When Heather Joosten-Fair and Annette Jakubowski first met in Richmond in the summer of 1987, the two women shared a dream: both wanted to open their own dance school and to teach dancing.
Thirty years later, that dream is as strong as ever, and together with their partner, Jozef Jakubowski and a faculty of 35 teachers, they’ve made a deep impression on the lives of many Richmond dancers.
They’re celebrating their three-decade partnership and honouring the accomplishments their students have achieved this weekend in a gala performance at the River Rock Theatre.
But back in ’87, the two were just getting started. Jakubowski had grown up in Victoria, BC, learned classical ballet and performed with the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany from 1977 to 1982.
When she returned to B.C. she taught at various schools in Vancouver, but yearned to open her own academy of dance.
Joosten-Fair was a dance instructor at the Peggy White Dance Theatre in Richmond, and had been taking jazz, lyrical and tap classes with its owner, Peggy White, from the age of two.
By age 11, she was teaching and choreographing dance for other students and knew teaching dance was her destiny.
White, meanwhile, was ready to retire — but not to see her dance school disintegrate. With an eye on the future, she introduced Joosten-Fair to Jakubowski, and the two women hit it off immediately.
“It was two separate worlds that interested us, — jazz and ballet — but we shared the goals of wanting to nurture and bring up the next generation of dancers,” Jakubowski said.
“We both wanted to create an environment that nurtured dancers’ dreams, so they could train seriously in the arts in their home city. And we were determined to find the best teachers who shared our vision.”
The three partners purchased the school, which had 80 students at the time and was located at 8700 Alexandra Road. They renamed it the Richmond Academy of Dance and got to work teaching their students to dance.
As they gathered momentum over the years, they noticed a diversity of artistic skills was crucial if their professional-level dancers were to pursue careers in the arts. Gradually, Joosten-Fair and Jakubowski increased the disciplines offered at the academy.
Today, they offer musical theatre, acting, vocal classes, contemporary dance, modern, lyrical, anatomy (a class in which dancers learn about anatomy and injury prevention through movement), pilates, tap, hip hop, contemporary ballet, classical ballet and jazz.
“Sometimes, our students come in wanting to study ballet or jazz and we discover they have an amazing voice, or that they are talented at choreography,” Joosten-Fair said.
“Now, all under one roof, there are possibilities to search out individual strength and passion and we can help them achieve their dreams.”
Today, the Richmond Academy of Dance has 550 students in various divisions. And its four practice rooms on River road are filled with the graceful movements of dancers all day long. A quarter of the students are serious dancers interested in pursuing careers in the arts. And 47 of the students are boys, the majority of them in hip hop and tap classes.
“We get such joy out of seeing students’ progress, and we get more and more excited about what else we can bring to the academy,” Joosten-Fair said.
“Our underlying respect for each other has deepened over the years,” added Jakubowski.
“It’s such hard work to seriously train young dancers. Yes, it’s rewarding because there’s so much joy, but it’s also incredibly hard work, and that has brought us closer together.”
Both women are proud of the reputation their academy has developed.
“We’re renowned for teaching students not just dance, but how to work hard, and what it means to do your best,” Jakubowski said.
“That takes us years — you can’t just push a button to get it, you have to apply yourself.