By the spring of 2014, Parksville Ballet School founder Linda Klassen had owned and operated the business for more than 30 years. While visiting at home with a pair of her former dancers, Sarah DeVito and Deena DeVito-Carl, she mentioned she was going to have to retire eventually and asked if the women might be interested in taking over the school.
“Sarah and I just looked at each other and it was, ‘When do we start?’” said DeVito-Carl.
“It may have been over a glass of wine,” DeVito added with a smile.
As simply as that, the torch was passed. Deena and Sarah, sisters-in-law who were already partners in Helix Dance Theatre, have carried Klassen’s legacy into the next generation with the freshly re-named Innovate Dance Arts school in Parksville.
“We were nervous about telling Linda” about the name change, said DeVito-Carl.
“We thought about waiting to change it, but decided, hey, it’s a new start — let’s go all the way.”
This month, junior and senior dancers from Innovate are going all the way to the North Island Festival of Performing Arts in Courtenay. The festival began last week and will continue through Feb. 27 with adjudicated performances at Sid Williams Theatre.
A Festival Variety Showcase will be held there at 7 p.m. March 4, and the top-ranked dancers and groups will be recommended for the provincial festival beginning May 31 in Fort St. John.
Innovate Dance Arts offers instruction to about 225 students, from toddlers to adults, in ballet, jazz, tap, hip-hop and contemporary/modern dance forms, in addition to musical theatre, barre fitness classes and acro, which incorporates gymnastics training.
The school has both a recreational component and a more intensive set of classes for students like those competing in the current festival.
“They’ll do the North Island festival, the Upper Island (festival) in Nanaimo, and for the seniors, we take them to Vancouver at the end of April,” said DeVito.
“It’s a pretty jam-packed schedule,” DeVito-Carl added.
“We look at each other sometimes and say, ‘Let’s just get through this next week,’ then we’ll realize, ‘Wait a minute, now we’ve got this other thing coming up!’”
The two women run their dance partnership with the same comfort they use in completing each other’s thoughts in a joint interview.
Natasha Hargreaves of Innovate Dance Arts’ junior intensive dancers leaps over the back of Eve Halverson during the recent Dancing for the Naylors benefit show, put on by Qualicum Beach School of Dance at Ballenas Secondary School. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS
They began Helix Dance Theatre seven years ago, sharing space in Klassen’s dance school, as a non-competitive, pre-professional program drawing dancers from studios from the mid and north Island and Salt Spring Island. DeVito is its artistic director, while DeVito-Carl is the manager.
They’ve brought the same arrangement into Innovate, with Devito-Carl retaining an instructional role for the youngest dancers.
“Deena and I fortunately have a template with Helix, and it’s been clear our vision is very similar,” said DeVito. “I’m the artistic, creative one. Deena is the administrator. I would not have taken this on without her.”
“And I knew having (Sarah) on my team would allow us to bring in amazing dancers,” DeVito-Carl replied. “We have really defined roles.”
After shepherding their Innovate intensive dancers through the flurry of spring festivals, the women will turn to the 2016 Helix Tour, with those dancers scheduled to perform at Ballenas Elementary School April 22 and dance in Nanaimo, Port Alberni and Salt Spring Island on consecutive weekends in May.
“Helix is a non-competitive company,” said DeVito. “We believe it’s important to give the girls an opportunity to perform for the sake of performing. To be able to bring the elements of their training and work to the stage without the competitive aspect.”
The school year wraps up with the annual spring recital, Be Moved. That show is a fun reward for dancers at all ages and abilities and a chance for their families and friends to see what they’ve learned over the previous nine months.
“It’s as low-key as you can get while putting 200-plus dancers on stage in a night,” DeVito said with a laugh.
Closing in on the end of their second year as owners of Innovate Dance Arts, the partners are glad they made the decision to take on the school, where Klassen remains a member of the faculty teaching Cecchetti ballet.
“Linda created ballet in this area and built it into an incredible program, ahead of its time,” said DeVito. “We’re merely the result of her philosophy.”