Declan Tibbs jokes that he spends eight days a week in the dance studio.
“I live here,” said the 14-year-old from the studio last week. “This is like another home. I almost spend more time here than I do at my own house.”
After several years at the Lesley Oake School of Dance, he currently dances ballet, jazz, contemporary and lyrical.
He said his favourite part of attending the dance school is “the way you feel when you are here.”
“We are all like family here. Lesley has been like a mother to all of us since we’ve been here,” Tibbs said. “You can talk to her about anything, she is a great person, she means a lot to all of us because she’s hard on us but in a good way.”
Tibbs has also been part of the competitive team since 2015, and admits it’s “a lot of work, a lot of stress, a lot of long nights,” but he enjoys dancing in competitions.
They did three competitions this year and the team overall had 18 dances, including group dances, trios, duos and solos.
“One of my other favourite parts is the competition team because we are all so close and we do a lot of things together; even outside of dance we are all best friends," said Tibbs.
Owner/director/instructor Lesley Penney said they have three performance teams, totalling 36 dancers, including seven dancers ages six to nine on the petite team, 14 members of the junior team ages 10-12, and the 15-member senior team for ages 13-plus.
The teams rehearse Friday evenings and often times on Saturday and Sunday.
This year they attended three competitions, Elite and Wanna Dance in St. John’s, and Limelight in Moncton.
“The amount of commitment it takes to reach the level they have is hard to put into words, but it's something I think is visible when you see them working together in rehearsal or when they hit the stage," said Penney.
They have won countless awards and received lots of recognition for their work.
“The senior team won the final callback championship at the Wanna Dance competition a few weeks ago,” Tibbs said. “That was a big moment for all of us. The day before at the same competition I won $1,000 scholarship. That was really cool. We were all in tears. It was a big thing for all of us.”
Tibbs will go to California in July to join a team there for a week, learn more about dance, and dance in Disney. Previously, he danced in Disney World and this year will be in Disneyland.
The petite team took several overall awards in their categories, lots of gold and silver for the junior team and their youngest dancer on the team has won several high-mark awards throughout all the competitions.
In Ava Farrell’s sixth year dancing, she currently dances tap, jazz and ballet, and joined the performance team this year.
“It takes a lot of work but at the end it’s really fun to compete,” 10-year-old Farrell said.
It’s more than extra practices and dancing, they have to learn to work together, synchronize, and do a lot of fundraising.
“It has been a lot of fun. I liked the whole experience of working together as a team. Travelling was fun and competing," said Farrell. "We got to see other dance studios and we got to see different choreography. When you are waiting to perform and you look at everybody else I feel a little bit nervous, but once I get out there I feel like I was never nervous at all, I just have fun.”
The studio, and team, are like a family, Tibbs added.
"We are all just very close. Dance is more than an activity, it’s a lifestyle for people on the competition team. We put blood, sweat and tears into it – literally – and all of our work has really paid off by just knowing that we did the best we could," he said.
Ready, set, show
This year marks the 10th year of Lesley Oake School of Dance in Grand Falls-Windsor, and its 10th recital. The main show will take place Wednesday, May 29, Thursday, May 30, and Saturday, June 1 at 6:30 p.m., as well as Sunday, June 2 at 2 p.m. The pre-school show will take place June 1 at 2 p.m.
“The recital this year is a tribute to the past and present and we showcase some of our favourite pieces from the last decade as well as many new favourites,” owner/director Lesley Penney said. “We have about 300 dancers from age three to 17 in all levels. The show will have something for everyone that’s for sure.”
They have hip hop, ballet, tap, contemporary and jazz.
“It will be our biggest and best show yet,” Penney said.
After several years of shows, Declan Tibbs is also looking forward to it.
“The recital is a lot of fun,” Tibbs said. “You just gotta have fun with it. If you are stressed out you are not going to enjoy it as much. We just usually have fun with it.”