by Justine Powell, Special to Peace Arch News
A young dancer’s dedication to a teacher has led her and her mom to make daily commutes to South Surrey’s Essence of Dance from the Fraser Valley.
Aislyn McCubbin, a 15-year-old Abbotsford resident, makes the 45-minute journey twice a day six days a week, and dances an average of 33 hours weekly.
“I was following one of my favourite teachers here – she left the studio that I danced at,” McCubbin explained.
While that particular instructor has since left the local dance centre – moving beyond reasonable commuting distance to another province – McCubbin said she began to “really love the studio” during her time there and has continued to trek to the area.
She said she sees her teachers as the main motivators for her to continue dancing long hours, and pursuing her goal of becoming a member of a professional dance company after finishing her studies.
She learned from them that it’s not necessary to have an “amazing” natural ability to succeed in dance, she said.
“If you work hard, even at your local studio, you can still get places.”
Her dedication has not gone unnoticed by her instructors.
“She is one of the most hardworking and determined kids I know,” said teacher Julia Colton, who has worked closely with the dancer at Essence.
After McCubbin changed studios, her mother’s experience as a parent volunteer earned her a position as secretary at the South Surrey studio – although her duties reach beyond what her title implies.
Candy Mendyk now does everything from sewing costumes to organizing class registration – and McCubbin helps, too, handing out photos and picking up coffees for the staff.
Volunteering also includes assisting teachers with their classes. “That’s the part about it that I really enjoy,” she said.
After a professional career, she hopes to get some of her certifications for teaching and continue to keep dance in her life as an instructor.
With plenty of hours and a busy competition season, it would be difficult for McCubbin to enrol in typical secondary school education. That’s one of the reasons why she prefers traditional homeschooling, which allows her to work independently.
It’s a learning style that McCubbin is quite used to, as she has been doing a variety of distance education and traditional homeschooling since kindergarten.
Since she is at the studio nearly all day, her schoolwork is mostly done on weekends and during the summer.
Of course, McCubbin’s summer wouldn’t be complete without dance, which is why she will be attending a two-week intensive in Italy later this year.
The program focuses on the pointe and ballet styles that McCubbin hopes to pursue as a professional dancer.
The international location was not chosen simply for its sightseeing potential – McCubbin believes it will provide her with opportunities to work with new people and experience a different style of classes.
To prepare for a career in the ballet sphere, the young dancer takes part in the pre-professional half-day program at her studio.
Running three hours a day, four days a week, it begins with “two hours of just classical ballet” while the last hour can be “contemporary movement, pointe or a variation”.
It doesn’t end there. After McCubbin finishes this program she goes on to more dance – usually competitive classes in styles such as jazz, musical theatre or lyrical, or classes geared towards one of the three dance examinations she is currently practicing for, or more technique instruction – until around 9:30 p.m.
Her lifestyle may be quite varied from that of a typical 15-year-old, but she noted that a strong sense of teamwork was instilled in her as a result of her dance-focused life.
“In a classroom setting your mark just affects you, not the entire class, whereas when you’re performing onstage you’re performing for everyone,” she said.
The atmosphere of a dance studio also helped her socially, she acknowledged.
McCubbin described herself as quite shy when she was growing up, and credited instructors and others in the dance community with helping her to become more self-assured.
“They helped me… especially with auditions – being able to present myself more confidently, with everyone’s support behind me.”
Writer Justine Powell is a student at Essence of Dance and a Grade 11 student at Earl Marriott Secondary on a work experience at Peace Arch News.