Keerstin Arden auditions her dance moves for the Royal Bay Advanced Dance Academy for the 2015-2016 school year. Auditions for more than 40 dancers were held at Dunsmuir school on February 9

Think you can dance? Try Royal Bay

Academy hopefuls show their dance chops ahead of new school year in Colwood

Amid a flurry of spins and jumps, three judges write feverishly on pads of paper.

What to the onlooker appears as a painfully flexible stretch leads to a controlled spin, then to leaping splits and turns in the air. Some dancers smile, others are focused, others still have a look of concentration befitting final exams. For some it almost is, as 43 students audition at Dunsmuir middle school for a spot in next year’s advanced dance academy.

“It’s an outlet, like so many other things,” said Belmont dance instructor Leanne Harrington.

“Some find football is their niche, or for some students the arts is their niche. They need something to keep them engaged. Dance class, for (some) students I see as their vehicle of expression.”

Ironically, Belmont’s established dance academy, featuring a mix of jazz, tap, ballet, modern, contemporary and hip hop stylings, shifts to Royal Bay secondary when the two new high schools open next fall, and these auditions serve as the first for the program.

“I see dance as becoming more mainstream. People are watching on TV and YouTube and expectations are higher now than when I was their age, when there were two clubs in Victoria and now there are probably 20,” Harrington said.

A total of 79 students applied for the program starting next year. Those dancers being put through their paces last week at Dunsmuir middle school aimed to secure a spot in the advanced class, while an open class will also be available for anyone to participate in, without an audition.

Similar to sports academies, the cost is approximately $1,000 per year, but bursaries are available for those with financial barriers.

Judging from the registrations, the numbers will be up from the 50 participants Harrington had this year. While the program is still in its relative infancy, it’s a great outlet for youth in the community, she said.

“It may just be something that gives them that mental health they can’t find elsewhere … It’s different for everyone. They are with me with 80 minutes and they can spend that 80 any way they see fit,” she said.

“(For some) it may be the only thing that keeps them in school. Some are just hanging on and (this is) keeping them in and (looking) towards their goal.”

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