Portside Academy of Performing Arts students Maia Rardon and Laina Southgate work on jumps during a recent Dance Intensive seminar at the school's new studio in Port McNeill.

Portside Academy of Performing Arts students Maia Rardon and Laina Southgate work on jumps during a recent Dance Intensive seminar at the school's new studio in Port McNeill.

Dancers dig new Port McNeill studio

PORT McNEILL - After several nomadic years, Portside Academy of Performing Arts moves into new, permanent home

PORT McNEILL — “Oh, my,” Alexandra Southgate said in a matter-of-fact tone.

Preparing for their lunch break during a recent weeklong dance seminar, fellow members of the Portside Academy of Performing Arts turned to see Southgate watching a large black bear lumber past the bank of windows fronting their new Port McNeill studio.

With a flurry of activity and shrieks from some of the younger girls, the dancers scrambled for cell phones, pocket cameras and, in one case, an iPad, and rushed to the windows to get photos of the bruin.

Call it a room with a view.

After four years of a nomadic existence that has taken them from the local arena to the “Old School” community centre, the young dancers in Alana Collins’s Portside Academy have a shiny, new home of their own in a converted warehouse building on Cedar Street.

Dominated by the two rows of six, 4×6-foot windows, a high, vaulted ceiling, and boasting a sprung laminated floor with approximately 1,800 square feet of dancing space, the new studio is bright and roomy with an office, a changeroom, washroom and storage for costumes and props.

“The kids needed a change room; I needed an office and storage space,” said Collins, who opened the school in the late summer of 2007. “And you just work better in your own space; you can be more flexible.”

Portside Academy offers instruction in ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop and musical theatre. The school has held a spring recital for the past four years and has presented the Nutcracker ballet before Christmas the past three years. Students also attend competitions and dance clinics down-Island and have access to testing through the Association of International Dance Teachers.

Collins opened her studio four years ago in the Image Room, a multi-purpose space on the mezzanine level of Chilton Regional Arena. As a dance space, it had the advantages of a built-in wall of mirrors, a barre on the opposite wall and a central location where much of the community gathered. But Collins was never able to personalize the space with photos or posters and had to haul her stereo and other equipment in and out for every lesson.

“When you’re paying by the hour, you’re limited to those hours,” she said. “Here, I can put their trophies and plaques up, put up inspiring pictures, or pictures of the kids. It’s a personal space.”

After her third season at the Image Room, Collins was approached by Jon Lok, who showed her the unused warehouse portion of his building on Cedar Street, which includes another business and upper-floor apartments. The two worked together to design the studio’s look and commence construction, while Collins moved Portside Academy temporarily into the Old School building where dancers practiced in a classroom and the gymnasium.

“It was nice to have a say in the development (of the studio),” Collins said. “We picked out the floor together, the office dimensions, the colour scheme. We wanted a space that we’d be able to grow from. We would like to be able to build on this.”

Collins, who leases the space from Lok, said it could also be rented to other groups in the community, for fitness classes, art shows, theatre rehearsal and other events.

The students got their first look at the new studio following the dance school’s fourth annual Stars of Tomorrow recital in May. And the early reviews are raves.

“I would say the best thing is the windows,” said Karina Cann, a senior dancer who donated a microwave for use in the facility. “That, and the floor. Now you don’t have sore joints and you feel a lot better after dancing.”

Juli Martell of Port Alberni, one of three visiting choreographers brought in by Collins for the school’s recent Dance Intensive Seminar, was impressed.

“This is a beautiful space,” she said. “It’s so bright and lovely with the large windows. It’s rare to find a studio with this much space.”

Collins, born Alana Tortorelli at Vernon Camp near Woss, grew up figure skating and dancing in Courtenay. She moved to Toronto to attend the National Ballet School’s teacher training program while also performing in professional and amateur dance productions. Returning to Vancouver Island in 1996, she taught dance in and around the Comox Valley for several more years before moving to Port McNeill in 2006 with husband Mike Collins and their children, Estella and Avory.

