Dance studio ALGN wants to rock Whistler

When ALGN Whistler owner Amélie Lavoie was developing the business plan for her new dance studio, she was asked who her target audience was. She didn’t have to think long.

“I was like, ‘Everyone!’ Lavoie exclaims. “They were like, ‘No, you have to identify this.’ OK, I will identify the main people who will come through the door, but I want everyone to be there. At some point, I want everyone to be here.

And it doesn’t just come from a place of personal interest. Of course, like any business owner trying to make ends meet in the expensive Whistler market, Lavoie wants to succeed, but his dream of welcoming everyone through the doors of his Mountain Square studio comes more from his deep belief that we are all made to move.

“There’s this mentality that the dance is just ‘five, six, seven, eight’ and it’s so structured and everything has to look the same,” says Lavoie. “When you take a course at a drop-in level, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about discovering yourself. When you see yourself in the mirror and explore how to do this move, you discover how good you feel about your body.

“It’s definitely something I’d like everyone to experience.”

Lavoie’s enthusiasm for what she does is contagious, to say the least. Since opening its Mountain Square studio in February, more than 300 students have come to strut their stuff. Offering classes in everything from jazz, jazz-funk and hip-hop to ballet, contemporary and even a class teaching how to dance with confidence in heels, ALGN has taken a somewhat different approach to your average dance studio. While there are programs for children and teens, the studio focuses on adults and, avoiding the cut-throat mentality often present in competitive dance, Lavoie and his roster of talented instructors strive to creating a welcoming, non-judgmental environment for anyone who wishes to take the jump (or throw, so to speak).

“The instructors are so nice. They are serious dancers with so much experience but also so patient and fun,” said student Diana Suco, who joined a friend in March. “Without a dance background, I never felt left out or like I didn’t belong in the studio. They all want to share their love of dance and create space for everyone in Sea to Sky.

Hailing from Vancouver and with a plethora of dance credits under her belt, including Nickelodeon, the 2010 Paralympic Winter Games and the BC Lions Halftime Show, not to mention working alongside renowned artists and choreographers such as Mandy Moore and Jillian Meyers, Lavoie recognized a niche in Whistler after teaching at Vibe Studio for several years before it closed, then leading her own walk-in classes. It was during this time that Lavoie “rented out every possible place you could imagine,” from meeting rooms to school gymnasiums, and realized there was a market for new space dedicated to dancing in town.

It didn’t take long for Lavoie to amass a list of around 90 clients through his private lessons, mostly intermediate students. “I said to myself, ‘If there are this many people who have already danced, how many are there who want to start but who haven’t had the chance?'”

In a city full of skiers and cyclists, the Vancouver native also felt the need to provide another kind of creative outlet for those who might not enjoy Whistler’s signature sports as much.

“I would like people to settle here and not just because they ski or mountain bike,” she says. “I’ve even had people contact me in Ontario saying, ‘Hey, I found out you were there, I’m moving there now because there’s a dance studio.’ It’s a big thing. This could define whether or not someone considers Whistler a long-term location. I also had this comment before: “I love this city, but I really missed that part of my life, moving my body in an expressive way.” Obviously, it requires physical activity, but it’s a little less intense than skiing and snowboarding.

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