All She Wants to Do is Dance
Profile by Sean McQuaid
Martha Nicholson is a woman who can think on her feet. She opened her Island Dance Academy a scant two years ago in 1993, and now boasts a thriving student body-including, believe it or not, a boys' class. "It's really taken off," Nicholson says.
Nicholson teaches pupils as young as four years old, and her program goes as far as age eighteen. At that point, she says, "they could audition for a company if the talent is there." Only a few students pursue dancing professionally, though. "I don't expect them to become dancers," Martha admits. "They become the audience." At the very least, Nicholson's students gain a greater appreciation for the art of dance.
Nicholson herself began dancing circa age eight, when "there was no ballet on the Island at all." She took dance lessons until grade 12, after which she completed a dance program at Ryerson. After a year in the biz, Nicholson decided she wasn't a performer and accepted a teaching position sixteen years ago. "I've never looked back," she says.
Nicholson returned to the Island when her husband was offered a good job here, and the couple quickly warmed to their new home. "It's just a beautiful place to live," she says. "Kids get to be kids longer here. There's lots of opportunity."
Opportunity eventually knocked, and Nicholson opened her own dance school in Charlottetown. She says her RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) syllabus makes the Island Dance Academy unique in the province, and hopes to offer her students the best possible technical education.
"If you have strong ballet technique," she says, "it's easier to pick up any other dance technique. That's what I have to offer them, and that's what they'll do well."
Martha is always surprised at how some people perceive ballet as effeminate and shun it accordingly. Ballet dancers are "top-notch athletes," she says. "It's a fairly rigorous exercise because it has a technique. I think people are intimidated by that."
The gender gap seems to be closing, at least, since Nicholson recently began her first-ever class of male students, some of whom expressed interest on the condition that they wouldn't have to be in a girls' class. To Nicholson's pleasant surprise, enough students signed up to make a boys' class possible.
Nicholson thinks ballet is "very good exercise" for children. "It teaches them confidence and poise-to stand up straight, if nothing else. It instills self-discipline in the student."
While ballet is often regarded as an elitist art form, Nicholson chalks that up to "lack of education about the art. I think that anyone can understand it if they make the effort." In the meantime, Nicholson will continue doing her bit to keep the next generation on their toes.