Riley Green says that dancing has always been a part of who she is. From a young age, she would dance around the kitchen for her family, and reenact scenes from movies with her grandmothers. Her and her friends would make up dances to preform for their family every chance they got.
“It has always felt natural to move to music, and there really was no ‘aha’ moment for me,” says Green.
When she was in high school, a dance studio opened up. In their second year of opening, Green had built up enough courage and signed up. Her passion for dancing and teaching grew from there.
“Every time I went to the studio, I felt like I was doing what I was supposed to have been doing all along,” Green says.
One of Riley’s favourite dance memories was travelling to a national competition in Orlando, Fla., with her dance team. They all travelled together, shared one big house while they were there, and did many fun things. They did convention-style workshops with industry professionals, and witnessed amazing talent in that competition unlike anything the team had ever seen before.
“We made a million memories together on that trip, it was definitely special,” Green says.
She opened her own studio, Homegrown Dance Centre in 2018 on her first summer back from college. She had just graduated from the Early Childhood Educator program at Fanshaw College, but was counting down the days until she could teach dance to the youth in her hometown. She didn’t then know much about how to open a business, but she knew she wanted to share her passion for dance.
At her studio, Green teaches a variety of styles, such as stretching and strengthening, introductory classes for toddlers and their parents, light classes for seniors, jazz, musical theatre, lyrical, contemporary and hip hop. She also teaches recreational and competitive programs. This season has also been certified with Acrobatic Arts and can now offer Acro dance classes, which focuses on strength, flexibility, limbering and tumbling for dancers.
In the past, the studio has had guest teachers offer styles such as ballet and tap dances. This season, she has been able to offer ballet and lyrical classes taught by Sarah Hourie.
“I value being able to give our dancers the opportunity to learn different styles of dance from new teachers that share the same inclusive outlook as myself in their teaching styles,” Green says.
For the past several weeks, she has started travelling to teach her first class in Ear Falls. Green was amazed at the lengths parents from Ear Falls would go to take their children to activities in Red Lake. One of the Ear Falls parents had presented Riley with the idea to bring her classes to Ear Falls this season.
“Next weekend is their final class, and all I can say is I hope they enjoyed it as much as I have,” she says.
This season the studio has approximately 55 youth dancers, and a team of 10 adult dancers. There are also past dancers who have graduated that come back to take classes and visit when they can.
“I love the relationships I’ve built with the dancers that I’ve grown the studio with,” says Green. “If I’ve taught you for anytime at all I’m your coach for life.”
She says her biggest challenge about running the studio has been time management. Her plan was to work day and night at the beginning to get the studio on its feet and then cut back, but she has not done much cutting back since then. Learning to balance work and home life is still a work in progress.
“I’m lucky to have such supportive and understanding family and friends that hold me together even when my brain is running in 100 different directions,” says Green.
Outside of the studio, Green works at McTaggart’s clothing store. Her schedule there has allowed her the flexibility and support needed for her studio ventures. Her family owns the remote fly-out camp, Bob Green’s Fishing Camps and she helps with the family business when she can. She loves to be immersed in nature, and has spent several summers out at camp as a caretaker.
“It truly is the ultimate reset I need to get my creativity back between dance seasons,” says Green.
Currently, she lives with her grandmother, who has been dubbed the ‘dance grandma’ of the studio. Many of the students call her grandma because she comes to all of the competitions. She knows the competition directors on first name basis and helped enroll Green in her first dance class.
Green has also recently adopted a puppy from the Lucky Mutts Dog Club named Roo. She has been training Roo to be a studio dog, and teaching her to sit through the long nights at the studio.
“As busy as I am, she is a truly great sidekick,” she says.
The COVID-19 pandemic was devastating to the studio. She had only been into her studios second season when the lockdowns hit. Green had only completed her first of three competitions that season, and were putting in countless hours to prepare for the second one; as well they were preparing for end of season recitals. Riley had offered credit to everyone for the cancelled events, but financially was at a loss. Many of the costumes ordered sat unopened and left sitting at the studio, too expensive to ship back to the United States.
“Our dancers still talk about how robbed they felt that year,” Green says. “Mentally we were devastated.”
In the second year of the pandemic, she tried to instruct her classes over zoom, but found it hard to engage with the students. Many of the kids had too much on their plates mentally and over half of them withdrew from that session.
“Dance was supposed to be their escape from the world, but it was becoming just another thing they had to sign onto their computers in their living rooms,” Green says.
When the snow had gone in the spring, Green was able to finish the season dancing outside on the concrete. She submitted the videos of her classes’ routines to a single digital competition. When the restrictions had finally lifted, the pandemic still had a lasting impact on the studio. Registrations were low and classes last season consisted of only three to five dancers.
Green kept her classes up over this passed summer, and her studio is finally started to be bouncing back this year.
“I’m so thankful for the community we live in, I have extreme gratitude for everyone that has supported me and the studio to keep us going up until this point,” she says.
Green's favorite part about being a dance teacher is seeing her students realize for themselves all that they are capable of. She gets to watch students grow throughout a dance season, or several. For some it’s about creating friendships, and working as a team, developing camaraderie within their group. For some it’s about breaking out of their shells, and becoming more comfortable in group settings, finding the confidence to communicate and collaborate effectively in a class. For some it’s about work ethic, learning to dedicate their time to something they care about, and becoming attentive students. And for some it’s about exploring their creativity, valuing their own ideas and developing a creative process.
“I get to see dancers come inti their own as they realize what styles they’re passionate about and find their own true meanings behind why they love to dance,” she says.
In the physical aspect of dance, Green says that a lot seems “impossible” at first. She gets a lot of moans, groans, and “are you crazy?” looks when introducing new things. However, after some practice and perseverance dancers see that they can make progress, and accomplish all those big scary things if they put the work in and keep trying.
“I love getting to watch the switch flip when a dancer starts to approach me with pride to display what they can do, instead of putting all their energy into despairing over what they can’t yet do,” she says.
Green and her studio are making giving back to the community a priority. Through donations and volunteer opportunities, the dancers find many ways to support the Red Lake community. Dancers have preformed at the Seniors Lodge, and have run workshop style classes to raise funds to donate to organizations such as the Women’s Shelter and Christmas Cheer Board. They have volunteered at the Santa Clause Parade and held a present wrapping fundraiser for the Emergency Shelter.
“We value being humble and kind citizens of the area we live in,” she says.
Homegrown Dance Centre will be holding their Christmas recital at the Red Lake High School on Dec. 9. Tickets are on sale now.