Dance studio leaps into its 10th year

Andrea Simpson-Fowler hardly remembered it was the 10th anniversary of her dance studio, Leaping Feats, until her mother reminded her. "I'm too busy, I've got too many things going on to remember that," said Simpson-Fowler.

Andrea Simpson-Fowler hardly remembered it was the 10th anniversary of her dance studio, Leaping Feats, until her mother reminded her.

“I’m too busy, I’ve got too many things going on to remember that,” said Simpson-Fowler as she sorted through clipboards in preparation for the studio’s end-of-season dance performance this weekend.

When the school began, it boasted 125 students. Today, it has more than 500.

“I think that works out to something like two per cent of the population of Whitehorse,” said Simpson-Fowler.

This weekend, parents and friends of these dancers will descend upon the Yukon Arts Centre for Dancing through Life, the culmination of a year’s work of practising sashes, jazz leaps, and breakdancing spins and holds.

It was a longtime dream of Simpson-Fowler’s to run her own dance studio.

“When I was growing up in Whitehorse, you could only take one dance class a week,” she said. “I wanted to create training opportunities for dancers here that I didn’t have.”

Simpson-Fowler started dancing in Chicago. She lived in a small town just outside of the city before her parents moved to the Yukon.

“I had a teacher there who singled me out and she used to really push me as a dancer,” she said.

That push is what gave her the motivation to leave Whitehorse when she was 15 to dance professionally at schools in Toronto and Kelowna.

When she returned to Whitehorse, she dropped out of high school and went through a couple rough years before she was asked to teach at the Northern Lights Dance Studio.

“I was at rock bottom at that point in my life,” she said. “But I turned that studio around from a place that had six dancers to one that had 250 over a span of two years.”

Working under the direction of someone else, however, was not Simpson-Fowler’s forte.

“I definitely needed my own school. I would always be coming up with ideas that other people would say, ‘You can’t do that.’”

After completing her high school diploma and getting a degree in contemporary dance at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, Simpson-Fowler felt ready to open her own studio.

She and her husband spent a long time trying to decide which city they wanted to start in.

“I wanted to be in a big city, but the traffic really bugs me,” she said. “And I felt really supported here. I love this town, the support for the arts and the kindness of the people.”

In 1999 Simpson-Fowler opened the first private dance studio in Whitehorse, offering students the opportunity to dance as many as 10 hours a week.

Leaping Feats offers recreational dance classes to both youth and adults, but mostly acts as a “farm team” to three non-profits associated with the studio, said Simpson-Fowler.

Extremely Moving Youth Society is an intensive professional dance training program that encourages participants to produce their own shows.

“This year, these kids cleaned up at dance festivals across the country,” said Simpson-Fowler.

Right now she has 23 students enrolled in the Extremely Moving Youth Society. They train 10 hours a week and travel the country performing. Already 11 of her students have moved on to study dance professionally at post-secondary institutions.

Her Breakdancing Yukon Society has also received a fair bit of attention.

The breakdancing crew is teaming up this summer with b-boy Wicket from You Got Served and Sho-tyme, a dancer who’s choreographed for artists such as Gwen Stefani and has performed on So You Think You Can Dance Canada.

“These guys met our dancers in Vancouver and fell in love with them,” said Simpson-Fowler. “They’re

coming up this summer to teach a two week intensive dance camp.”

She also offers an internship program through the Breakdance Yukon Society. The paid eight-week internship program gives dancers the opportunity to learn project management, music editing, choreography and teacher training with the intention they become junior teachers at the dance studio.

And another non-profit was recently added to the roster, she said.

The Society of Yukon Independent Dance Artists is a new outlet for dancers to grow their talent and showcase their work on national and international stages.

And Simpson-Fowler has plans to expand her studio further.

She and her husband, who owns Second Time Around Sports in the same building as Leaping Feats on Lewes Boulevard, want to eventually take over the whole building.

They envision a centre that focuses on the creative and intellectual growth and development of youth.

“Community outreach is a big thing for me,” said Simpson-Fowler. “I had a hard time growing up in the Yukon; I was definitely one of those bad kids. So I just want to provide as many opportunities as I can for kids to make positive choices.”

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