Raved about Exeter dance studio absolutely smashes it in the city center

Just steps from Exeter’s Sidwell Street, you’ll find a special place that champions diversity and inclusion, while fostering creativity.

DanSci Dance Studio on Summerland Street is the brainchild of former professional dancer Ava Thomas. After sustaining an injury, Ava said she never imagined going back to dancing, but after a particularly difficult life experience, she decided to find her way back to what she loved.

“When my second daughter was born she had meningitis and was really sick,” she said. “For a few months we were in the neonatal unit, which is awful – and any parent who’s had to have a sick child who’s been through that – it makes you assess life a bit.

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“So even though I always swore that I would never dance again, or that I would ever be involved in dance – because I was crying that I was no longer a dancer – it just made me realize that ‘Yeah, the life is too short”. Fast forward more than a decade, and Ava is the proud owner of the now long-established and well-supported dance studio DanSci.

“The name ‘DanSci’ comes from the fact that I was a dance scientist,” Ava explained. “So I wanted to be able to use all the latest knowledge in protection and security and dance in our training, which is why we choose the programs that we do.”

But while this may seem like a somewhat academic approach, Ava is keen to involve as many people as possible in the dance. There is nothing elitist about DanSci, which also caters to learners with special educational needs. Diversity, teaching with a positive attitude, encouragement and a sense of humor are just as crucial to Ava as using her scientific knowledge to keep dancers healthy.

“In most of my adult classes, I think we use more abs laughing than dancing half the time because it’s that social element more than the physical side,” she said.

DanSci Exeter School of Dance

Fostering a strong sense of community is also very important to Ava and the DanSci team. Along with the many challenges that the pandemic has bought for many companies, DanSci unfortunately also suffered a devastating flood earlier this year.

But after the flood, Ava said the community support for DanSci “really shone through.” People asked how and when they could help, offering mops and brushes to get things back on track. “They’re all participating, which is great,” Ava said.

One such member of the DanSci community is Helena Meineck, whose life changed dramatically for the better after walking through the doors of DanSci. “I woke up one morning in August and thought I had to start dancing again. I hadn’t danced in twenty years,” she said.

“I knew this place, so I walked in, and the rest is history. I met Ava and took her ballet class, and it was so inspiring. She’s just amazing, a person so inspiring.

“The joy I feel coming here. Even my friends said I’m a different person. I feel like I was twenty years ago, I feel like the old me, I feel like the real me, and I just want to help. That’s all I want to do because I get so much happiness and joy from stepping into this building – I can’t wait to get here.

A class is underway at DanSci Dance Studios

So, aside from inspiring others through her work, what does Ava really like about dancing? “You couldn’t really answer ‘What do you like about dancing?’ without dancing,” she said. “Because there are no words to describe it.”

Given the popularity of TV dance shows such as Strictly and Dancing on Ice, Ava now hopes others will fall in love with dancing – or at least consider giving it a whirl. “It’s amazing all the things that are on TV now because they really inspire,” she said. “We get a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily try things but have been energized by things like Strictly.

“People like Diversity are such amazing role models. We have so many boys who I think wouldn’t have the guts to be here if they hadn’t seen it’s OK to do it – that’s is really cool.

“I appreciate that it’s really hard to walk into a room of people you don’t know — regardless of your age or your background — because you just feel like you’re going to be judged or nervous or whatever. But everyone here is so friendly.”

DanSci is located on Summerland Street Exeter and online here.

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