Sarah Torkoly has been dancing since she was young. At 21-years-old, she turned that passion into a business by opening the first drop-in dance studio in Edmonton. With it being a success in Edmonton, she expanded that studio to Calgary, hoping to create an outlet for adult dancers.
Torkoly’s parents put her into dance at the young age of three-years-old.
“I can remember little bits of me being on stage in my baby pink, kid's bodysuit, just loving it,” she said.
She started dancing at a local dance studio in Edmonton, taking technical styles such as tap, jazz and ballet.
Between the age of 13 and 14, Torkoly started to become serious about dance. So she attended Shelley’s Dance Company — one of the most sought after technical, competitive dance studios in Western Canada.
“I remember sitting in the gymnasium doing our provincial tests, I'll never forget my teacher at the time came up to me, ‘Sarah there's no way you can be done.’ I just looked up at him and I said, ‘Listen, I'm going to be a dancer.’”
During high school, Torkoly started to experiment with making her own dance team.
She brought that team to a couple of talent competitions, where she received a scholarship to Los Angeles’s Millennium Dance Complex – which has an A-list clientele and faculty that includes some of the most sought after dancers and choreographers.
In Los Angeles, she got to experience how the dance industry works and how professional dance studios run, inspiring her to open a similar studio in her hometown.
“I thought, wow, there's just nothing here like this in Edmonton. There are places like that in Vancouver and Toronto. But, in Edmonton, there wasn't something that people, once they graduate, could really go and take advantage of and continue to dance, to find that love and that passion again.,”
After Millennium she knew she wanted to “be the person to bring something different, and make a difference, and that's why I wanted to come up and be the first drop-in studio in Edmonton.”
At the age of 21, she decided to go for it. Concluding that age doesn't matter, you can still try to do big things.
Torkoly opened her Dance Code Studio in a “brick and mortar” style. It consisted of two small studios in downtown Edmonton.
“The first couple of years were crazy, like so much fun, not knowing really exactly what I was doing. It was day by day, month by month, figuring it out all on my own. And, I think I was just so infatuated by the fact that I did it.”
Dance Code Studios offers seven days of drop-in dance classes, catering to beginner-advanced adult dancers. They also offer training and opportunities that nobody else does because they are strictly catering to the 18+ class.
While running Dance Code, Torkoly would still travel around Canada teaching people who didn't have the opportunity to learn from her in Edmonton.
When Torkoly came to Calgary to teach a couple of dance classes, she was inspired to create something more permanent in the city.
During one of her classes she “had two local girls say, ‘Sarah, can you please come do this in Calgary?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean, Calgary's got places like this?’ And they're like, ‘Yeah, but you're doing something just a little bit different and it makes people from Calgary want to come here,’”
“So I started doing some research and looking at places and it just kind of happened. I felt that there was a calling and there was an opportunity and so we went for it.”
With the help of Calgary's counterparts, Kyra Dolan and Kristi Gottselig, Torkoly was able to understand what types of classes Calgary dancers needed, and a location for her dance studio.
Dance Code Studios Calgary offers dancers who have grown out of the competitive market an opportunity to still continuously train on a daily or weekly drop-in basis.
“Even though you're an adult, eventually you kind of grow out of the whole, ‘Okay, let's rehearse for 40 hours a week and go to competition.’ You kind of just want to dance because you love to, and you want to find a class and a place that can offer you that at that level.”
Kyra Dolan, the studio’s client relations and ambassador manager, also says that with the drop-in system dancers can take a variety of classes.
“With everyone's interests being pulled in multiple directions it can be hard to manage time. But when there is a program that you must attend weekly it can be hard for some to schedule. This allows the flexibility to still do something that you love on your own terms.”
Symone Dhariwal-Verma is one of those dancers who has found that the drop-in system has not only given her the ability to dance around her schedule, but also an important opportunity for stress relief.
“I'm a registered nurse and I work in the hospital and what it has provided for me is really an outlet and sort of a release of energy and any sort of negative energy that I carry out of the hospital, I can release through dance.”
During the COVID-19 scare of social distancing, Torkoly is still offering that outlet through her online live streams. She is giving out classes for those who still want to dance in this hard time.
For Dhariwal-Verma, it is important to have that outlet.
“I took one last night and one last week, and it was so great for me to be able to do that online with the group and make myself feel better when coming back to the hospital today.”
- By Jazmine Canfield