Owner feels weight of the decision in closing the academy, but knows it is the right decision
By Darren Lum
It’s difficult saying goodbye to the one you love.
The Haliburton Dance Academy owner Chyna Schell is still processing the decision to close the place that felt like a “second home” for her dancers, but said it was a decision that prioritized her family.
“Because that’s what I remember getting the most out of it is just being able [for dancers] to say that that was my second family and that was my second home and being just as comfortable under the studio roof as I was at home and [that’s] what’s most important,” she said.
Schell said it’s with a heavy heart that she had to make the “hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.”
The show will not go on, so she invites the public to see the year-end recital to end the final chapter of the dance studio, which has been a home and creative space of art and growth for generations of dancers.
Held over three days at the Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion, the recital performances are scheduled on June 17 at 7 p.m., on June 18 at 10 a.m., with a solo showcase at 2 p.m., and then 7 p.m., and on June 19 at 11 a.m. Purchase tickets online at onstagedirect.com and look for Haliburton Dance Academy. Following the academy’s last recital scheduled from June 17 to 19 (time of show), the school will close its doors and turn the lights out for good.
“It’s been a roller coaster of emotions for the woman, who has held every role even before she took over the business as owner and operator at 23 in 2012 from Terri Mathews who started the studio as Dance Co. in 1996. Schell was a dancer, dance assistant, dance camp counselor, and competitive dancer. Schell said it was so natural taking it over from Mathews. She credits her for enabling the business to have the solid footing, which led to her own success.
“It was built up before I took over in 2012,” she said.
It’s not an exaggeration that this academy has been her life.
“It’s a major passion project. To say the least, I’m obsessed with it. The kids are my family. The parents are my family. I know everyone individually and have a unique relationship with everyone and there is a lot of heartache there. It’s really sad for me. I’m going to miss everyone, exponentially. I’m really sad, but at the same time I’m also excited for my family, who are my main priority and need to come first and the studio was getting to the point where it was taking me away from them at a degree I was no longer comfortable with. So, I’m excited for this new chapter for my family, what it looks like for my kids, and the attention I’ll have for them and the energy I will have for them. It’s just everything. It’s a lot,” she said.
Added to the decision was the financial difficulties facing the school, which came from running a dance school with the constraints of the health measures imposed by the provincial government during the pandemic over close to two years. She said it wasn’t about the fight within her to do the work to resolve the financial issues, but coupled with finance issues was the added demands of raising two young children, Olly Williams, nine, and Jude, six and the arrival of her third child born in December, 2021.
“I feel like that was sort of my sign, saying ok, we put you in a financial position that you were going to really struggle with and, if you need any more of a push, here it is and you don’t have a choice now,” she said.
Her third child, Mabel, was born with “severe HIE condition” or Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy, which is a very serious type of infant brain damage that occurs during childbirth when the baby’s brain is deprived of blood and oxygen.
“Now she is doing really well, but there’s risk of cerebral palsy in her future needs, or needs that she may need special attention for, and I’m not manifesting any of that negativity for her, but I also want to make sure that I have positioned myself so that I can take on the role of her caretaker full time, if that is what it comes to … she’s doing really well, but I would just hate to not be available for her, if she needs more,” she said.
This dance studio has always been more than just her, she said.
She can still remember when she saw 10 parents volunteering their time to help drywall in her current location on Industrial Park Road in Haliburton.
“I know that this is a community project. This isn’t just a one man show, or a one woman show by any means because it always ran on gratitude for our community and although it is a small business, it’s really fuelled by love and family dynamic,” she said.
She adds at the core of her past 10 years rested with the support of the community.
Schell said the school has always been about the children.
“Literally, an image of them just pops into my mind … just them overall. Their energy. Their laughter … Their jokes. Their nerves offstage. Their nerves to go on stage. Their enthusiasm. Everything. They make it worth going into every night,” she said.
Schell said she waited to make this announcement until now out of respect for her dancers, who she believed may have felt anger at her for finishing the year of instruction to make money.
Selling the business hasn’t been ruled out, but at this time the few opportunities haven’t panned out for a variety of reasons at this time. In general, part of the consideration for any business handover is her respect for the 26-year history of the academy and how it has always been at its core, a family business. She also wanted to ensure the same high standard of instruction she carried forward from her predecessor. Even with her connections in the county and the surrounding area, it’s been difficult to recruit qualified instructors to maintain the excellence her dancers deserve.
The year before COVID the school had 150 dancers, which doesn’t include the registered dancers for the weekly classes and drop-ins. There are nine instructors with the academy.
When it comes to any highlights there isn’t any one class, group or performance that stands out for the business owner, who is married. It is about the lustre of the feeling of the new beginning of each year she will always remember.
“If anything, the most specific I can get is just that moment in September when you come back and they get to see what they’re doing this year and they get to see what you’ve been brainstorming over the summer when it comes to choreography, music and costumes, and their enthusiasm and excitement to be back at it and just seeing their ability to see what you see in your mind is really cool when they come back and they’re just as excited as you are for that to [be created],” she said.
She laments not being able to give her own children an opportunity to dance and learn from her, but knows in her heart she is making the right decision. It was her hope to see the next generation graduate.
“There are kids that I know teaching who I grew up dancing with their parents and it’s so cool … the dream was I would see them graduating, but, unfortunately, it just isn’t working right now,” she said.