New Cowichan Dance Academy lets students pursue their passion

A former school turned dance studio is once again hosting classes as the Cowichan Valley School District has created an academy for students who want to pursue performing arts alongside their academics.

The Cowichan Valley Dance Academy has opened up this fall in conjunction with Adagé Studio, creating new opportunities for students in grades 8-12 with an interest in dance, regardless of their background.

“There’s a misconception that you have to be a dancer,” Adagé co-owner Emily Clements said. “We have entry-level programs for kids who don’t have experience but just want to dance.”

About 80 per cent of the students this year do have a background in dance, and the biggest group is Level 3, which consists of students with eight or more years of previous dance experience. Some of the students, but not all, are involved in dance outside of school as well, but all of the school credits are earned between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.

This co-ed dance academy is based at Adagé’s Studio on Cairnsmore Street, and Adagé provides the teachers for the dance-based classes, but not all of the students who take part in dance outside of school do their dancing with Adagé.

While other school districts do have dance academies, SD79’s is unique in that the classes are held in a dedicated dance studio.

“Ours has the benefit of being in a dance studio as opposed to dance teachers going into a school,” Adagé co-owner Olivia Boudreau said.

SD79 director of Instruction Larry Mattin was pivotal in supporting the expressed need from Ann Kissinger, Kevin van der Linden of Cowichan School District alongside Clements and Boudreau as they saw many families trying to find the balance between academics and the busy after-school lives that so many students lead.

There is room for 30 students in the co-ed academy, and 22 spots are currently full. The students take their academic classes in the morning, and do dance in the afternoon.

Humanities classes are overseen by Ashley MacLeod, who teaches Socials and English in the first part of the week, while Jeffrey Webster teaches Math and Science in the second part. Education follows the provincial curriculum, with what MacLeod describes as a “differentiated approach,” catering to all levels with a multidisciplinary focus that is project-based and guided by the students’ personal interests. Students can create their own projects and have some freedom to set their own deadlines.

“This program really aligns with the new curriculum to build student success, and is doing amazing work in that regard, “ MacLeod said. “It’s a well-rounded and robust program. It’s a unique and wonderful opportunity for kids.”

MacLeod actually does have a background in dance, starting at the age of seven or eight until she moved into other performing arts at 16. She later returned to dance around the age of 22.

In addition to dance and traditional academics, Adagé’s facility allows students at the academy to take private music classes during the day, including guitar, piano, voice, drums, songwriting and recording.

“Having a range of performing arts classes available fulfills many students’ needs that they can’t access in a traditional school,” Boudreau said. “These kids are given the opportunity to explore their interests.”

Performing arts are providing an outlet for kids, the academy’s creators point out, something that has been proven even more vital during the COVID-19 pandemic. They are grateful to the school board for helping create the new school.

“This program allows students to combine academics with their passion,” Clements said. “It’s great that we have a school board that supports the performing arts and recognizes the need for a program like this in our valley.”

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