My first classes were taught in the old Brown’s Hall. Later, I moved to the Anglican Church Hall and later again to the Elk’s Hall, where I taught until my retirement in 1970.
I was not a professional teacher and I conducted my classes on an amateur basis, my motto being “Dancing for Fun”. Over the years, I estimate that at least five hundred pupils passed through my classes. We did have fun as they performed at countless functions in and around Dawson Creek — dancing at concerts, fashion shows, teas, conventions, school carnivals, and later entertaining tourists at Caravans for the Chamber of Commerce. I remember one amusing incident when a little sister of one of my pupils overheard a traveler from the U. S. remark; “This troupe must be a professional group brought in for our entertainment”. And then little Sister snickered to Big Sister, “and its only you”.
As we were far from major centres, we were fortunate to have Festivals in Fort St. John, Grande Prairie, and Dawson Creek, in which my pupils could compete. The Festivals gave them an opportunity to gain excellent experience. I have a shelf full of trophies which they won, and also a two-inch high stack of certificates, and I was always most proud of them, as win or lose it was always with a smile! Five large scrapbooks of clippings and mementos of their activities are a most valued possession.
I taught many types of dancing, but Folk Dancing was my favourite. Folk dancing is a world wide art, and I taught my pupils the Highland dancing of Scotland, the Hornpipe of England, the Jig from Ireland, Polkas from Central Europe, the Kamarinskia from Russia, the Sickle Dance from the Ukraine, the Hat Dance from Mexico, and some of the oldest Folk Dances of all from Hawaii and Tahiti. They also learned Square Dancing, Tap, Interpretive, and also some ballroom and Modern for good measure.
I formed the first troupe of Majorettes in 1959 and, over the years, the Mile “O” Majorettes in their sparkling uniforms became a familiar sight in parades in the Peace River country, as they accompanied the Dawson Creek Centennial Band. The Highlight for the Majorettes came in 1967 when the Centennial band and the Mile “O” Majorettes performed in the Klondike Days Parade in Edmonton. Dressed in scarlet and gold uniforms, what fun they had, and how they enjoyed their performance for huge crowds!
Dressed in red plaid mini-kilt uniforms and wearing black velvet Scottish tams they made their final appearance in our Fall Fair Parade in 1970.
In 1969, my Senior Folk Dance Group was invited to perform in the Prince George International Folk Dance Festival. We presented a medley of Hawaiian and Tahitian Folk Dances, in authentic costumes from Hawaii. We were invited to return in 1970, and in that year, presented a medley of Chinese dances, “Themes from the Orient”. I did the choreography for this original number to music recorded by the Sin-kiang Symphony Orchestra. It was very satisfying to have an elderly Chinese lady tell me — with her son acting as interpreter — that this was the first time she had seen Chinese dances performed since she had left China.
We were invited to participate in many concerts by the Tomslake Community and we have many pleasant memories of fun and enjoyment in their hall. We also had the honor of dancing in their twenty-fifty Anniversary celebrations. Our association with the Tomslake Community was always one of good fellowship.
The highlight of each season was our Annual Dance Revue. Our first Revue, in 1945, was held in the Halverson’s Dance Hall. Looking back, I wonder how I had the nerve to stage a revue with such a lack of facilities! However, I felt the children should have the fun of the show, and so we went ahead! The girls who danced that night tell me they have never forgotten the excitement of their first show!
In those early years, it was impossible to buy proper supplies for costumes, so we improvised. I remember making hats for a military Tap from round Pablum boxes, which we covered with material. We added a red feather and they looked right perky! We dyed cotton in bright colours and produced very acceptable costumes. In later years, my pupils were noted for dancing in lovely and authentic costumes.
A feature of the 20th Revue was a number danced by pupils who danced in the first Revue. We had fun doing this number on a “Twenty Years Later” theme. This was also the year in which I danced the “Can-Can” in a hilarious number with my senior girls. When we finished, they rushed me into a rocking chair, and gave me my glasses and my knitting! I gave them a rash promise that I would dance the “Can-Can” again in my 25th Revue — a promise that they made me keep!
I gave awards for perfect attendance every year, and at my 25th Revue, I presented Awards to two pupils who had attendance records which I believe are unsurpassed in Canada. Karen Schofield received a plaque for seven, and Cheryl Skaar received a plaque for eight years perfect attendance! I also gave a silver cup each year for outstanding achievement. The winner of the first cup was Joanne Laporte (Folk) and at my final revue, Joanne presented the last cup given by me, to my daughter, Melanie. Also, special awards were given to Janis Reasbeck and Melanie Whyte, for their record of having danced in thirteen consecutive revues together.
And also in the final revue, Lana Swanson — a daughter of one of my first pupils, Betty Morrison Swanson — was a featured performer.
One of my most valued possessions is the silver tea set, given to me by my pupils at my 25th Silver Anniversary Revue, and the Scroll presented by their parents. How can one condense the history of twenty-five years of teaching dancing into a few paragraphs? I can only say that my twenty-five years of teaching dancing in Dawson Creek was a tremendous and rewarding experience — I would not have missed it for anything.
By Mrs. Elizabeth Whyte, Dawson Creek [July, 1973]