Wednesday, 31 August 2016 14:40

Instructor already in step with new country, students and style

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Athena Burns is anxious to start teaching classes at the Conservatory. Athena Burns is anxious to start teaching classes at the Conservatory. Contributed

Athena Burns can’t wait to get started with her first class at the Medicine Hat College Conservatory of Music and Dance for two reasons.


Her vast experience with owning and operating dance studios in her native England and then in Germany were exciting, challenging and fulfilling.
However she and her husband — a soldier with the British army who was transferred to Ralston — had to pack up and make the journey to Canada. She was trying to find a job when she noticed a dance teacher position at the college.
“I just wanted something that I can continue to teach; I didn’t want to lose my passion,” explains the amiable Burns. “We had driven by the college before when we went shopping. It looked lovely. I sent my CV (resumé).”
After a Skype interview, Burns was offered the job a short time later.
At a relatively young age, Burns has already accomplished a lot. She worked in TV, modelling and dance and has a particular fondness for musical theatre.
According to her resumé, she attended the Liverpool Theatre School and College (LTSC) where she received her dance, drama and singing qualifications and a full ‘DADA’ scholarship to study professional musical theatre.
During this time she won Student of the Year for North West Students of Dance (three years in a row) and obtained the highest classical grade winning Classical Ballerina of the Year 2010 with a 98 per cent in intermediate ballet. The same year, she also won the Gladys Thorpe Memorial Award from the International Dance Teachers’ Association, competing against more than 3,000 hopefuls across Europe. After graduating at LTSC,
Burns attended the Merseyside Dance and Drama Centre where she studied all aspects of dance, drama and musical theatre. There, she became qualified with the International Dance Teachers’ Association, London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and earned a Diploma in Dance Instruction (DDI) in all core subjects with the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dance and the Allied Dance Association. She opened two dance studios in both England and Germany.
She is impressed with the ability of not only the students she has met so far, but to the commitment of the parents. She says Brad Mahon and the college have been good with her in regards to her role and how she teaches.
Burns will teach a recreational class for children ages four to five exploring ballet and tap; a recreational class for children age five exploring jazz dance as well as one in tap dance; a class for children ages eight to 10 exploring tap dance; recreational classes for children age five; six to seven; eight to 10; 11-13 and 14 and older exploring ballet dance and techniques; competitive jazz and theatre-based dance; and highly-competitive “company classes” where dancers practise/perform/compete in jazz and lyrical.
Burns wants students to be ready to dance, be disciplined and give it their all, but the most important aspect for her is that they have fun. She wants students to learn proper technique, but at their pace and learning the way they want.
“I give freedom about personal expression. An enjoyable atmosphere means better learning for children,” Burns explains.
She herself was not one of those people who knew right from the age of three that she would be a performer.
The Ralston resident says with a chuckle she was an “appalling” bad singer when she started, but stuck with it. Now, she loves musical theatre and will get students to sing with her.
Burns also is cognizant of the importance of everyone having the opportunity to learn. She says when she modelled it was tough because of the constant criticism. She believes in giving everyone a chance and promises to create a supportive atmosphere for everyone.
“You become so scared, so self conscious. You learn to love yourself,” she says. “I am going to get everyone involved. It doesn’t matter what you are studying or what ability ... we will be instilling confidence in everybody ... I make it fun.”
The Ralston resident has an engaging, open and honest personality which will undoubtedly endear herself to the students. Students will also get a chance to watch footage of some of the best dancers in the world including Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire and Margot Fonteyn.
She is complimentary of Conservatory Manager Brad Mahon’s style of leadership. He is supportive of her and the other instructors and wants to assist them.
“With Athena’s experience in Germany and in the UK was a plus, but it’s her experience,” explains Mahon. “What I mean by that is that with her it’s not just a teaching studio here at the college, she will get to share her experiences (in Europe). That’s invaluable (for the students).”
The other reason Burns can’t wait to get started. She’ll know she’s had a safe delivery of her third child. With two daughters, one and two years of age, a third was due the last week of August.
If anyone is concerned whether she will be able to teach having given birth so recently, it’s no problem. At the time of the phone interview, one could tell Burns was ready for her third child to make an appearance.
She is not in the least bit concerned about being ready for when her first class is scheduled to start Sept. 12.
With both of her other daughters, she handled being pregnant, gave birth and  recovered in a rather short time frame and began dancing soon after.
Regardless of her situation, she realizes what it means to have this opportunity.
“It’s all about expressing themselves; the problems sometimes with dance today is that there’s no meaning behind it,” she explains. “For me, it gets rid of all my inhibitions.”

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Ryan Dahlman

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