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Dance Studio Restores Church

By John Tapley
Ingersoll Times

elizabethWhile hymns no longer echo through Zion United Church near Thamesford, the building will soon be filled with music of a different sort.

Expressions Dance Arts Inc. recently purchased the 139- year-old building, and is converting it into dance and cheerleading studio that will offer a variety of classes for ages three and up starting in September.

“It’ll be our new hub of activity for east London and all of Oxford County,” said Elizabeth Morgan, owner and director of Expressions Dance Arts.

In its 17th year of operation, the company already runs classes in St. Thomas, London and Goderich, offering instruction in various dance styles, from ballet to hip hop and Irish dance.

Cheerleading is another specialty.

“A student can study ballet and cheerleading at the same time and they’ll have good instruction in both,” Morgan said, adding that offering both dance and cheerleading instruction makes Expressions unique.

Adult programs, including ballroom dancing and wedding choreography, are available as well.

Fielding competitive dance and cheerleading teams, Expressions has produced provincial, national and international award winners. Its senior level-one cheer team won provincial and national championships this year, and the school’s students have earned seven national dance titles in 2010, including ballet, hip hop, musical theatre and contemporary/ lyrical. The 2010 Dance World Cup silver medalist in Irish dance also studies with Expressions.

“Our motto is, ‘Imagine it ; achieve it,'” Morgan said. “It’s the philosophy we go by when we’re teaching.”

While she runs a successful school, Morgan has achieved quite a bit on her own. Having studied jazz, tap and ballet since she was three years old, she branched out into hip hop and Celtic dance before getting into cheerleading when she started university. Morgan has been a cheerleading captain with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

Maintaining her ties to those organizations, Expressions is the host studio for the 2010 Junior NFL Bills Cheerleaders in Canada.

Some of Morgan’s students will perform at the Rogers Centre in Toronto when the Bills take on the Indianapolis Colts on Aug. 19.

The popularity of cheerleading is growing in Canada, she said, but it still has a long way to go to reach the level it enjoys in the U.S.

Cheerleading teaches a variety of skills, Morgan said, including teamwork, problem solving and trust.

A team from Expressions’ studio in Goderich will travel to Walt Disney World in Florida in October for a workshop and to represent Southwestern Ontario in competition.

Zion isn’t the first church Morgan has converted into a dance studio. Nine years ago, she undertook a similar project with a heritage church in St. Thomas.

“We are excited to tackle this renovation and rejuvenation project (in Thamesford),” said Morgan, explaining she is happy to be able to preserve the building and that it will provide a nice “ambiance” for her students. “There’s a lot of history there.”

Aside from running dance and cheer classes in the facility, Morgan plans to host dance birthday parties and rent the building out for special events and other arts classes.

Already a sponsor of several charitable causes, Morgan said another goal is to become an active and valued new member of the community.

“We hope to be a valuable part of the community and give people a place to come express themselves creatively and learn a new skill,” she said.

Besides, she said, “Dance is just plain fun.”

[Expression Dance Arts.com]

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