Calgary dance studio celebrates 40 years of spinning, performing and putting people first

There are a few constants you can expect at Danscott Studio in northwest Calgary – the light tapping of bare feet moving across the dance floor, the twisting and spinning of black uniforms as students perform and the Gail Scott’s voice gently guiding the dancers through the steps.

“With emotion,” she said during a recent practice as the students prepared for their upcoming end-of-year recital. “I need a little more passion.”

Dutifully, his students respond, tweaking their spins, kicks and smiles with every command.

“It’s like being part of a family. You feel so loved by everyone,” student Sadie Walker said after the day’s rehearsals ended.

“It’s almost like therapy when I dance. If you’ve had a bad day, you can just come here and all your friends and teachers will support you no matter what.”

Gail Scott talks 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)

Danscott Studio celebrates the end of its 40th season this year, and Scott has been the principal teacher and owner of the studio since the beginning. In addition to winning national dance championships and sending young people into professional dance careers, the studio also creates lasting connections.

“The elders come back and bring their kids,” Scott said.

“We’re doing something right…they trust us and believe in what we’re doing.”

Walker’s mother frequented the studio years before her, dancing until she was 18.

Sadie Walker is a student at Danscott Studio. Her mother also attended the studio years before her, and she is happy that they can share this life experience. (James Young/CBC)

“I’m so glad she brought me here because she knew 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 started Danscott Studio in 1982 with classes departing from the Dalhousie Community Center, a short drive from their current location in the Ranchlands neighborhood.

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

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

Each year, Scott focused on his improvement, putting his passion into his classes. As a dancer, she told stories through her choreography while trying to teach life lessons to her students.

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

Danscott Studio students perfect their moves ahead of their 40th anniversary recital on June 11 at the University of Calgary Theatre. (James Young/CBC)

“The growth you see in kids is amazing when they can accomplish something that they haven’t done before. It’s amazing,” Scott said.

Some students also end up in class as teachers, including Scott’s own daughter, Aleigh Ford, who is now the studio’s director. She started dancing at age three and spent time competing, but she didn’t think dancing would remain such a constant in her life.

“The more I taught, the more I just couldn’t give 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 of her time at the studio babysat her, she said, and now she teaches their children.

“I think it’s a real testament to the way my mom runs her studio, that it’s definitely a family vibe and it’s family run,” Ford said.

Aleigh Ford, left, and her mother, Gail Scott, continue to share their passion for dance through Danscott Studio in Calgary. (James Young/CBC)

Much like her mother, the personal growth of her students and the relationships she builds with them is one of the main drivers of 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 it,” she said.

“It’s not just about having high legs, jumping high and spinning fast. It’s about being good people.”

“Nothing but good memories”

After more than two decades, the formality has not dissipated for Allison Coleman.

Although she danced professionally after high school — including on Princess Cruises — married and had children of her own, when it comes to Scott, Coleman still calls her “Miss Gail.”

Along with the huge respect she has for her former dance teacher, Coleman also has a lot of gratitude.

“Dancing was such a big part of my life and taught me so many valuable lessons…I only have fond memories,” Coleman said.

Allison Coleman danced at Danscott Studio until 2001. She is now a teacher at the studio and her two children also take lessons there. (James Young/CBC)

Coleman has returned to the studio to teach, and next year she will 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 already told him I was Miss Allison in the studio. So we’ll see how it goes.”

Erin Munro Clark also continues to use the title. She is one of the studio’s first students, taking Highland dance lessons 40 years ago. She remembers calling herself “bad Erin,” saying Scott had his work cut out for him.

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

“I just learned a ton of dancing that I kind of took with me and having high standards, working hard, practicing, and being creative with things.”

Clark’s daughter is now dancing at the studio. She wanted the same lessons and fun to be passed on, creating a shared bond between them.

Erin Munro Clark was one of the first students of Danscott Studio 40 years ago, taking Highland dance lessons. Her daughter is now dancing in the studio. (James Young/CBC)

“[Scott’s] always driven and creative and wonderful and gracious and just this beautiful human being,” she said.

“Just thinking of all the dancers that have been through here…I just think it’s such an incredible legacy for Calgary and so many people who have been touched by its 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 going into the job without his mentorship and training,” Ford said.

The past few years have been particularly difficult for the studio with the COVID-19 pandemic, but through those times, Scott said she’s grateful for her daughter’s partnership.

For 40 years, Gail Scott taught Calgary students how to dance. (James Young/CBC)

“It was amazing to watch her grow, to push her, to encourage her, it’s just amazing,” Scott said.

“By sticking together and believing in what we are doing, we have succeeded.”

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

“We look forward to the impact the next 40 years could have.”

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