Calgary dance studio celebrates 40 years of pirouettes, performances and putting people first

·6 min read
Gail Scott speaks to students at Danscott Studio after a rehearsal. Their end-of-year recital on June 11 will be the studio's 40th. (James Young/CBC - image credit)
Gail Scott speaks to students at Danscott Studio after a rehearsal. Their end-of-year recital on June 11 will be the studio's 40th. (James Young/CBC - image credit)

There are a few constants you can expect at Danscott Studio in northwest Calgary — the soft tap of bare feet moving across the dance floor, the twisting and turning of black uniforms as students perform and the voice of Gail Scott gently guiding dancers through the steps.

"With feeling," she calls at a recent practice as students prepared for their upcoming year end recital. "I need a little more passion."

Dutifully, her students respond, tweaking their spins, kicks and smiles with each command.

"It's like being part of a family. You just feel so loved by everyone," said student Sadie Walker after the day's rehearsals wrapped.

"It's almost like therapy when I'm dancing. If you've had a bad day, then you can just come here and all your friends and the teachers will support you no matter what."

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC

Danscott Studio is celebrating the end of its 40th season this year, and Scott has been the studio's principal teacher and owner from the start. Along with winning national dance championships and sending young people off to professional dance careers, the studio is also building lasting bonds.

"The alumni are coming back and actually bringing their children," Scott said.

"We're doing something right ... they trust us and believe in what we're doing."

Walker's mother attended the studio years before her, dancing until she was 18.

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC

"I'm just so happy that she brought me here because she knew that it was such a fulfilling life experience for her, and she knew it would be the exact same for me," Walker said.

Humble beginnings 

Scott began Danscott Studio in 1982 with classes running out of the Dalhousie Community Centre, a short drive from their current location in the Ranchlands neighbourhood.

The first year, the studio had 17 students. The next year, that number rose to 85.

"It was tough … it grew really quickly, just through hard work and dedication, never giving up," Scott said.

Each year Scott focused on getting better, pouring her passion into her classes. As a dancer, she told stories through her choreography while also trying to impart some life lessons to her students.

Over the years, some have moved on to careers in dance. A couple have worked for cruise lines, and one student, Lukas McFarlane, ended up winning Got to Dance — a British televised dance competition.

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC

"The growth that you see in the kids is unbelievable when they can accomplish something that they didn't before. It is amazing," Scott said.

Some students also end up back in class as teachers, including Scott's own daughter, Aleigh Ford, who's now manager of the studio. She started dancing at three years old and spent some time competing, but she didn't think dance would remain such a constant in her life.

"The more and more that I taught … I just couldn't give it up, and I can't imagine not having all the kids and everything that comes with studio life," she said.

Ford is also reconnecting with old friends. Some of the older students from her days at the studio used to babysit her, she said, and now she's teaching their children.

"I think it's a true testament to the way that my mom runs her studio, that it is certainly a family feel and it's family run," Ford said.

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC

Similar to her mom, the personal growth of her students and the relationships she builds with them is one of the main drivers behind her passion for the studio.

"It's about being there for them on their bad days, celebrating their good days and picking them up when they need that," she said.

"It's not just about getting your legs high and jumping high and turning fast. It's about being good people."

'Nothing but fond memories'

After more than two decades, the formality hasn't worn off for Allison Coleman.

Despite having danced professionally after high school — including on Princess Cruises — getting married and having kids of her own, when it comes to Scott, Coleman still refers to her as "Miss Gail."

Along with the enormous amount of respect she holds for her former dance teacher, Coleman holds a lot of gratitude, too.

"Dance was such a big part of my life and taught me so many valuable lessons … I have nothing but fond memories," Coleman said.

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC

Coleman has returned to the studio to teach, and next year, she'll have the opportunity to teach her own daughter.

"Which I'm really looking forward to, just to pass on the things that Miss Gail taught me growing up and to continue that tradition," she said.

"I've already told her that I'm Miss Allison in the studio. So we'll see how that goes."

Erin Munro Clark also continues to use the title. She's one of the studio's first students, taking Highland dance class 40 years ago. She recalls calling herself "wrong way Erin," saying Scott had her work cut out for her.

"She always made it really creative and fun," she said.

"I just learned a ton about dance that I've sort of carried with me and just having the high standards and working hard and practicing and just being creative with things."

Clark's daughter now dances at the studio. She wanted the same lessons, and fun, to be passed along, creating a shared bond between them.

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC

"[Scott's] still driven and creative and wonderful and gracious and just this beautiful human being," she said.

"Just thinking about all the dancers who went through here … I just think it's just such an unbelievable legacy for Calgary and so many people who've been touched by her strength."

Mother-daughter bonds

Of course, mother-daughter duos have their moments. In Scott and Ford's case, they have their disagreements, but they always find a way to make it work.

"I wouldn't want to do it with anyone else. I can't imagine coming into work without her mentorship and her training," Ford said.

The last few years have been particularly difficult for the studio with the COVID-19 pandemic, but through those moments, Scott said she was thankful for her daughter's partnership.

James Young/CBC
James Young/CBC

"It has been amazing watching her grow, pushing her, encouraging her is just unbelievable," Scott said.

"By sticking together and believing in what we do, we've made it."

As the studio continues to grow, Ford said she hopes they never lose the long lasting relationships built just beyond the ballet bars.

"We're looking forward to the impact that the next 40 years could have."

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