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by Sarah Connors
It’s November 2018, in Blackpool, England. Inside a luxurious ballroom at the Winter Gardens, Jane Edgett is standing off to the side, clipboard in hand, her eyes fixed on the dozen or so dancing couples sweeping across the room in front of her.
It’s a scene that was once a dream for Edgett. Edgett had attended the illustrious Blackpool Dance Festival many times as a spectator, but
never as a judge.
If someone would have told the Halifax dance instructor she’d someday be an adjudicator at the prestigious event, the world’s most famous annual ballroom dance competition, she wouldn’t have believed it.
But at age 70, Edgett was nominated to represent Canada as an adjudicator.
“I've done eight world championships ... and now I'm standing on the floor judging the dancers,” she gleefully remembers.
It was a moment in time the Halifax-area dancer will never forget.
“That would have been the height of my dance career.”
A family history
Edgett is the former owner of Edgett Social Dance, a dance studio in Bedford with a history dating back more than 60 years. Edgett’s mother, Evelyn, a trained ballroom dancer, opened the first Edgett dance studio in Moncton in 1960. Edgett spent a majority of her time as a child at the studio learning various dance styles, such as tap, jazz and ballet, as did her four sisters.
At 18, Edgett and older sister were scouted by the dance manager for the CBC’s Don Messer’s Jubilee. For 10 years, Edgett performed for audiences across Canada as part of the travelling variety show.
“It was fabulous,” she recalls.“We travelled across Canada by bus three times. We did Expo ‘67. We had tremendous experiences. I've seen more Canada than most people saw, and I got paid to do it.”
As Edgett and her sister needed to be in Halifax for tapings of the show, the sisters eventually all moved to Halifax to pursue their own dancing careers.
In Halifax, Edgett’s mother Evelyn opened another studio and became an established dance teacher in her own right. During the 1970s and ‘80s, Evelyn was well-known in Halifax for running a dance program at several elementary schools.
Edgett says her mother’s involvement with these children resulted in several of them becoming adult students later on at her Bedford studio.
“She gave people something special: confidence, a way of communicating with people and just a total enjoyment of music,” Edgett says of her mother, who passed away in 2015.
A studio of her own
After touring with Messer, Edgett pursued a dancing career of her own.
In the 1970s, Edgett trained in England to earn a fellowship in ballroom and Latin dancing, a qualification similar to a master’s degree. After earning her certification, she taught various ballroom and Latin classes at her mother’s studio, such as waltz, tango and even disco, and
occasionally taught at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio in New York.
In 1983, Edgett took over her mother’s studio. She bought a building on Quinpool Road before finally opening her current studio in Bedford in 2000.
For several years, Edgett trained a number of competitive dancers, and at age 72, continues to teach classes in ballroom, Latin and folk. As a seasoned instructor, Edgett frequently travels across Canada and the United States to adjudicate major dance competitions.
“It’s my life, it’s my passion,” she says.
“You're very vulnerable when you come into a learning situation like this, a class, because you can't hide, you're too busy and so your personality and your persona shows up. I love showing people what they can do and how to use their body to enjoy movement.”
'Fortunate to have her'
While Edgett admits she had the talent to take her dance career anywhere in the world, she chose to stay in Nova Scotia to be closer with family.
She says it’s a decision she’s never regretted.
"My roots are really here, and my family's here, so I just couldn't pick up and go. But I also am happy with what I did, so that's the end,” she says.
Long-time student Stephen Bowdridge says they’re very fortunate to have her.
“Jane could have left this region a long time ago and done a lot better for herself.”
Bowridge says Edgett’s contributions to ballroom dancing in Halifax are particularly important, as Edgett is one of few qualified instructors east of Montreal.
“When we were travelling for competitions, people would say to us, 'Oh, you're so lucky to have Jane.’ We are very lucky,” he says.
Handing over the reins
Now approaching retirement, Edgett sold her beloved studio last year to former student and world finalist competitive dancer Brenton Mitchell.
Mitchell, who was also a former student of Edgett’s mother Evelyn, says owning a studio with the Edgett name on it was enough for him to want to purchase the building.
“I knew everything she had worked towards in her studio, and I didn't want to, for lack of a better word, let that die out,” he says.
Although Edgett continues to work at the studio as an independent instructor, she says it was difficult passing on the reins to Mitchell.
While Edgett says she’s “happy that the name is still out there,” she admits she went through a grieving process after selling the business.
“When you've done it for 50 years and then you don't have any control over it anymore, it's a little scary for sure,” she says solemnly.
Much like her mother before her, Edgett is hopeful her passion for dance and helping others get out of their comfort zone will be remembered long after she’s gone.
“What I wanted to leave with, (is) to have given people a confidence in themselves (and) letting them try something they never thought they could do.”