The intrepid leader of the Pantuso Dance Studio is a professional dancer, singer and performer in his own right. As he balances growth and success with personal peace and a healthy dose of perspective Lindsay Sterk is causing tectonic shifts across the Comox Valley’s creative landscape and championing a new generation of young artists.
CVC: Who is Lindsay Sterk?
Lindsay: I was a performer first working in musical theatre across Canada as a singer, dancer and actor. My degree was in voice but dance was something I always just loved. It was my outlet, my fun. I kept it up during my training as an opera singer and as it turned out that what I liked to do for fun was highly marketable and employable. My wife and I have lived in the Valley since the year 2000, but early on I was always on the road doing shows… when we had our first kid the school (Pantuso) kind of came along and I said sure, and I fell in love with it.
CVC: Sounds like you followed the passion.
Lindsay: I’ve always followed the passion. I think it’s because I had a pretty stable environment growing up and I admit I didn’t have to want for anything, my dad was a corporate lawyer and my mom was a business person and a psychologist. There was none of this (arts) in my family… it took a bit of convincing for my dad, he thought this was crazy at first (Lindsay laughs), mom always supported me a hundred percent. I was pretty mediocre in high school but when I started to follow this I was getting first class honours. I have a diploma in theatre arts and a degree in music… my parents always joke about how I just kind of got by in school until I found something I was really interested in.
CVC: What really pushed you to pursue the arts further?
Lindsay: I was always in plays in school. I was the kid who acted out and was disruptive in class… the things that make creative kids creative (he laughs). I came late to official training but I started getting into it in grade twelve discovering this is something I wanted… I auditioned for a theatre school and went to a musical theatre college, within a year they were saying “you need to study voice” and it went from there.
CVC: Where do you pull motivation from on the hard days?
Lindsay: That’s a really good question. It comes back to having been in the business. When you’re doing eight theatre shows a week you can’t have a crappy day. People have paid to see your show, they don’t care if you just broke up with your girlfriend, or that you’re sick or that you’ve sprained your ankle. I come from that background. That training was really good for me now teaching. That and keeping in touch with why I’m doing it. You can’t do it if you don’t believe in it. The reason I do what I do is because I love it. I don’t think you can do good work unless you are being yourself, stupidly passionate about something.
CVC: What does professional development look life for you?
Lindsay: I just got back from New York City, I was there for two weeks studying improvisation with live musicians. It was a chance for me to grow. I go to New York every two years, I see a lot of Broadway shows while I’m there and I take a bunch of classes. I worked with Heather Cornell this time. YouTube also keeps me inspired, finding new music that you can live with… material that can last eight months because when you’re teaching it you’re stuck with it. I have to go hiking, get into nature. Climb up mountains, look down and get perspective. This studio can be a high intensity environment; there are four hundred families at this school, which can be intense, so it’s important for me to find peace.
CVC: How does living where we live help with that?
Lindsay: We have this amazing resource… I’m always looking to the mountains. It’s remarkable what we have at our doorstep. You can go out in nature and not see a single person all day. The first hike I did was Albert Edward, after that I went out and bought a whole bunch of gear (he laughs). Then I did Elk River Trail, Flower Ridge… I just did Cape Scott and saw a wolf running along the beach. That was a cool experience. It’s important to get away; to be present creates necessary balance. People that know me know I have to be balanced. It really started when I did the Olympics in 2010, we did a house renovation and expanded the studio. My adrenaline was so spiked… I learned to meditate. Creating that balance and that silence has been intensely important to me. If I didn’t I would have crashed.
CVC: That’s very wise. You’ve been doing some collaborative projects. Tell me about that.
Lindsay: I’m at this place now where I’m getting to branch out into the professional choreography world. I co-artistic direct the musical theatre program with Laurie Masey for CYMC. We’re doing a full-scale musical every July; we just finished West Side Story. Now I’m choreographing something called the Yellow Point Christmas Spectacular, which is something that’s been going for years. We have five dancers that we hire and I think 19 dances in three days. There’s no way I would have been able develop material that fast before Pantuso. This school and working with CYMC has made me a choreographer without having to call myself a hack (Laughing). There’s also something I do on National Tap Dance Day in Vancouver every year, ya that’s a real thing… it’s in honour of Bilbo Jangles Robinson’s birthday. That’s with the West Coast Tap Dance Collective. But this (Pantuso) is my main thing and will always be my main thing.
CVC: What does your team look like here?
Lindsay: A few years ago I was trying to do everything but it was taking away from the studio, I hire people that can do what I can’t do or do it better than me. I have a great team of people. If it’s not my passion I should hire someone who has that passion, and they’ll do it better than I can. I do micro-manage a bit but we are connected as a team and my team are great communicators. I love it when my team argues with me, healthy dialogue is really important, it’s important for them to have ownership over what they do. I try and make sure my teachers are in charge of their work.
CVC: How do you apply what you do here in studio to life? There seems to be so many parallels.
Lindsay: In theatre school I learned to be honest and how to live in the moment. Then I went to music school and I learned to follow the rules. Then I graduated with my degree and switched voice teachers, I walked in one day and we started combining them. In movement, or my work as an actor or singing, breath comes into it, I learned good timing for tap, I’ve learned versatility through all the things I’ve done, I’ve learned good movement–these are also the life skills I’ve developed. My ability to move as a way to make a living has made me happier.
CVC: Teaching for eight years is a long enough time to see what kind of legacy you’re leaving. How’s that affecting you?
Lindsay: I’m starting to have students want to go on to be professionals. That’s crazy. One guy is at Sheraton College studying musical theatre there. Another one is going on to SFU’s contemporary dance program. There are people that go “I really like what my teachers do, I want to do that.” That’s really special. The goal is never to make professional dancers but to give them life skills to be able to move through life with passion, discipline and confidence. That’s what arts training does, it creates really amazing people. I’ve got kids here that want to be high-powered executives; I know their creative training is what’s going to set them apart as people.
I’ve worked with masters, my elders who have learned from their elders and created something amazing… you work towards that but you’re always learning. If you think that you’ve got it, you’re probably wrong. There’s no ‘it’ to get to… One of my biggest goals, as a teacher is to never get complacent. The older I get the more I feel like I have to learn and I think that’s what ultimately makes you better.