Circa 1978, in a photo taken by Andrea’s mom Helen

We are thrilled to recognize and celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Andrea Roberts’ working at the School. On our Awards Day, last May, Pat Fraser presented Andrea with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, and said:  “Today we are honouring Andrea Roberts’ 20 years of service and commitment to the School. Andrea has a fine mind, a prodigious memory, and an astute understanding of all aspects of the workings of the School as well as of the dynamics of the student body. She’s a true polymath and trouble-shooter, who knows how to draw on her knowledge to solve problems. She’s a model of life-long learning, pursuing her Masters’ degree while working full-time at the School, and continuing to take courses in an eclectic array of subjects from dance and theatre to management and leadership to IT and business organization. As a rehearsal director, she has a keen eye and a perceptive mind, guiding dancers to new levels of understanding and interpretation.”

We asked Andrea to tell us something about how she came to the School, her path after graduation, and some of the highlights of her past 20 years:

“I started dancing at the age of three at the Town of Pickering Parks and Recreation program. When I was nine, I moved to the Denise Lester Dance Academy, and I started competing soon after that. I trained in tap, jazz, and ballet. I also did Ukrainian folk dancing for a number of years when I was a kid.

My first exposure to anything like modern dance was Robert Desrosiers’ Blue Snake for the National Ballet of Canada. I was around 12 or 13 when I saw it, and I decided I wanted to do work like that – though it would take me a few years to find it! Until I did, I cut pictures of Toronto Dance Theatre and Danny Grossman out of Toronto Life magazine and kept them on my suburban bedroom wall. I thought they looked cool but I really had no idea who they were. After high school, I followed the others from my studio to Ryerson’s dance program. I started taking night classes at the School of TDT during my first year there. At the end of that first year in the city I did the summer program at the School; and moved into the Professional Training Program that same fall.

1989, Denise Lester Dance Academy

The mid-90s were a real time of transition at 80 Winchester Street. At the School, I was the last generation to train with the founders of TDT, Trish Beatty, David Earle, and Peter Randazzo. I was also in the first class to study under Pat Fraser’s direction. We were mostly learning TDT repertoire (from Christopher House and the founders), supplemented with work made by TDT dancers including Coralee McLaren, Michael Trent, and Laurence Lemieux. I was in the first batch of students who also got to do dances by outside choreographers Peggy Baker, Tedd Robinson, and Julia Sasso. Aside from the other regular faculty at the time (Pat Fraser, Pat Miner, Rosemary James, Susan Macpherson, Kim Puil), guest artists Marc Boivin, Irene Dowd, and Risa Steinberg also had a huge influence on me.

I taught recreational and competition classes throughout my professional training, however, I discovered my true love of teaching was in the form of coaching and rehearsal directing. In the early days for me that meant always knowing the counts, and being the one person who could figure out how to use the VCR. After my third year, I did an extra year of studies at the School, taking classes and learning some solo/duet repertoire. My fourth year was on a working scholarship, and my first rehearsal directing gig was setting a piece of Coralee’s on the second year dancers. I think I did a terrible job! But – I learned a lot by doing the work; I only got to be the coach I am today by being given opportunities. As a rehearsal director, I have been lucky to work with an incredible list of choreographers – I never would have been able to be in so many different processes if I had been tied to one company, or even if I had been working independently. To date I have acted as rehearsal director for many of my mentors, including several works for Marc Boivin, Peter Chin, and Tedd Robinson.

In my studies after graduation, Ginelle Chagnon was a major inspiration to me as a rehearsal director, and theatre work with Fiona Griffiths had a profound effect on how I think about dancing and performing. I graduated at the end of the 90s, at a time when funding was being cut, conservative governments were coming to power, and there was very little dance work. My class formed a collective and produced a show, but beyond that there wasn’t much opportunity to perform. As it was, I had been helping out in the office as part of my fourth year agreement, and they needed someone to run summer school just after I graduated. So, they asked me to stay – and I never left the building!”

In studio at the School © Roger Henriques, 1996

We asked Andrea what she finds most satisfying about her work at the School:

“I have spent more than half my life at 80 Winchester, and I have made many lasting connections. Even though I always prefer to be in the studio vs the office, I like meeting new students and parents. I enjoy getting to guide young dancers in the way that I wish I had been guided when I was at that stage of trying to figure out what to do with my life. I have probably seen hundreds of students go through the door at this point!”

When we asked her to speak a little about how she maintains an artistic practice, both through the School and outside the School, she had this to say:

“I remember choreographer Murray Darroch telling us to be kind to everyone, because ‘you never know who’s going to hire you one day’, and he was right. My main dance-related role outside the School has been with Jennifer Dallas and her company, Kẹmi Contemporary Dance Projects. This decade-long relationship started with Jen asking me to come in and give some feedback on her Choreographic Workshop piece when she was a third year student.

I don’t choreograph myself. If I have thoughts to present, I write. I also love archives. Murray was administrator of the school when I was a student, and I was introduced to his choreographic work during that time. Murray’s work is what I would have loved to do as a dancer, but he left the field right as I was graduating. When he passed away in 2005, his family ended up entrusting me with his papers and videos. I wrote my M.A. thesis on him as a way to get inside the work I wished I had gotten to do, and to pay tribute to someone who taught me so much about the reality of the dance world.

Otherwise, I get involved in various random projects as they pop up. Most recently I spent a few hours acting as outside eye for a process of Robert Kingsbury’s that involved using video games as the basis for dance structure. Pending funding, there are some other interesting things on the horizon.”

In rehearsal with the class of 2011

Andrea has been involved in a myriad of ongoing learning opportunities, and we asked her about some of the directions in education and training that she has pursued:

“I have always had a brain that loves to organize and catalogue things – my childhood Christmas lists were intense! In 1997, I asked for a database for the office, when we were still using Windows 3.1 and Word Perfect on Pentium 386 computers. I needed computer tools to allow me to work with the organizational concepts I had in my head. A few years ago I started learning to code, investigating the hard technique of how my conceptual design ideas come to life. I have also done some work on negotiation and communication skills; I was fascinated to learn that soft skills can be taught too. This plus my interest in computers led me to enroll in the Information Systems Management program at Ryerson’s business school. I realized the other day that I am happiest when I am discovering new systems – dance, languages, business skills, coding…. These days, I am working on learning Italian.”

Besides all these pursuits, among Andrea’s many community-involvement activities, she lists sitting on the board of the Canadian Alliance of Dance Artists – Ontario Chapter for six years, two as Treasurer and her final year as Chair, and she recently joined the finance committee at Dancemakers.

© Dahlia Katz Photography

Finally, we asked Andrea if she had any thoughts she might wish to offer to current students, or parents, or prospective students:

“As someone who has built a career in administration with no formal business training (until very recently), I am a model example of the transferrable skills that one gains from a life in dance. In order to succeed in dance, you need to be disciplined, dedicated, and self-motivated. Most importantly, you need an ability to synthesize information from all kinds of sources; this is more and more important in today’s world.

The dancers I appreciate most in the studio are hard-working and humble, but they also have opinions and are able to engage in both physical and verbal conversations. For people considering dance as a career/life path (and for their parents!), I would say it is crucial to understand that you can’t know now what it’s going to look like, or where you are going to end up. I reflect on the experiences I have had over the past 20 years and there is no way my 18-year-old self could have ever imagined where I would be today. I continue to be inspired in new and exciting ways by the people I meet, and the ideas we share.”

Thank you, Andrea, for 20 years of hard work, commitment, and dedication to the School!