Teaching dance for Melissa Kelly-Lavoie doesn’t feel like work.
Kelly-Lavoie, 36, is an experienced dance teacher and owner of Melissa Kelly Dance Academy (MKDA).
“I’m so in love with my career. There’s no one day that I wished I’d be doing something else,” she says. “I wake up every day, just loving what I do. It’s amazing.”
When she opened her dance school at the age of 21, she was nervous, she says. Her initial hope was to have at least 60 students in her first year of business. To her surprise, 140 students registered at the school which left her “surprised and overwhelmed at the same time.”
“I was so surprised and thrilled that the people of Timmins came to support me,” she says. “I was 21 years old opening up a business, I felt so lucky that the people of Timmins were trusting in what I had to offer.”
Recently, one of her dancers Cassie Lapointe took on a role of Sugar Plum Fairy and performed at the Timmins Symphony Orchestra's virtual Christmas show. The annual performance featured dancers from local dance schools.
When Kelly-Lavoie watches her students bring her choreography to life, she says it brings her to tears and she feels “so proud, so accomplished and emotional.”
As a dance teacher, she strives to find balance between discipline and fun in her classes. She says it’s great her students can see her as being picky but fun as well.
“We’re not scared to laugh if something is funny but they do know when to get serious and I think I instilled that in them from the very early age,” she explains. “I have structure in my classes but I also like to joke around and have fun.”
Kelly-Lavoie, born and raised in Timmins, became interested in ballet at the age of five after she saw The Nutcracker on the TV. She studied tap, jazz and ballet at Lisa Ciccone School of Ballet and since the age of 14, she knew she wanted to teach.
After a "gruelling" process that involved two rounds of auditions, she got accepted into a teacher training program at Canada’s National Ballet School when she was only 17.
“It’s quite unheard of. They don’t usually accept students that young into a teacher training program, they want you to have more life experience,” she says. “Because I’ve done all my ballet examinations through Lisa Ciccone and I had great academic grades, they accepted me into the program.”
After an intensive three-year program, Kelly-Lavoie graduated with distinction. The National Ballet School offered her a full-time teaching position but her heart was in Timmins, so she returned home and opened a dance school.
The dance school marked its 15th anniversary this year. Throughout her career, Kelly-Lavoie received many recognition awards including Collège Boréal Young Professional Award. She was a recipient of Influential Women of Northern Ontario and received a milestone for being 15 years in business from the Timmins Chamber of Commerce as well as certificates of recognition from Mayor George Pirie, MP Charlie Angus and MPP Gilles Bisson.
On a regular year, the school has about 300 students. This year because of the pandemic, there are 170 students ranging from the age of three to adults with all levels of dance experience. There are also seven bilingual teachers, four assistants, two security guards and one office administrator.
Being bilingual helped her attract many francophone clients. Her knowledge of French also came in handy because while she was at the National Ballet School, she was tutoring children from Quebec.
“The fact I was bilingual and was able to speak to a lot of these professional students, I was able to help them with their French homework,” she says. “And I was able to do a lot of corrections when it came to grammar. The French has come in to help a lot.”
Kelly-Lavoie speaks to her four-year-old daughter only in French because she wants her to master French before learning English.
Earlier in October, Centre Culturel La Ronde partnered with MKDA and rebranded its dance studio. Under Kelly-Lavoie’s supervision, five student teachers offer a variety of dancing classes.
“It has been amazing. I’m so proud of my students who have undertaken this role. They have shown themselves to be creative, to step outside the box, they’re very thorough in their instructions,” she says.
As a dance teacher, Kelly-Lavoie makes sure to stay on top of trends in the dance industry. Together with her teachers at the academy, she attended the Canadian Dance Expo, Dance Teacher Summit held in New York City. On her own, Kelly-Lavoie also attended dance conventions in Los Angeles and New York. She also makes sure her teachers are certified.
“This industry is constantly evolving. You’ve got to make sure you give that to your students if you want them to come back,” she says.
Her hope for next year is to have a recital in front of a live audience in April 2021 and have a dance competition. If the pandemic regulations will still be in place by spring, the recital will be held virtually.
“I absolutely would love a live audience recital because last year it was robbed from us. If we could have that, my students would be so happy and fulfilled, and so would the entire staff here,” she says.
Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com