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He Danced Away

Peter Stanton

The spring-like weather during March break was lovely, but because of the unseasonably warm weather, much goodness and talent went out of the world with the passing of local dance teacher Peter Stanton.

On Tuesday, March 16, Peter seized the day and went canoeing on the Holland River near his home. Despite the fact that he was a skilled boatman, and was wearing a life jacket, he encountered a rough section of the river and drowned. He was only 54.

Peter wasn’t a close friend of mine, but both of my daughters took several years of dance at his school. I appreciated him as an incredibly positive person and respected him as a gifted and visionary artist.

Peter had an inspiring passion for his art. My daughters were part of his competitive dance team for a few years, participating in a few area competitions annually. I was always impressed by the depth of Peter’s vision and the fact that he inspired his students to dance more for the joy of creating something that would move and change the audience than for any ribbons. I’m sure his school won their share of ribbons, but what struck me most watching all the various schools compete is the larger vision behind his choreography and the dramatic staging and costume that went along with it. You can see from some of the photos I’ve included that he clothed his dancers not to be pretty and sweet, but instead to be three dimensional and fascinating characters who would bring the high drama of his dance to life. It seemed to me that most of the other dance schools played it safe with predictable moves, music and costumes that didn’t bend any rules or force a thought into the watcher’s head. Peter’s creations were different. There was an “idea” behind each dance … a story. The music he selected was often complicated or off mainstream in some sense, but it was very evident to me watching it all that his drive was to create something that would stir and provoke his audiences (and his dancers); to make us feel and see something entirely new that would move us in some profound and meaningful way. To provide a literary analogy, it was like watching The Giver or Bridge to Terabithia vs Goosebumps or The Babysitter’s Club. I understand that drive – that intense need to create and the desire to have your audience walk out changed in some way. His final dance shows each June were truly masterpieces, telling a story through movement that left anyone with even the merest spark of imagination empowered and exiting the theatre feeling bigger than when they went in.

       

Peter’s death shook me and left me deeply sad. Clearly his passing had the same affect on many others. The church at the end of our street was standing room only. In fact, the lobby and even the lawn outside the church were filled with those who needed to say good bye and celebrate the very meaningful and inspiring way he touched us all. His young daughter Kiriana dressed in bright colours to celebrate her father’s rich life; music and words tried to capture his spirit, and his wife Annette bravely asked us all to cheer as his casket was driven from the church. And through our tears we did.

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