The love of dance has been an on-again, off-again relationship for Eileen Fogarty-Ellis. Born and raised in West Point Grey, the now 72-year-old recently revived her passion for the art with West Point Grey Community Centre’s Collaborative Creative Dance program.

“We’re a very verbal culture, and the thing about dance is that you are communicating with your body,” says Fogarty-Ellis. “You silence your voice, but you speak through your body, and I find that very uplifting.”

A retired high school theatre and English teacher, as well as a provincial resources teacher in acute rehabilitation, Fogarty-Ellis cut her teeth on dance when she was still in grade school herself. However, that was not the experience that ignited her love affair.

“I was an Irish dancer as a child because of my family heritage,” she explains. “That was way before Riverdance, and I more of less skulked off to Irish dance because back then it was decidedly uncool.”

While studying theatre at the University of British Columbia, Fogarty-Ellis underwent movement training and instantly fell head over heels for modern dance.

“Something in me was ignited.”

Finding her footing

Fogarty-Ellis went on to study with notable modern dance figures such as Paula Ross and Anna Wyman, who passed away in July 2020. She took the occasional dance workshop and performed in shows here and there in between teaching and raising three daughters with her husband.

Then, in 2017, Fogarty-Ellis got wind of the fact that acclaimed Canadian choreographer and dancer Margie Gillis had openings for a five-day workshop at Hollyhock on Cortes Island.

“I had wanted to work with her my whole life,” she beams. “After my first session with Margie, she came up to me and said she could see my dance training and wanted to know who I had danced with. I was gobsmacked. It let me know that I still had it!”

Gillis encouraged Fogarty-Ellis to find a dance group in Vancouver, which is when Fogarty-Ellis discovered that the West Point Grey Community Centre’s Collaborative Creative Dance group was mere steps away from her front door.

“That showed me that my return to dance was meant to be,” she says.

A return to her roots

Fogarty-Ellis rediscovered her passion for dance through West Point Grey CC’s Collaborative Creative Dance program and, more recently, the small but strong Elan Dance Project, both of which are led by West Point Grey CC artist in residence Desirée Dunbar.

With the Elan Dance Project, Fogarty-Ellis recently danced in several performances inspired by Greek goddesses: Persephone Rises and Hecate Below, recorded by David Cooper, as well as a Dancing with Trees performance for Culture Days. She divulges that their upcoming ensemble is inspired by Demeter and autumn.

“Everyone in the group has some quite extensive dance experience,” says Fogarty-Ellis of the six-member company. “Either they were or are professional dancers, and the ages range from mid-40s to, well I’m the oldest of the group right now.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down their rehearsal space, they nimbly transitioned to Jericho Park and, more recently, the Oak Room in West Point Grey CC’s Aberthau mansion facility.

Being able to continue to dance and perform has not only been a highly rewarding experience for Fogarty-Ellis, she also hopes that it sets an example for other women of all ages who may be considering a return or introduction to dance.

“I didn’t think that at the age of 72 I could even begin to perform, and this has helped me to realize that, yeah, I’m not the same dancer that I was in my 20s or 30s, but I still have that training and ability to move.”

“It’s been an unbelievably amazing experience to realize that about myself and all the other dancers in the company.”

Learn more about the Elan Dance Project and watch videos of their recent performances:

The Collaborative Creative Dance – Aging and Art residency uses collaborative creative strategies to pair professional artists with seniors. It is supported by the Vancouver Park Board, Arts and Culture; West Point Grey Community Centre Association; and Arts and Health Project: Healthy Aging through the Arts.

The Dezza Dance Residency (currently working on the Elan Dance project) facilitates the creation and performance of new contemporary dance works with emerging and mid-career dancers. It is supported by the Vancouver Park Board, Arts and Culture; West Point Grey Community Centre Association; and Dezza Dance Society.