Updated: Sep 14, 2020
Walk past Philosophy Fitness on a weekday evening and you’ll hear laughter and music streaming through the windows on the 2nd floor. It may be St. Clair Dance Collective’s kids’ hip hop, primary jazz or even adult ballet class, but one thing will be certain: dancers are having fun.
Two years ago, Christine Walker connected Phil Ortwein at Philosophy Fitness with the idea of St. Clair Dance Collective (SCDC). He was supportive of the studio immediately, and in September 2018, SCDC opened their doors at Philosophy Fitness to young dancers in the St. Clair area. It was hard work and a dream come true for Christine — Director of SCDC but better known in the studio as Ms. Christine — who wanted to provide a new path to dance for kids in her community.
SCDC is now marked to accommodate safe, distanced dancing.
“I’ve been a dancer my whole life and got my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance from Ryerson University, so I’ve been in many different dance environments. Not all of them made me feel happy, even though I loved dancing. So at SCDC, I wanted to create a space that focused on the enjoyment of dance, not a place where dancers would be so overwhelmed that they didn’t want to go back,” Christine explained.
That kind of environment clicked with many parents and students, and within three months of opening, the number of classes doubled because the demand was so great. This fall, SCDC is offering classes and programming six days a week.
A different approach
Whereas many dance studios require a full year commitment, enforce a dress code and use strict teaching styles, SCDC is focused on engaging the students on their dance journey in a way that actually fits the needs and goals of the dancer.
That means offering 10-week sessions in the fall, winter and spring. Dancers learn technique and a routine over the course of a session that they share with their family at an in-studio performance in the final week of classes. Students can then try a class and if it’s not the right fit, they aren’t stuck for a whole year. If they play a seasonal sport, like hockey, they can stop dancing for the winter. Or, if they love the class and want to continue, they can easily register for the next session.
SCDC dancers strike a pose!
“SCDC works to provide dance classes that are affordable and flexible for parents and students,” Christine said. “We focus on building a nurturing and educational environment that evolves to meet parents’ and students’ needs. So we will add or adjust classes from session to session based on feedback from families.”
As the studio has evolved, the feedback has been positive. One parent was so thrilled with the classes, they nominated Christine for the Toronto Star’s “Reader’s Choice Awards - Toronto’s Best Dance Instructor” in 2019.
“I couldn’t believe someone would nominate me. I felt so honoured and grateful to win!” Christine said.
Of course, not only are parents happy with the positive learning environment Christine and all instructors have worked so hard to create at SCDC. Students love their time in-studio and gain confidence each class.
“My daughter loved the primary hip-hop class! She is a bit shy and not always keen on new extra-curricular activities, but Christine made her feel so comfortable that she loved the class immediately. It is a fun, energetic atmosphere without any pressure. She was always smiling and excited to show me her moves at the end of the class," said Linor, a SCDC parent.
Without a strict dress code, dancers are encouraged to wear the attire that they have for classes and showcases.
“My daughter had a fantastic first dance class experience at St. Clair Dance Collective. Four-year-olds are some of the toughest critics, but Ms. Christine had the class consistently engaged, focused and smiling. In addition to learning different ballet positions and moves, my daughter loved having the opportunity to twirl with ribbons and find her inner dancer by freestyle dancing to music. She never wanted class to end and Saturday quickly became her favorite day of the week.” Caryn, a SCDC parent, said.
Collective effort brings collective success
Because it is a small studio, every instructor plays a role in ensuring each dancer has great experiences. Helping students build confidence, use creativity, learn dance technique and have fun are each instructor’s goals. And they support each other along the way.
“Among ourselves, as staff, we build a respectful environment, too. We trust and value each other’s experiences and knowledge and work as a collective of teachers. It works so well because we’re all passionate about dance and community, and feel comfortable bringing new ideas forward,” Christine explained.
St. Clair Dance Collective is ultimately about involving everyone in dance education — bringing teachers, parents and students together to create a welcoming, fun and engaging space. Even as the studio has evolved over its two years, the philosophy at its core has remained. SCDC is more than a dance studio. It’s a place for growth.
Author - Laura Billett