Courting creativity in a squash court

A sullen graveyard of broken arcade games is all that's left in the long-abandoned squash courts at Riverdale's warehouse-like 38 Lewes Boulevard.

A sullen graveyard of broken arcade games is all that’s left in the long-abandoned squash courts at Riverdale’s warehouse-like 38 Lewes Boulevard.

Soon, these racquetball relics could be filled with a “utopian” hub of theatre, media and music programming, says Leaping Feats Creative Danceworks owner Andrea Simpson-Fowler.

Walking through the labyrinth of hulking former courts—located just beneath the Leaping Feats studios—the high-energy Simpson-Fowler sees “beautiful things.”

One court could be filled with sound-proofed music-practice rooms and studio space.

Another could become a coffee shop for visiting parents.

Two other courts could be combined and outfitted with a massive indoor climbing wall.

A black box theatre? A circus school?

Big dreams, but the bootstrap economics to make it a reality are nothing new to Simpson-Fowler and husband Jamie Fowler, who runs Second Time Around Sports.

Nine years ago, Leaping Feats started on a $15,000 youth loan from Dana Naye Ventures. Since then, the company has gathered a roster of 505 students—almost two per cent of the entire population of Whitehorse.

The Extremely Moving Youth Society, operated out of the Leaping Feats studio spaces, has gained community reknown for youth-initiated and choreographed dance shows.

Simpson-Fowler’s recently-founded Breakdance Repertory program has ballooned to include 80 boy participants.

A ballet teacher hired from the United States is soon expected to imbue Leaping Feats with the highest level of ballet training in the territory.

From the beginning, Leaping Feats has had the simple goal of finding out “what kids are good at and helping them to hone that skill,” said Simpson-Fowler.

“I can do that really well with dance, but I want to do that with photography, I want to do that with video, I want to do that with visual arts, I want to do that with theatre,” she said.

In a converted closet sandwiched between two dance studios sits the humble first stage of Simpson-Fowler’s multi-disciplinary vision: a fully-loaded Macintosh computer primed for music, video and media editing.

“One of the ideas is to have a room where there’s 20 Macs, where kids are studying media arts, where they’re doing animation,” said Simpson-Fowler.

Adjoining rooms would be filled with aspiring musicians, actors, photographers and composers—a swirling menagerie of creative talent in which collaborations of all shapes and sizes would be possible.

“There’s two goals: one is to have kids become better citizens through excellent programming, and the other is to have this awesome utopian space where young artists are developing and they’re interacting with each other and there’s projects happening,” said Simpson-Fowler.

“I’d like to call it the Leaping Feats Centre for Spectacular People,” she said.

Non-dancers are already a fixture at Leaping Feats, coming to watch their friends or simply hang out in the lobby, added Simpson-Fowler.

“They’re already coming here; what if there was something here for them to do?”

When Simpson-Fowler grew up in Whitehorse, it was a community largely devoid of creative pursuits for adolescents.

“I had a tough time growing up, I went to rehab, I was not a good student, I skipped out all the time, I smoked a lot of weed,” she said.

High-octane community support has ensured the near-exponential growth of Leaping Feats.

When the company moved into its current studios two years ago, parents and students immediately swarmed in with paintbrushes at the ready.

“The studio upstairs was painted by kids; parents came in and built the (balancing) bars, it was a community effort,” said Simpson-Fowler.

“People like it because their kids are happy—their kids are becoming excellent at something,” she said.

Elbow grease and the smell of paint already permeate the maze of empty squash courts.

The previous tenant skipped out on rent, but not before leaving a trail of dismantled arcade games.

“Imagine coming into a place like that and saying, ‘OK, we’re going to run programming,’” said Simpson-Fowler.

An adjoining court holds the long-unused Frazier’s ball pit and playground. After the pit is re-balled and the decor is redone, the soft-play apparatus will once again host legions of ebullient children.

“When my kids were little, you could just sit and socialize and the kids would just go—they loved it in there, they would play for hours,” said Simpson-Fowler.

A nearby birthday room still holds faded streamers, balloon corpses and fossilized scraps of cake. It too, will rise again.

On Monday, Jamie was busy putting the finishing touches on a zig-zag pattern on the wall of a court nearest the entrance: the future home of Second Time Around Sports.

Nearby, his father Jim finished repairs to what will be a centralized office.

For the moment, the squash courts exist only on a tenuous month-to-month basis. A permanent lease, and a sure future for Simpson-Fowler’s multi-disciplinary utopia hinges upon revenue.

The sooner creative kids are able to replace the scores of broken arcade machines, the sooner their new Shangri-La will be able to leap.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com

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