Simon wears many different hats in a day, but most of them have a pair dance shoes to match. Simon is a dance teacher, choreographer, and pilot. He is an urban style dancer and eventually he wants to open his own restaurant.
Our interview began as we sat down at my kitchen table with a cup of tea warming my hands and a breakfast of scrambled eggs and a coffee in front of Simon. Simon has a passion for dance. As an instructor and choreographer, he has the ability to create and inspire.
‘As a choreographer you’re always trying to explore and create something new and find a new way to do something.’
For Simon, this is not something new. He has now been dancing for ten years and has dipped his toes in many different styles. From his first jazz dance class when he was 14 to now choreographing and teaching national competitors in hip hop, Simon has come a long way.
Simon explained that he while he has made a lot of progress, he is never done learning. After our interview, Simon left for a five hour choreography workshop. He wants to hone his skills and learn as much as he can so that he can teach it to others.
He hasn’t, however, always wanted to be a dance teacher and choreographer. He explained that he only took his first dance class to improve his stage skills for his high school theatre program. Theatre was his hobby, but becoming a pilot was his dream job. His desire to become a pilot began years before when he was in elementary school.
When he was in grade six, his school was having a career day. His teacher’s dad came in and handed out post cards of 737s, commercial passenger planes. Simon had always had a love for flying and was so inspired by the presentation that he wanted to become a pilot.
‘Ever since that day, I wanted to be a pilot…from that point on, that was my goal, that was my focus.’
Even now, years later, he still has that post card.
Dreams and aspirations however, change. While in high school, Simon was heavily involved in the theatre program. He felt he needed to improve his performance on stage. One of his teachers suggested that he should take a jazz dance class from the local dance studio.
What started out as a way to improve his stage skills has turned into a life passion.
‘I was shit by the way.’
He loved it so much, though, that he hasn’t stopped. He then continued taking different dance classes all the way through high school, even travelling from his home town of Barrie to Toronto to take workshops. Eventually, he began teaching classes to younger dancers.
The only time he took a break from dancing was when he moved to Ottawa for flight school. He was focused on his studies, but found that there was something missing. He missed his time on the dance floor.
He completed his courses and had only a handful of ratings left to complete before graduation. Ratings are specific in flight and hands on experience courses that are part of the aviation program. The courses were extremely expensive however and he took some time off to save money so that he could complete them later on.
One of the first jobs he took was as a dance instructor at a community centre teaching hip hop. This is where his career began.
‘He’s had the biggest impact on my life.’
During one of his classes a man came in and watched him teach. At the time, Simon was unaware of how great an impact he would have on his life.
His name was Bill Juillette, the co-founder of Momentum Moves and one of the first dancers on the Ottawa hip hop scene. Momentum Moves is an organization that brings dance into schools across Ontario. This program teaches kids the basics of dance and also partners with different organizations like Jump Start (The Canadian Tire sports funding program) and The Ottawa Children’s Treatment Centre (a program that provides services to children with diverse needs in the Ottawa area).
‘He is the one who made me a better teacher.’
Bill saw potential in Simon. Not only could he dance, but he could also teach. He invited Simon to one of the school dance classes and told him to watch. Simon explained that Bill began teaching him more about how to be a good teacher, how to relate to his students and not only to teach dance, but to teach life lessons as well.
‘I try to teach something extra, I try to teach them a life lesson, teamwork, respect, motivation.’
Simon tries to instill different lessons based on the group he is teaching. Whether it is a group of rowdy young boys in their first dance class or attentive older students, he bases his teachings on what they are capable of learning.
‘At some point in your life you said to someone, whether it’s yourself or somebody else who’s teaching you something or trying to help you, “I can’t do it”. And what did they say? “You can do it”. They’re wrong.’
Simon explains that this is part of the learning process. At that point, his students can’t do it, but he is there to help them. Help them learn, help them improve and eventually they will be able to do it. There’s a learning curve, he explained, and this is the first step in the process.
Respect is the only rule that Simon has in his classes. ‘Respect the teacher or whoever is the leader, respect yourself and respect the others around you.’ Everything else, he explained, falls under this one rule.
From a small community centre class to school classrooms to now teaching for some of the most renowned dance studios in Ottawa, Simon has grown in skill and demand. He now teaches at Point of Grace Dance Company, Canadian School of Dance, Studio de Danse Danielle, West Carleton School of Performing Arts and Dance with Alana.
‘I’m able to have a purpose, I’m able to have an impact, I’m able to share, I’m able to speak in a different way.’
Simon uses choreography as a creative outlet. He is able to tell stories and draw on his life experiences to create new pieces. One of his most successful pieces was inspired by his favourite movie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
He used it for the final performance of the year where all the students, from the youngest to the oldest danced together. He told me that people are still talking about the piece and want to know what is in store for this year.
He hinted that a Michael Jackson inspired piece was in the works for one of his older students. Inspiration, he explained, comes from everywhere. It can come from the music or an idea that can be paired to music later on. One example he gave was for a piece with a Breaking Bad theme.
When talking about the idea, his eyes sparked and he became more animated, talking about ideas for hazmat suit costumes and the different styles of dance he could draw on for inspiration. When creating a piece, Simon uses moves from different styles of urban dance. From popping to locking, house to waving, Simon is able to incorporate a variety of different styles of dance into his pieces.
‘I don’t think that people, not that they won’t like it, but that they won’t believe in me.’
Having a piece on show for the world to see can be daunting. Simon explained that he is sometimes conflicted, simultaneously feeling that he has something to offer and not having anything at all.
He explained that because he has been removed from the hip hop community in Ottawa, he is concerned that they might not appreciate what he has to show.
One student’s mother strongly disagreed. She sent Simon a letter thanking him for inspiring her daughter to follow her dreams to become a dancer. The letter went on to explain that Simon was the reason she pursued dancing. She is now dancing with a company in Toronto.
Despite several examples of his success, Simon still has doubts. He explained that his largest obstacle is himself. He has a fear that people will despise his work.
‘I need to get over myself, I need to get over the fact that I don’t have anything to offer and that when I post work that people won’t go “oh that’s shit”
He has acknowledged this barrier and is now working to improve the confidence he has in his pieces. He is learning how to edit music videos and plans to post some of his dances on Youtube. Simon also explained that he wants to have one of his favourite pieces professionally filmed for his student’s portfolio.
‘That’s what is comes down to; it’s connecting with them’
I had the opportunity to watch one of Simon’s classes and see the connection he has with his students. They look up to him as a role model. He is able to inspire them to improve, to work past their limits and never give up. He is a patient teacher who will work with a student to advance, to succeed.
The energy in the studio when he works with his students is tangible. He is able to motivate and teach in a way that keeps his students engaged and excited to learn. I might even sign up for a class with him!
Simon has been able to turn his passion into a career. His hard work and dedication have paid off. He has students performing at the national level and the studios he works for are winning competitions. My interview with him has reminded me that if you want something enough and are willing to work for it, reaching your goals is always possible. Please don’t give up. Follow your dreams and make them a reality.
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