As many who have taken one of her classes knows, Debbie Banks likes to keep her students on their toes.
The Vernon dance teacher is celebrating a milestone this year with her Okanagan School of Ballet.
Co-founded by Betty Farrally and Dr. Gwenneth Lloyd (also founders of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company) as the Canadian School of Ballet, the Okanagan School of Ballet is celebrating its 35th anniversary under the direction of Banks
“I asked one of my little ones, ‘It is our 35th anniversary, what does that mean?’ and she said, ‘It means you’re 35 years old,’ so I said, ‘OK that’s what I have to go with,”’ laughed Banks.
Born Deborah Yakimovitch, Banks was born in Vernon and had all her training at the Canadian School of Ballet in Vernon and Kelowna. She passed all her grades of the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) and holds her advanced executant certificate.
Banks attended the Banff School of Fine Arts for six consecutive summers, dancing in the workshop and festival ballet performances. She auditioned and was accepted as a corps member of the Alberta Ballet Company in Edmonton, and danced there for two years. The company toured extensively in the province, performing lecture demonstrations in schools and full-length shows in local auditoriums. The repertoire included classical ballet, contemporary, jazz and national works.
After returning to Vernon, Banks began teaching for the Canadian School of Ballet and became a registered teacher before starting the Okanagan School of Ballet.
Joining Banks as an instructor is Kim Shatzko, who is a former student and recent graduate of the certificate in ballet teaching studies program.
“Students are entered in exams with the Royal Academy of Dance and are marked on technique, musicality, and strength. In addition, classes are offered in hip hop, musical theatre, modern, jazz and tap,” said Banks.
Former students who have gone on to professional careers in dance include Jamie Hawke, who has her master’s in dance from the University of Utah and is now teaching at Douglas College in New Westminster; Rokaya Duval, a student of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and dancer with the Atlantic Ballet; Mary Yount, a registered teacher with the Royal Academy of Dance and now teaching in Sydney, Australia, as well as Bonnie Wilson, Katherine Wilson and Katy Schroeder, all graduates of the Randolph Academy of Performing Arts in Toronto, and Alexa MacDougall, a graduate of the Canadian College of Performing Arts in Victoria.
In addition, the Okanagan School of Ballet’s rehearsal pianist, Irene Brown, has been with Banks the past 32 years and has seen two generations of dancers go through the studio.
Banks’ daughter Jenica, 19, has also grown up at her mother’s studio and has enjoyed a successful career, holding her RAD intermediate certification. She is a second-year student at the University of Victoria and takes classes on campus.
“Children of former students are now dancing in the studio, enjoying the same experiences their mothers did,” said Banks, adding she has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
“The body has been giving me different signals but it doesn’t feel any different. The kids change, different faces, but it is all really the same. They love the music, love to dance, that is all there is to it.”
The Okanagan School of Ballet continues with its 35th anniversary celebrations at its annual dance recital, June 20 at 7 p.m. at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre.
“The recital is a culmination of the dance season and all students ages three and up will be participating,” said Banks. “Entries in the Vibe and Showtime Festivals will be featured, as well as exam and scholarship awards.”
Tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students and seniors at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7459, ticketseller.ca.