Haliburton Dance Academy owner Chyna Schell said she has worked for years to buy her own studio.

After going through a purchasing process since August 2019, she began getting ready to move her academy from the old Victoria Street School site to Industrial Park Road for fall 2020. She said she wanted the space to accommodate the business’s growth.

Then the pandemic hit in March, ending the dance season prematurely. The world and economy ground to a halt, but there was no way to back out of the purchase.

“To be told seven, eight months in that the world’s shutting down and there’s a global pandemic, I have to laugh because otherwise, I’ll probably cry,” Schell said. “The loans had been fulfilled; the paperwork had been done.”

So, despite the circumstances, the academy reopened on Oct. 19 at its new location. New health measures are in place, including social distancing and limited class sizes.

It is a matter of survival for the business, Schell said.

“Everything is different, everything changes and financially, you don’t know if you’re going to see tomorrow,” she said. “The reality was I need to take it very seriously.”

But Schell said the business is getting support from the community and beyond. It received help from the COVID-19 Regional Relief and Recovery Fund, distributed through the Haliburton County Development Corporation. The township has also provided the zoning approvals needed to proceed so far.

“We felt exponentially supported. I can’t express enough gratitude for how happy I am that this town has just been incredible,” Schell said.

Beyond keeping her business afloat, Schell said she wants to provide her young students with something for their physical and mental wellbeing. She said it was difficult seeing her students’ heartache at not being able to finish their season and show off what they learned, but she is excited to get back in the studio with them.

“To see them again and see the joy dance brings them and to pass the joy along to little ones in this town, it’s my favourite thing in the world. I just can’t wait.”

Some of those dancers have kept busy over the summer, with 12 participating in an Acrobatic Arts program virtually, run by an external company. All of them got top marks, Schell said.

Twelve-year-old Madelyn Walker was one of them. She said it was difficult, but it felt good to participate.

“I was really happy to still dance,” Walker said. “It felt nice to still be a part of something and not just sit at home.”

Walker said it was a letdown that their last season was cut short and she is looking forward to returning.

“I’m really excited but I’m also nervous too, I just don’t want the season to end again.”

She added her dance classmates and instructors are like a second family.

“It might be different this year, but we’re still really close with each other and we all love the same thing.”

Heritage Ballet back at it

Meanwhile, Heritage Ballet started its new season with new safety measures in place at the end of September after being closed since the spring. A big change will come with the traditional production of The Nutcracker this December.

Owner Julie Barban says this year the performance will be outside. It was a decision Barban says she has been thinking about since June.

“The more I thought about it, the more I thought, why not? People stand outside for the Santa Claus parade. People stand outside for dog sledding when it’s -28 degrees in February, so I thought I’m going to try it.”

Normally, The Nutcracker is performed at The Northern Lights Performing Arts Pavilion in Haliburton but with the province limiting the size of indoor gatherings, Barban had to make a decision on how the annual show could go on.

“It would be sad to not do it at all because so many people look forward to it, so (I thought) maybe I can present it in just a different way.”

As of now, the performance is expected to go in early December at Head Lake Park in Haliburton. (With files from Carolyn Allder).

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