Longtime dancer strengthens community with ‘Ember’

From a young age it was clear that Corinne Vessey would be involved in dance. But when she realized there were few opportunities for Calgary’s dancers to perform once they finish their studio or university education, she started her own dance company to fill that gap.

“I distinctly remember when I was an older teenager, one of my dreams was to just have a little company that I could create work on and show it,” says Vessey. “It was something that was at the back of my mind.”

Now Vessey offers that opportunity to dancers and choreographers alike, even though the financial rewards are few and far between.

“I got involved in dance because I was one of those children who would not stop dancing around the living room,” says Vessey. “I just danced all the time at home and so my mom suggested that I take a dance class.”

Originally, Vessey says she was hesitant about the idea. 

“At the time I wasn’t really into it because apparently I wanted to do my own moves, not someone else’s,” says Vessey. 

Vessey’s mother got her way in the end and convinced her daughter to try a class at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. 

“That is where I grew up and from the first class, I really fell in love with it,” says Vessey.

Vessey has also danced and created work with the Source Dance Company based in Vancouver, B.C., as well as many other companies, studios, and organizations.Vessey’s dance radiates passion as she teaches her class. Photo by Sarah Allen

When she came to the University of Calgary to complete her degree in English literature, Vessey saw the opportunity to pursue a dance minor at the same time. 

“I had come to the program with a lot of technical training, but I was really able to dig into contemporary dance work within the program, expanding what I already knew about my body into new movement plains, new pathways, new possibilities I really hadn’t explored before in some of the more classical genres of dance,” says Vessey. 

“I’d say that contemporary training definitely opened up my eyes for my own personal movement as well as movement creation.”

Vessey says that shortly after moving to Calgary, she saw a gap that needed to be filled in the dance community.

“So many dancers grow up and train in Calgary, and then they leave. The same thing happens in Winnipeg a lot of the time and it’s sad to see,” says Vessey.

“Calgary is a developing, vibrant city and the arts are starting to take prominence. I felt like I wanted to offer something so that perhaps not as many dancers would complete their studio training and then go off to find other things.”

As a result, Vessey founded Ember Dance Company, an adult company that performs and trains at a professional level. 

“I think if you were to slap a label on us we would definitely be contemporary fusion,” says Vessey. “I just wanted to create a company that didn’t necessarily have to fit into a specific category, but allowed for movement of any kind, and dancers of any body type. We’re kind of a mish-mash and together we create beautiful art.”

Nevertheless, when Ember was about to run its first audition, Vessey remembers a rollercoaster of emotions.

“I was terrified nobody would show up,” Vessey recalls. “It was a big struggle just getting people to know about it.”

The dance company originally had a different name — until Vessey found out that a dance company with that name already existed in Texas. Vessey had a stressful week to come up with a new name before all the press materials were released.

It can also be costly enterprise.

Vessey leads Ember through a warm up routine, an essential start to any dance class. Photo by Sarah Allen“It is a huge time commitment, and I personally do not take a salary from what we are operating on,” says Vessey. “It’s definitely a labor of love. “there are bills to pay and food to put on the table, so dividing my time between both endeavours that can actually produce an income for me versus what I do for Ember can be a struggle.”

On occasion, Vessey is able to secure paid work for her dancers and is always adamant about paying her guest choreographers and teachers.

Luckily for her, she has not had to take on a job in another industry to support herself.

“I’ve been teaching dance for the past 12 years now. I’m happy to say that my income comes from dance and has for the majority of my adult life,” says Vessey.

For Vessey, no matter the struggle, this is all worthwhile. 

“My dancers continue to inspire me everyday,” she says. “It is such an honour to work with these incredibly talented and dedicated people who put their faith in me,” says Vessey.

“I don’t forget for a single day that they come to Ember because they believe in what I have created and what we have created together.”

Ember Dance Company’s annual showcase is at the Wright Theatre in Mount Royal University in the month of May.

sallen@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Jesse Buchholz, jbuchholz@cjournal.ca