Celebrating 40 years of dance

40 years? SCD doesn’t look a day over 20. Supplied

The School of Contemporary Dancers celebrates its 40th anniversary this year with three gala performances at the Gas Station Theatre from May 31 to June 2.  The final evening will be a tribute to the school’s late founder, Rachel Browne, and feature the piece Home Again. 

Artist-in-residence Stephanie Ballard first created Home Again, with Browne as a performer, to honour Manitoban women in contemporary dance.  Now, the piece will honour the memory of Browne – the woman whom Ballard endearingly refers to as her ‘dance mom.’

“When I found the Contemporary Dancers, Rachel gave me such a gift,” Ballard says. “When she danced, I was in awe and I knew that was what I wanted to do.”

Ballard has worn many hats with the SCD over the years, beginning as one of the school’s first apprentices in 1972.

“I always say Winnipeg is number one,” she states. “Canada’s first modern dance company, first professional training programs, first affiliation with a university.”

Artistic Associate Gail Petersson-Hiley is also a former apprentice, as are Faye Thomson and Odette Heyn who have co-directed the SCD for over 30 years.  With Ballard, they make up the core members of the school, and have guided it to a stellar international reputation.

“We could have increased the number of students many times,” says Ballard. “But because of the trust and intimacy a performing artist requires, we want to provide a more personal experience for our dancers.”

“It’s amazing that the people who were there from the beginning are still running the school,” notes Amy Webb, a dancer graduating from the SCD this year. 

Webb began her education with the school five years ago and says it has been an enormous learning experience.

“I had never done contemporary dance before and I remember not knowing who all these famous visiting choreographers were,” she says. “But Stephanie (Ballard) really helped me through a class she teaches called Dance Legacy. Now I can sit down with the first-year students and introduce them to these amazing people they’ll eventually get to work with.”

For Webb, the individual attention dancers receive is the reason the SCD stands out amongst other schools. 

“Because they get to know you over the years, it’s far more focused on what you’re good at as an individual. They saw that I like choreographing so they set up an internship with Young Lungs to choreograph for them.”

Young Lungs Dance Exchange is just one of many independent dance companies in Winnipeg that have been created by graduates of the SCD.

“Gearshifting, The Lime Dance Project, NAfro, and Drive Dance have all grown from our school,” Ballard says. “It’s not just about the dancers graduating, it’s what they do with their lives. That’s what has given me tremendous gratification.”

For Ballard, the SCD’s accomplishments are best captured in a performance. 

“The kind of discipline, devotion, and love that it takes can’t really be properly described,” she says. “Maybe it can only be described through a beautiful dance.”

The School of Contemporary Dance’s 40th Anniversary Gala takes place May 31 to June 2, 7:30 pm at the Gas Station Arts Centre (445 River Avenue).

Published in Volume 67, Number 26 of The Uniter (May 29, 2013)

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