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Dance teacher teaches hybrid of Ottawa Valley and P.E.I. styles of step-dancing

Dance student Cailyn MacAulay, left, and owner of Roberts Academy of Dance, Juliette Roberts, strike a pose in anticipation for the dance season.
Dance student Cailyn MacAulay, left, and owner of Roberts Academy of Dance, Juliette Roberts, strike a pose in anticipation for the dance season.

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. - A local dance instructor is giving a boost to traditional step-dancing on P.E.I. by teaching a variation of styles to her students, one step at a time. 

Juliette Roberts, owner of Roberts Academy of Dance, felt like there was something lacking in the traditional dance scene on P.E.I. 

“My goal when I started teaching was to build up young step dancers and to bring step dance back into a relevance on P.E.I. because I feel like it’s kind of getting a little bit lost with all the other big styles like ballet, jazz, and contemporary.”

Roberts opened the academy last September, and teaches a hybrid of P.E.I. traditional step-dancing and Ottawa Valley style step-dancing.

Last year, the academy had nearly 50 students, and Roberts expects to have the same number or more this year. 

Roberts started dancing at the age of five. Her sister was her inspiration.

“I remember going to her classes and watching her dance and absolutely loving it.”

Roberts started off with Highland dancing, then learning step-dancing, ballet, jazz and contemporary.

She later went to the Randolph Academy for the Performing Arts in Toronto to pursue musical theatre, dancing and acting. She also studied at the Chad Wolfe Studio of Dance and Music, where she learned the Ottawa Valley style of step-dancing.

“I wanted to bring back (to P.E.I.) the Ottawa Valley style. I wanted to keep the traditional roots of step dance we have here on P.E.I., but I also wanted to bring new and exciting techniques and variations here”

“I felt like step dance was lacking in expansion and growth, and it was just kind of stuck.”

Dancers learning traditional step-dancing on P.E.I. often get to a stage where they say, “I’ve learned everything,” said Roberts, which is one of the reasons she teaches a variation of the two step dances together. 

Cailyn MacAulay, 14, is one of Roberts’ returning students. 

MacAulay started dancing when she was four, following in her mother’s and grandmother’s footsteps. Her two younger sisters also dance.

“I wanted to keep the Celtic traditions alive,” said MacAulay, who also plays the fiddle.

“I loved it from the first moment I started it.”

 She found the new hybrid style of step dancing difficult at first, but said she just had to keep dancing.

“I find the challenge of it fun. Juliette really challenges me, but in a positive way.”

The dances are similar in a lot of ways, but have challenging differences, such as having different timings and starting on different feet, said Roberts.

Roberts, who has a studio in Kinkora, teachers lessons from the Sherwood recreation centre and plans on expanding in the next few years and opening another studio in Charlottetown. The academy offers a variety of lessons including private, semi-private, group, competition, recreation, and advanced.

Roberts thinks dance on P.E.I. was on the decline for a few years, but is back on the rise again. She said the reputation of step-dancing can be sometimes misleading, as people often think it’s only for children, but that’s not the case. 

“You have so many opportunities if you can step dance,” said Roberts, adding that students can perform in music theatre, in local festivals, such as the Festival of Small Halls, and busking. 

“I really hope my students, no matter where they go in the future, take dance with them and really enjoy it.”


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