are gobbling down our breakfast wraps and muffins as we chat. We find out at the end of our 20-minute interview that the tutorial is actually cancelled for the first week of classes, so we have the opportunity to visit and talk a little more leisurely until the 9:30 class.

I am sitting with Allyn Walton and Chelsea Hartwick, two dancers from Whitehorse. Both girls come from different backgrounds and both have independent goals in life, but despite these differences, these young ladies appear to have been – and continue to be – on a parallel journey.

Hartwick and Walton both began their dance training in Whitehorse at Northern Lights School of Dance (NLSD) under the tutelage of Deborah Lemaire.

Hartwick, a year older than Walton, is a little like the “older sister”. She was the first to dance the grand pas de deux in NLSD’s Nutcracker ballet, but Walton followed suit not too long after.

The two girls attended the Music Art and Drama program (MAD) at separate and overlapping times and several summers have found them both gracing the stage of the Frantic Follies Vaudeville Revue.

Hartwick graduated high school first and went off to study dance at George Brown College (GBC) in Toronto. Walton joined the next year and both girls had the opportunity to perform together in the famed Betty Oliphant Theatre at Canada’s National Ballet School.

Upon graduating from this program, and during Walton’s second year at GBC, Hartwick tested the waters outside of dance and studied makeup artistry in Victoria, BC.

“It was a good experience,” she says. “It made me realize just how much I really missed dancing.” She adds, “I don’t regret moving three times since high school. I guess I’m a little like Goldilocks trying on cities. Toronto – too big, Victoria – too small, Vancouver – just right!”

Now both girls are living together, studying together and dancing together at SFU. When asked why SFU became the choice for the two of them, Walton is quick to answer: “A friend of ours, Iris Binger, who is also from Whitehorse, transferred from York University in Toronto to SFU.

“She loves it here and I thought that sounded inviting. Toronto wasn’t my favourite city and GBC was only a two-year diploma program. It doesn’t hurt that my Dad insists on my getting a degree either,” she says.

“I’m attending SFU now because I don’t know what else to do with my life that isn’t dance,” admits Hartwick. She adds, “Oh, and I just want to look cool and well-educated to your Dad, too, Allyn.” Both girls look at each other and burst out laughing (I think there is an inside joke here).

Walton adds her thoughts to the adventure: “At NLSD, we got really good training and we feel like well-rounded dancers. I think we feel confident dancing anywhere in Canada because of all of the exposure to guest teachers and workshops we have had in Whitehorse.”

Hartwick adds, “The dance world is pretty tight and we are all quite connected. In fact, our landlord in Vancouver is really good friends with New York choreographer Lisa Stevens who has choreographed and taught in Whitehorse on several occasions. It is fun knowing that we know someone in common.”

I ask the girls how MAD and the Frantic Follies have influenced them. Walton explains, “MAD rounded me out as an actor as well as a dancer.”

Hartwick adds, “We learned theatre etiquette in MAD; how to respect our work space and how to talk to our choreographers, directors and teachers. The Follies has taught us a lot, too. It has been a great stepping stone into the professional world.”

“Not to mention it helps us earn money for tuition!” giggles Walton.

The girls sum up our talk by saying that they love the SFU campus. The kinetic energy of the downtown space is exciting and they are really happy to be there.

As they head off to their 9:30 dance class in the old Woodward’s Building, nestled between Chinatown and Gastown, I hear Walton whisper to Hartwick, “We finish at 1:30 today …”

“I think we’ll check out that cool vintage clothing store nearby,” beams Hartwick.

Ah, yes. Let another adventure begin.

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