British Columbia

North Vancouver ballet students pledge to keep teacher's dream alive

Dozens of Sonia Ellis's students danced to Tchaikovsky's Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker on Sunday to honour the memory of their beloved teacher, who died in December.

Student describes Sonia Ellis, who died at 44 from brain cancer, as a mentor, sister and nurturing teacher

Sonia Ellis died in December from brain cancer. She had run Seymour Dance in North Vancouver since 2007 after joining the school in 1987. (Seymour Dance)

Dozens of Sonia Ellis's students danced to Tchaikovsky's Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker on Sunday to honour the memory of their beloved North Vancouver teacher.

Ellis died in December at age 44 from brain cancer. Starting in 2007, she ran the school Seymour Dance and doubled enrolment to 400 students.

She inspired those like Marissa Heaven.

"She was a mentor and a sister to all of us, and also just the most incredible and nurturing teacher you could ever ask for," said Heaven.

'Brightened up every room'

Heaven, along with former student Lauren Overholt, organized a celebration of life for their teacher on Sunday.

Hundreds of people attended.

Dancers from Seymour Dance perform Tchaikovsky's Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker at a memorial for Ellis on Sunday. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

"She just kind of brightened up every room and made it easygoing and made any room feel safe to feel vulnerable and push your limits, to make our talent what it is today," said Overholt.

Ellis started dancing at age three and during her career danced with the Alberta Ballet School and the Edmonton School of Ballet.

'A dream come true'

She moved to B.C. in 1987 and began dancing with Seymour Dance. In 1991 she became a mentor for the school and in 2007 was able to purchase it.

"Owning a dance school was a dream come true," read the program for ceremony.

Marissa Heaven speaks on Sunday at the memorial she helped organize for Ellis. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

The school became known for its ongoing commitment to performing The Nutcracker. For 30 years it has performed the ballet at Christmastime.

The school, now being taken over by Ellis's family, will try to carry on her legacy by launching an annual scholarship in her honour.

'Do her justice'

"Our goals are to keep her dream alive with that studio, and try to do her justice as best we can," said Heaven.

Despite her gruelling treatments for cancer, Ellis put in time at the studio. During her last days, while in hospice, she watched a livestream of her students performing.

Dancers perform Waltz of the Flowers at the memorial. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

"She's just completely irreplaceable, and that empty void will never go away," said Heaven.

Ellis's brother, Alistair Ellis, was one of several people who spoke at Sunday's ceremony, describing his sister as a foodie and wine connoisseur who loved the band Duran Duran.

"When I see that empty seat at the table, I remember all those fun times we had," he said.

Hundreds of people attended the ceremony to celebrate Ellis's life. (Jon Hernandez/CBC)

Her mother Marylou Ellis also spoke at the memorial, paraphrasing a line from Scottish poet Thomas Campbell's Hallowed Ground.

"To live in hearts that you leave behind is not to die," she said. "I'd like to think that was so for Sonia."

With files from Jon Hernandez