Dancers star struck by celebrity appearance

Dance: Stacey Tookey visits Okotoks as reward for contest winner

By: Tammy Rollie

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Jul 24, 2013 09:53 am

“So You Think You Can Dance” choreographer Stacey Tookey is greeted with cheers and screams as she arrives at the Alberta Dance Academy on July 17. Tookey’s visit to Okotoks was the result of 14-year-old Emily Rawson winning an essay contest called The Next Step Chance to Dance Contest.
“So You Think You Can Dance” choreographer Stacey Tookey is greeted with cheers and screams as she arrives at the Alberta Dance Academy on July 17. Tookey’s visit to Okotoks was the result of 14-year-old Emily Rawson winning an essay contest called The Next Step Chance to Dance Contest.
Jordan Verlage/OWW

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Dozens of screaming girls jumped up and down in excitement as a maroon sedan pulled into the Alberta Dance Academy parking lot in Okotoks on July 17.

This wasn’t just a typical day for the young dancers. They were about to meet their idol – Canadian choreographer Stacey Tookey from the hit show “So You Think You Can Dance.”

The screams got louder as Tookey exited the vehicle and walked to the group giving high fives and hugs. Eight-year-olds Ariel Koopman and Lauren Jackson were on the receiving end of a hug from Tookey.

“It was so great meeting her,” said Jackson, admitting she could hardly sleep the night before in anticipation of Tookey’s arrival. “She is a great choreographer.”

Koopman said she is a big fan of Tookey’s and couldn’t believe the star hugged her.

“It was just awesome,” she said.

Okotokian Emily Rawson was the reason Tookey came to Okotoks. The 14-year-old won an essay contest through the Family Channel called The Next Step Chance to Dance Contest that required a reply to the question: “Why does your dance troupe deserve to win a choreography session with Stacey Tookey?”

More than 250 dance studios submitted an entry and the winner was selected by a panel of dance experts, including Tookey.

The win is landing Rawson and 15 of her friends on a special segment that will air between programs on the Family Channel late this summer or in early fall that will include interviews, footage of the girls dancing and their modern dance choreography session with Tookey.

Rawson’s essay explained her love for dance and how it helps her deal with anxiety and sadness when it comes to her 16-year-old brother David, who has Asperger’s.

“When my brother has episodes, I just like to dance,” she said. “It helps me. When I am sad, I just like to dance and be here.”

In her essay, Rawson wrote she spends more time at the dance studio than at home. Rawson takes 11 classes a week in a variety of styles including jazz, lyrical, tap and ballet, and has been dancing for almost 12 years.

Rawson’s mom Brandi said she cried when she learned her daughter won the contest.

“A lot of times she gets put on the back burner because of our son,” she said. “This was for her.”

Brandi said this experience will be great for her daughter.

“She’s a very modest kid,” she said. “She doesn’t like to have a lot of attention.”

Rawson said she entered the contest in May and didn’t expect to win. When her mom told her the news the day before her 14th birthday Rawson was speechless.

“She is one of my inspirations,” she said of Tookey. “She’s just a really good dancer and I want to be like her. I like her style.”

With blisters already on her feet, Rawson joined her friends and Tookey on Wednesday last week to learn choreography at the Alberta Dance Academy. The following day they ventured to the Glenmore Christian Academy in Calgary for a day of perfecting the dances.

Rawson and her friends spent weeks before reworking a competition number and practicing five solos with Alberta Dance Academy instructor Tiffaney Chin to music provided by the Family Channel. The group then had a photo shoot at the Okotoks erratic on July 16 with the producer of The Next Step.

Thirteen-year-old Olivia Glabus was ecstatic Rawson selected her to participate, but was worried she would miss out when she learned the filming would take place the same time her family was to travel to Paris.

“I was really sad,” she said. “I was almost going to say I won’t be going to Paris and stay for the contest.”

Lucky for Glabus, a big fan of “So You Think You Can Dance,” the filming was postponed another month.

Seventeen-year-old Rachel Grant was also selected and couldn’t wait for the choreography session with Tookey.

“She’s pretty huge,” she said. “I think she’s so down to earth and she definitely knows what she is doing.”

Alberta Dance Academy director, owner and instructor Erica Harding never would have dreamed she would meet Tookey when she put up a poster she received in the mail from the Family Channel about the contest.

“I didn’t know who of the dancers entered the contest until we got the call,” she said. “We didn’t realize that the Family Channel was coming with (Tookey) and there would be two days of photos and filming.”

Staff and students at the Alberta Dance Academy planned a big welcome for Tookey, gathering outside of the studio with posters.

The Family Channel filmed the group surrounding Tookey in front of the studio giving introductions to its show “The Next Step.”

“We were all a little star struck,” said Harding. “We are not used to having the cameras and lights.”

When the recordings finished, Rawson and her friends spent six hours dancing with Tookey and another six the following day, said Harding.

“It’s going to do wonders for their training,” she said. “It’s going to take them that much further understanding the professional side of dance.”

As she watched the filming in progress last week Harding said she was impressed with how well Tookey worked with the girls.

“She is very inspiring the way she talks to the girls,” she said. “She is just great with them and she’s warm with everybody. Having her work with my girls in my studio is quite a dream.”


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