She initially helped Elizabeth Kines instruct members of the Port McNeill Figure Skating Club and mulled the idea of starting a dance school. Her timing couldn’t have been better, as local dance instructor Kendra Hall had temporarily closed her home-based dance studio to take maternity leave, and longtime Port Alice teacher Leann Farrell retired and closed her Rainbow School of Dance.

“It was very fluky,” said Collins. “When we moved here, I didn’t even know if there would be enough interest to make it work here.”

Several members of her current senior class came over after training with Farrell in Port Alice and are now in their fourth building in five years.

“I really like it here,” said Dawn Briscoe, one of those well-traveled dancers. “It’s nice to have our own home to dance in.”

 

Just Posted

Ma Murrays 2021 virtual ceremony screenshot
North Island Gazette wins big at 2021 Ma Murray Newspaper Awards

Zoe Ducklow and Bill McQuarrie both won gold at the online ceremony

Port Hardy council has agreed to cancel Canada Day celebrations in wake of the discovery of the remains of 215 children being found on the grounds of a former residential school. (North Island Gazette file photo)
Council votes to cancel Canada Day celebrations in wake of mass grave sites being found

Coun. Treena Smith made the motion for the chamber to not host Canada Day celebrations this year

Port Hardy Fire Rescue responded to an early morning fire around 3:50 a.m. on Sunday, June 13. Two porta-potties were on fire at the Visitor’s Centre on Hastings Street. Anyone with information is asked to contact the RCMP at 250-949-6335. (Port Hardy Fire Rescue photo)
Firefighters respond to early morning fire near visitor centre in Port Hardy

Two porta-potties were on fire at the Visitor’s Centre on Hastings Street

North Island MLA Michele Babchuk. Photo contributed
COMMENTARY: MLA Michele Babchuk talks the future of forestry

‘These forests are important to every single one of us, myself included’

Dr. Prean Armogam hands over a cheque for $10,000 to Hardy Bay Senior Citizens Society president Rosaline Glynn. The money will be going towards a new roof for the Port Hardy seniors centre. This is the second donation Dr. Armogam has made to the society, giving them $5,000 a little over a year ago. (Tyson Whitney - North Island Gazette)
Doctor donates $10k to Hardy Bay Senior Citizens Society for new roof

This was the second donation Armogam has given to the society

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) is scored on by Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Alec Martinez, not pictured, during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday, June 14, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Habs fall 4-1 to Vegas Golden Knights in Game 1 of NHL semifinal series

Match was Montreal’s first game outside of Canada in 2021

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

Gabriola Island artist Sheila Norgate is promoting the Digital Innovation Group’s art impact survey. (File photo)
Vancouver Island artists get behind regional arts impact study

Artists urged to use their stature to help put arts and culture super-region on the map

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

Neighbours fight a small late-night bush fire with garden hoses and shovels in Cinnabar Valley on June 5. They couldn’t get help from local fire services because the fire was located in an area under B.C. Wildfire Services jurisdiction. (Photo courtesy Muriel Wells)
Neighbours on edge of Nanaimo city limits left to put out bush fire themselves

Cinnabar Valley residents tackle fire with hoses and buckets for two and a half hours

Darren Campbell’s truck (pictured) was stolen when he stopped to check on a car in a ditch on Cowichan Bay Road on Monday morning. (Facebook photo)
Vancouver Island Good Samaritan’s truck stolen in nasty trick

‘Try to be a Good Samaritan and my $20,000 truck gets stolen right under my nose’

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Creative handmade signs abound at the June 13 Tofino rally for old growth trees. (Nora O’Malley photo)
VIDEO: Tofino stands in solidarity for Fairy Creek Blockades

Over 150 supporters attend rally hosted by Friends of Clayoquot Sound

Most Read