From a young age it was clear that Corinne Vessey would be involved in dance. But when she realized there were few opportunities for Calgary’s dancers to perform once they finish their studio or university education, she started her own dance company to fill that gap.
Now Vessey offers that opportunity to dancers and choreographers alike, even though the financial rewards are few and far between.
Vessey says, “I got involved in dance because I was one of those children who would not stop dancing around the living room. I just danced all the time at home and so my mom suggested that I take a dance class.”
Originally, Vessey says she was hesitant about the idea, explaining, “At the time I wasn’t really into it because apparently I wanted to do my own moves, not someone elses.”
Vessey’s mother got her way in the end and convinced her daughter to try a class at the Royal Winnepeg Ballet.
Vessey says, “That is where I grew up and from the first class, I really fell in love with it.”
Vessey has also danced and created work with The Source Dance Company based in Vancouver, BC, as well as many other companies, studios, and organizations.
When she came to the University of Calgary to complete her degree in English literature, Vessey saw the opportunity to pursue a dance minor at the same time.
Vessey says, “I had come to the program with a lot of technical training, but I was really able to dig into contemporary dance work within the program, expanding what I already knew about my body into new movement plains, new pathways, new possibilities I really hadn’t explored before in some of the more classical genres of dance. I’d say that contemporary training definitely opened up my eyes for my own personal movement as well as movement creation.”
Vessey says that shortly after moving to Calgary, she saw a gap that needed to be filled in the dance community.
She says, “So many dancers grow up and train in Calgary, and then they leave. The same thing happens in Winnipeg a lot of the time and it’s sad to see. Calgary is a developing, vibrant city and the arts are starting to take prominence. I felt like I wanted to offer something so that perhaps not as many dancers would complete their studio training and then go off to find other things.”
As a result, Vessey founded Ember Dance Company, an adult company that performs and trains at a professional level.
She says, “I think if you were to slap a label on us we would definitely be contemporary fusion. It felt like in Calgary’s dance community there are pockets of jazz dancers, pockets of hip hop, pockets of physical theatre. I just wanted to create a company that didn’t necessarily have to fit into a specific category, but allowed for movement of any kind, and dancers of any body type. We’re kind of a mish-mash and together we create beautiful art.”
“I distinctly remember when I was an older teenager, one of my dreams was to just have a little company that I could create work on and show it. It was something that was at the back of my mind.”
Nevertheless, when Ember was about to run it’s first audition, Vessey remembers a rollercoaster of emotions.
She says, “Before the first audition I was terrified nobody would show up. It was a big struggle just getting people to know about it. Originally Ember had a different name until we found out that a dance company of that name already existed in Texas, so I had to quickly, within a week, come up with a new name before all of our press went out. That was a bit stressful.”
And it can also be costly.
Vessey says, “It is a huge time commitment, and I personally do not take a salary from what we are operating on. It’s definitely a labor of love. As everyone knows, there are bills to pay and food to put on the table so dividing my time between both endeavors that can actually produce an income for me versus what I do for Ember can be a struggle.”
On occasion, Vessey is able to secure paid work for her dancers and is always adamant about paying her guest choreographers and teachers.
Luckily for Vessey, she has not had to take on a job in another industry to support herself.
She says, “I’ve been teaching dance for the past 12 years now. I’m happy to say that my income comes from dance and has for the majority of my adult life.”
For Vessey, no matter the struggle, this is all worthwhile.
She says, “My dancers continue to inspire me everyday. It is such an honor to work with these incredibly talented and dedicated people who put their faith in me. I don’t forget for a single day that they come to Ember because they believe in what I have created and what we have created together.”
Note: This article was published both in print and online for the Calgary Journal in December of 2015 – Calgary dance company makes a splash