Regional Hero: No Healing in ‘Shep’

It was the school’s care and commitment to students during the pandemic that led one parent to recommend it to Dance Australia. “The care they have for each student is exceptional and very comforting as a parent. UCanDance’s efforts to keep our kids dancing through the first lockdown have been phenomenal in providing zoom lessons. What was even more remarkable was that even though every child was home learning the crew routines, when they were all able to be together, the routine went incredibly well…”

UCanDance was established in 2001 by Aleisha Spence and is located right downtown, upstairs from the main mall. It’s a large company with around 300 students and a staff of six, offering classes in a wide range of genres, from toddlers to adults. The examinations are offered in the Australian Teachers of Dance programme.

The confinements were difficult, but the school adapted. The students failed their exams last year, but this year they managed to complete them and were told by ATOD that they had made history by being the first regional dance school to take exams via Zoom . “We decided to try via Zoom,” says Spence. “I’m so glad we did; they went so well. We were lucky we were able to get back into the studio, and the examiner zoomed in and looked at them on her screen.

“I was very wary about going down this road, but everyone loved the experience.”

Competitions are not a big part of the school’s focus, but nonetheless some students have managed to compete in a few local eisteddfods (those that were still operating). “We had one yesterday, two little girls went to Wangaratta, they were able to perform in front of the judge, no audience, everyone had to watch through glass, outside! But we integrated it. We also organized some online competitions.

Spence grew up in Cobram, near the NSW border, moving to Shepparton to live around the age of fifteen. As soon as she finished school, she knew she wanted to teach dance. Having herself experienced the limited opportunities to learn dance in the country, she was determined to fill the void. “That was one thing that helped me decide how I wanted to run my dance studio. We are a recreational school, open to everyone. We offer a wide range for different abilities. We also have quite elite guest teachers from the city, so children also have these contacts, a good springboard for those who want to go further.

The pandemic has highlighted just how much dance is enjoyed by the school’s many students and what an important place the school holds in their lives. The students can’t wait to get back to class and look forward to their end-of-year concert, a highlight of their year. Spence says, “Especially for those who have been coming for a long time, dancing is all they do, dancing is everything to them, it’s their home. It was quite difficult last year to take that away from them. It shows how much it means to them.

Last year, Spence and his team hosted the year-end show online. What form this year’s performance will take was still being determined at the time of writing. “We really hope we can get there this year. The kids are really looking forward to it. They really miss it.

-KAREN VAN ULZEN

This article first appeared in the October/November/December 2021 issue of Dance Australia in the Regional Heroes issue. Did you name a teacher you know? Just go here and let us know about them.

Professor Aleisha Spence with a little midshipman.
Professor Aleisha Spence with a little midshipman.

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