Just like the good ol’ days

Just like the good ol’ days

A night with the Village Dance Academy

Photo credit and copyrights to Shane Collins & Gonzo Okanagan

Back in January, I received a call from Sam Crossley, Director of the Village Dance Academy. Back in 2019, just before COVID wrapped its slimy hands around our world and ruined everything, I was hired to photograph the young performers that have honed their skills and sharpened their techniques through the classes, instruction and guidance of the academy.

They held a performance at the Mary Irwin Theater, downtown Kelowna. I remember taking a seat directly in front of the stage, so my chin was resting on it. It was the best vantage point to photograph all the dancers that would find their spots on the stage and dance their routines. I remember it being a whirlwind of beauty. It was challenging capturing such fast movements and the dancers just kept coming, one after another. No rest. No pause. It’s incredibly well organized. Sometimes it was just one performer, sometimes there’s 20 people on stage. The lighting is incredible. I recalled the event as being challenging and rewarding. 

When I received a call from Sam again to book two shows late in February, 2022, I felt a surge of excitement tear through me. I agreed and wrote it down in my calendar. 

Well, the 26th came and I was ready. I felt that delightful sense of deja vu. Same theatre. I returned to my spot, center stage. Preparing my camera, the lights dimmed. The music started. I tried to get comfortable but the stage is at such a height there’s no way I’ll be comfy. This show will be an hour and a half long. 

The first set of dancers come out. They’re young but they move with precision and flare. The crowd claps along. The music was up tempo and fun. I set my camera so I could snap photos of everyone well enough within the dark theatre. I alternate between a series of lenses. Because the dancers can come so close to the front of the stage, where I’m perched, I need a wide lens to capture all the different moves and the sheer number of people. It all needs to fit within the frame of the camera. There’s SO much movement I try to snap the shutter at just the right moment, but sometimes I miss those poses that are to be caught at just the right time, when the fingers and toes are pointed, encapsulating the flowing movement within a still image. 

Throughout the performance, I have to shift in and out of different positions. My back tenses up when I’m on my butt. My leg cramps when I’m leaning to the left, my right leg stretched out to the side in a hurdlers stretch. I have to switch positions. One group finishes. I would look down to my camera to see what my light looks like but there’s already another performer on stage. Damn it. I start snapping away again.

It’s a colorful array of music and dance. To be caught between the energy of all these dancers and a live audience is a sensation I realize I’ve really missed. It’s like being caught between two waves. The audience was shouting and hollering and whistling and clapping along. You could tell it fueled the fire in the dancing.

There were two shows. One at 4:00 pm and the other at 7:00 pm. When the first show came to its end, the curtain closed and I packed up my gear.

I left the theatre and walked over to the Train Station Pub. I sat down at the bar and ordered a glass of wine. And water. My legs and my back and my shoulders were screaming at me. Felt like they were tight and rusted and in need of some oil. I sipped at the glass of water. In fact I downed it entirely. I ordered another. I hung up my coat behind my chair. I took out my camera. I reviewed the photos and started deleting as many images as I could. I may need space on this card if my other one runs low. I ordered some fish tacos. My wine arrives and I take a long, deep pull of its sweet nectar. I sigh in a strangely familiar state of mind.

This is what I used to do. Before COVID entered my vocabulary, it’s been over two years and for the first time, I’m sitting in a pub, having a drink, reviewing my photos from a live show. I listened to the clamorous din of the restaurant and I felt my shoulders relax as my food arrived. 

Reviewing images at Train station pub

I returned to the theatre at 7:00 pm and I was again squirming around center stage, photographing the show. It felt amazing to feel the music and it was a revival of a time I once worried I wouldn’t experience again. Leaving the show and putting my exhausted camera away for the night, I tallied up over 3,000 images over both shows. 

Afterwards, I met my friends at Leopold’s Tavern, the new local in the old Fernando’s location. I entered with suspicion but I walked into a delightful scene. People were sitting and laughing, shouting over one another. It was louder than I’m now used to. It seemed that all the ruckus had returned in one evening. I sat down and ordered myself a beer. I looked over the walls. They are littered in a heavy assortment of random photos and posters and tacky and tasteful scraps of memorabilia. 

Leopold’s

Drinks in hand, we raised our glasses and toasted to the return of a good night out. We talked about the war in Ukraine. We talked about music. At Leopold’s, you can download a music app and pay 60 cents a song and the music is played on the bar’s stereo. Coolest thing I’ve seen in a while. I selected a 90’s classic. Snoop Dog’s formidable Gin and Juice and I tell ya, the song came on and people started dancing. 

It was a night I won’t forget. It felt like for once, just like the old days, I felt like we were BACK to where we’re supposed to be. 

Cheers to a good night out
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The Okanagan’s been my home since I was born. Life has taken me across the planet several times and through that transient lifestyle I developed a journalistic style to my photography and to my writing. My influences would be that of James Nachtwey, Annie Lebovitz, Ashley Maile, Hunter S Thompson, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits, Tom Robbins, Wes Anderson and Charles Bukowski. The world outside this incredible valley, its cultures and its mystery is what’s kept me working and trying to save my money, so I can keep getting back into the world. That’s the way it used to be. Covid has opened my eyes to the land I call my home and there are so many tales to tell right here in BC. From tales of the impoverished to the neglected to those who overcome adversity, to the spirit to overcome fear, the power of storytelling has never been more relevant. I’ve always been a storyteller. There’s a tale worth telling in every neighborhood. I just happen to write about what happens to me along the way and I’ve kept them close to my heart, hoping one day I’ll have an outlet so I can tell those stories the best way I know how; by writing them down. From adventures of long ago, both here or maybe far away, future interviews with musicians, artists of all kinds, the coverage of events, the people I meet along the way, whatever I get up to I intend to have you as my guest as I go back in time and dig up the bones of those old adventures or chase down new ones. Through the alchemy of storytelling, you can come along with me if you like. Before Covid-19 I was really coming into my own photographing live shows; punk rock bands, hip hop showcases, tattoo portraits, rock climbing adventures, Femme Fatale burlesque performances you name it, the phone was finally beginning to ring. Then Covid showed up like a hurricane and I guess it wiped us all out in one way or another. I have a real bone to pick with Covid-19 and if I can share some stories for our readers to enjoy, I’ll do that and when we can return to live music and to foreign travel and we can safely get to working on mending what’s been damaged I tell you I want to be ringside like Joe Rogan commentating on Covid getting its ass whooped. I want to see it tap out and watch us overcome this hardship, raise our collective hands triumphantly and move on into whatever new normal is waiting for us. I’ll be there and through my eyes, just like the boss man, Hunter himself, I’ll do it in Gonzo fashion and bring you kicking and screaming along with me. So hold on tight and dig in. It might not always be pretty but I won’t call it all ugly, neither. That’s for you to decide. My name is Shane Collins and I hope you’ll read along with me and our team here at Gonzookanagan.com

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