Last year Martha Hicks set her sights on finding a new location to house her ballet school, after realizing the protests against a condo development in her former spot on the second floor of Postal Station K were a losing battle.
Despite an initial plan to remain on Yonge Street, where she had been for the last 15 years, once she took her contractor to see a large space near her home on Avenue Road and Brookdale Avenue, she quickly realized she had found what she was looking for.
“He just took one look at the space and said, ‘What are you waiting for? This is perfect,’ ” says Hicks, who took her first ballet lesson at the age of five. “It’s a beautiful open space, there’s no pillars — which is really difficult to find because you need a lot of square footage without any obstructions, ideally, when you’re dancing — and there were eight skylights, and it was just fantastic.”
To celebrate the new location, which merged the Martha Hicks School of Ballet’s Fairlawn, Armour Heights and Yonge and Eglinton classes under one roof, on Sept. 7 Hicks held a grand opening party, complete with photography, face painting, a bouncy castle, cotton candy, popcorn and 250 pink balloons.
Dance classes went on all day in two studios, with some kids taking them as a trial, she said, noting a mixture of new and current students turned up, in spite of stormy weather.
“It just turned out really great. I think the rain may have encouraged people to stick a round, we had people that were here for two to three hours.”
After graduating from the teacher’s training program at Canada’s National Ballet School, Hicks started her own school in 1992, with about 35 kids. Today, more than 800 students take ballet, jazz, hip hop, contemporary, tap and musical theatre classes.
“There really wasn’t a lot in the neighbourhood at the time in the way of dance schools, so I just started this small thing and I had no plans, no idea that it would grow into anything close to this,” she reflects, adding that both her daughters have also gone through the school’s program and how she enjoys running into alumnae around the area.
The creative movement and ballet classes offered at the school are accompanied by live piano, which she feels creates a special environment, because professional classes feature live piano accompaniment.
A big draw for kids is the performance aspect. The school houses yearly productions at the 450-seat Centre for the Arts at St. Michael’s College School, at Bathurst Street and St. Clair Avenue West.
“We put a lot of effort and money into making the shows quite spectacular, with really great lights, music and costumes, and it’s really gratifying for the kids,” she says. “They really feel professional when they’re performing.”
Since she now has more studio space, Hicks says she is excited to be able to offer the addition of adult classes at her school. She believes everyone will love to dance, if they allow themselves to experience it.
“I think it’s too bad if people think, ‘I don’t know how to or I’m embarrassed.’ ” Hicks says. “Once you get in there and just realize that it’s a natural thing to respond to music, you can have a blast, you can learn things and it’s a great workout. It’s a really great outlet for expression.”
This article was originally published in the September 2013 edition of the Midtown Town Crier.