Another year has come to an end at the Drewitz School of Dance.
The pandemic made it look different, but students were still able to have all the exams, and the school's director and owner Lorie-Gay Drewitz-Gallaway found a way to make the year-end memorable.
By the beginning of April, the dance school staff knew that they wouldn't be able to have a traditional recital again this year. But after consideration, Drewitz-Gallaway decided to go forward with preparing the program to later record the bubble performances in the studio. The costumes were made but never worn last year, and students, their parents and staff needed some kind of end-of-year closure.
"The kids were ecstatic. They were excited about getting the recording done, putting on their makeup and costumes and dancing even though they were just dancing for me in front of a camera. But I put up a big backdrop, curtained up the studio and put up wings to make it look like a stage. So it all went good," Drewitz-Gallaway said.
The year-end picture time became emotional for Drewitz-Gallaway – for the first time in a long time, for a brief moment when pictures were taken, she got to see students' faces without masks.
"I've seen their eyes, and they learned to perform with their eyes. The eyes are the mirror of the soul. And it's so true. You could tell how much they loved (dancing) because you could see it from their eyes. But when I actually saw the whole face, it was like, 'Oh my goodness,'" Drewitz-Gallaway shared.
Four students graduated this year. Lyssa Strilaeff, Shayna Fichter, Madison Hrywkiw and Brielle Wakely passed all their exams, had their solo dances, and their awards and presentations night was held on Victoria Day.
"They remember coming in, it was such a big deal remembering what the next step was because it was a hard one when they were little. And then when they're graduating, they're remembering, oh, it doesn't matter about the step, I just could not have felt better the way I danced my solo, I just feel so good about myself. And basically, that confidence is something that they can take with them wherever they go in whatever they do. To me, that's a goal in itself," Drewitz-Gallaway said.
The safety of students and staff remained the number 1 priority. So throughout the year, classes were split into bubbles of eight and those subgroups would take turns coming into the studio, while the rest of the class would practise at home with the help of pre-recorded lessons. This changed the choreography. But even though it wasn't a perfect way, Drewitz-Gallaway was happy to have students dancing.
"The highlight of the year for me is actually getting the children back in dancing … They could still see each other even though they were social distanced. And they still could push each other to be just as good and improved. And we did all the exams, we got all the exams done, four sets of exams, which was very, very exhausting, because the rules change with each one," Drewitz-Gallaway said.
Some exams this year were recorded and sent to examiners, others took place over Zoom. One way or the other, they got them done. Drewitz-Gallaway went on to explain that exams mean a lot to students as they allow them to progress to the next level. With no performances possible this year, getting credentials for the exams was one of the biggest goals for the students. And all of them moved up.
"That to me was a huge undertaking to get done. So I was really happy that was completed."
Drewitz-Gallaway added that she let students work on their own, asking them to practise and keep growing their stamina. If there are any opportunities for performances this summer, they may still get a chance to get on stage. In the meantime, at the school, the preparation for the next year will start soon. The hope is that one day in the near future students will be able to dance together again, and Drewitz-Gallaway wants to put the bubble groups all together and create new dances out of separate puzzle pieces they've been practising this year. She also hopes that next year they will have more opportunities to perform in the community.
"My push for next year is to maybe do more dance-outs with them, maybe go to more nursing homes and things when it opens up because I think the children really missed that communication with the audience," Drewitz-Gallaway said.
She also thanked her staff for all their help and hard work last year.