The Sault’s Courtney Gagnon has been a member of dance teams since she was three years old, but 2022 has seen her talent propel her to new and exciting heights.
First, she dazzled judges at the Fever Dance Championships in Burlington in April.
After that event, Gagnon - a 16-year-old Grade 11 student at Superior Heights Collegiate and Vocational School - was chosen by the competition’s owner to be a member of The Five Star Dance Company, a Canadian pre-professional dance company that combines dance performance opportunities with fun-in-the-sun activities in tropical settings.
As a member of The Five Star Dance Company, Gagnon was one of 27 young dancers from across Canada who performed for guests at the Barcelo Maya Beach Resort in Playa del Carmen, Mexico from Nov. 7 to 14.
“It was amazing,” Gagnon told SooToday.
In August, Gagnon travelled to Toronto to meet and rehearse with her Five Star Dance Company team members, the group quickly bonding to learn a 20-minute dance routine to be performed for hotel guests in Mexico.
As a member of the Sault’s Elite Dance Force, that was a new but enjoyable challenge.
“Usually at Elite we do three minute numbers for competition. So it was intense at first because it was a 20-minute number. But because it wasn’t a competition, it was a performance, so you just get to have fun. You don’t have to stress,” Gagnon said.
“They taught us a 20-minute dance and we learned it in three days, and after that we each practiced in our home studios. Right before we left, on the sixth of November, we all went back to Toronto, cleaned the number and reconnected with each other as a team before we left,” Gagnon said.
Show business is typically competitive, but Gagnon said “I wouldn’t consider the Five Star team competitive with each other. We’re like one big family that just met each other recently. It’s amazing how everyone made friends with each other so quickly and so nicely. We are a powerful and strong team.”
Each team member, coming from different dance teams in different communities, inspired each other, Gagnon said.
“With my team in the Sault we all dance similarly. The other team members all learned so differently from where they grew up but we really pulled it off as a team. We learned more about dance from watching each other. We have group chats, we’re on Snapchat and keep in touch.”
Between performances in Mexico, Gagnon and her fellow dancers enjoyed some memorable experiences.
“We got to participate in a guacamole-making class, swam with dolphins, went snorkeling, had an excursion on a nice big private boat and had a photo shoot on the beach.”
“It was so nice to meet all these new people. I can call them my new close friends now. It was an amazing experience to be able to perform onstage in a tropical location, learn new things and have cultural experiences.”
Being chosen to be a member of the Five Star team for a tropical performance was exciting, but even more pleasant developments were in store for Gagnon after she arrived in Mexico.
“The owner of the resort was there and saw us and he decided he wanted us to become the show. At first we were to be the pre-show before other dancers, but then he saw our show and said how amazing we were and wanted us to become the show, so we had to add 15 more minutes to our number to make it 35 minutes.”
“That was my biggest performance ever,” Gagnon smiled.
But it still doesn’t end there.
Gagnon and her new friends live streamed their 35-minute Mexican performance on Facebook.
The eyes of the show business world were watching.
“The owners of Miss Universe Canada told Jacques Monfiston, the owner of the Five Star Dance Company, ‘I want that dance team!’” Gagnon said.
As a result, Gagnon and her Five Star team members will be performing live at the Miss Universe Canada pageant in the spring of 2023.
“Continuing after the Miss Universe Canada pageant, Jacques guaranteed us a spot on the team again next year, which gives us another performing opportunity in the Dominican Republic or in Mexico again. That’s another thing that will be really big for me,” Gagnon said in excited anticipation.
The teen dancer says that the performance opportunities that have arisen for her since the spring of 2022 are not only thrilling, but possibly life changing.
“Before, I didn’t really think that in the future I would pursue dance as a career but now that I’ve had that performance opportunity I’m thinking of becoming a professional dancer. That experience really inspired me,” Gagnon said.
“I’m still thinking of going into the medical field, into nursing, but professional dancing is now on my mind.”
Gagnon started dancing at three years old, beginning at Sherry Walsh Academy of Dance, then Elite Dance Force.
She meets and dances with her Elite Dance Force team members Tuesday through Saturday every week, perfecting her moves in tap, ballet, jazz, contemporary, lyrical, hip hop, open and pointe dancing.
“Dance, to me, is a way that I can express myself through movement. I have so much love for it. It’s so important to me. I just love doing it,” Gagnon said.
“If I have a rough day at school, coming here to this loving, caring environment allows me to let loose and not think of anything else outside of dance.”
“I have so much support from my dance team and my teachers at Elite Dance Force. This couldn’t have been possible without my Elite Dance Force family, my family at home and my friends at school.”
“It’s been an excellent journey,” said Tania Gagnon, Courtney’s mother.
“My husband Dave and I have supported her and watched her grow and develop as a dancer over the years. We’re dance parents and we love going to the competitions and cheering her on. We’ve made some great friends through dance too.”
“We’ve watched her grow from being a child to being an independent woman who is really clear about her goals and her passions and what she wants to do. We’re really proud of her.”
“Dancing has been a passion for Courtney for a long time. My husband and I feel that whatever she wants to set her mind to, the sky’s the limit for her.”
“We are so proud of Courtney,” said Kaitlin Pelletier, who, along with Christina Trevisan, is an Elite Dance Force co-owner and instructor, having witnessed Gagnon’s progress as a dancer.
“We’ve watched her transform from a shy girl into a confident, technically astute dancer with a great sense of style. We were so happy for her to be recognized. She’s a super hard worker and a team player,” Pelletier said.
“We’re excited for her, for the opportunities that she has,” Trevisan said.
“I think Courtney is going places, whether that’s the dance route or whether she chooses something else, she’ll be successful,” Pelletier said.
Though just 16, Gagnon is an experienced dancer and appears to be headed for the spotlight if she chooses to pursue dance as a career.
With that in mind, she offered some encouraging words for other dancers considering dance as a livelihood.
“If you really love it and enjoy doing it, keep working hard because it pays off and you’ll have so much fun doing it. It’s such an amazing experience to do what you love, wherever you want, however you want.”