Trishya Perera started ballet lessons even before some toddlers begin to walk steady — at the age of two.
Of her time as a tiny ballet dancer in Sri Lanka, Perera remembers little, but what she recollects vividly is dancing at a recreational community centre program soon after her family immigrated to Canada, and being scouted from there by a studio to dance competitively.
“That really pushed me, and took me to the next level," said Perera.
"I danced competitively at the studio and at my school. That was at quite a young age. And then, I just never stopped.”
The Vancouver-based dancer has performed with the Vancouver Opera, worked with American celebrity choreographer Mandy Moore (the one who choreographed the 2016 musical La La Land), and starred in Netflix's musical-comedy drama series Julie and the Phantoms — none of which would have been possible if she hadn't put in those solid hours at her dance studio.
Growing up in Ontario, for Perera, her dance class was her second home. “Some really good friends of mine today are people who I danced with when I was 12,” she said.
Now, Perera hopes her new dance studio, In Movement Dance Co., feels like a second home for kids in New Westminster.
The making of a community space
The studio is located at what used to be The Dance Matrix. Perera bought it from the previous owners in July 2022; she changed the flooring, lighting and paint, and re-branded the space as ‘In Movement Dance Co'.
The studio offers ballet, jazz, hip hop, acro, tap, contemporary, lyrical, break-dance and stage (which combines acting and dancing) for kids; and hip hop, ballet, yoga, tap and salsa for adults.
Among adults, hip hop is the most popular dance; among kids, it’s acro and jazz, she said. Often, kids also ask her to teach them a viral TikTok dance, or the sequences from the video game Fortnite. Perera indulges with no hesitation.
For Perera, the studio is more than just a classroom for dance; it's an inclusive community space.
“I'm planning on doing ‘studio movie nights' for kids — which will allow for date nights for their parents. I'll take the kids, and the parents can have a night off. But creating that movie night on a Friday or Saturday night also solidifies that community base, right?”
Perera added, ”They (the kids) can get popcorn, pizza and chips. And we'll just kind of spend an evening together as a whole unit.”
The studio will also host sleepover nights, Perera added. As a child, she remembers looking forward to the annual sleepover at her dance studio. "It was just so much fun."
“Everything that I do at the studio, I keep community, friendship and 'second family' in mind. I am always thinking: what else can I do to make them (the students) feel like they belong somewhere? That's really important — just kind of feeling like a team, feeling like they know where they're supposed to be.”
Opening a dance studio has been Perera’s dream ever since she was 12.
After she graduated from York University in Toronto with a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts) Honours in dance, she went straight into the industry, dancing professionally for 12 years, after which she taught dance full time in London. She got the opportunity to judge events such as the Toronto International Youth Dance Festival, and became a resident dancer for The Darlings Cabaret (still is).
Her newest venture is the dance studio in New West — with which she hopes to balance her dancing and performing career.
Challenges in the dance industry
Getting here wasn't an easy ride though.
“I've had many students, the ones who are graduating, pick my brain asking, ‘what should I do next?’ I always say, it (dance) has to be their passion, because it's not a regular job where you go to school, then get a job, get promoted and just continue on climbing the ladder. Dance is more like (the game) Snakes and Ladders — you go up the ladder, and something happens, and then you're way farther below than you started.”
Dancing as a career is especially “a battle” because it's not necessarily about your skill, or your experience, but, as Perera said, “sadly, it's a lot to do with what you look like.” She added that the chance of a dancer getting selected to a project depends on what the choreographer, producer or director of the show/film is looking for, appearance-wise.
“It’s a very, very competitive field, especially for females, because it's a female-dominating industry. You're competing with every other female, every other body type, and every other hair colour, every other eye colour and every other height.”
Perera added matter-of-factly, "If you don't love it with your entire being, then it becomes really difficult and you start questioning: why am I doing this?”
Has Perera ever questioned her career choice?
“You know what, I actually haven't,” she said.
“I have had a lot of downfalls but I have never doubted what I've wanted to do.”
Whether there is a show or not, Perera dances everyday. Sometimes out in the nature with headphones on, sometimes at home to a slow song with all lights off.
“I dance like no one's watching, literally.”
The studio is located at 802 Agnes St. It is open from 3 to 8 p.m. on weekdays, and 9.30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday. Visit In Movement Dance Co. website for more details.