Article Written by Stephen Bell – Marketing/Development @coffeescreative
At Coffeeshop Creative we are not only passionate about designing and developing a unique web presence for our clients, but also sharing their stories. We are super excited to introduce our new series of blogs – Grabbing Coffee. Today’s feature, Extension Method. Stay tuned for the upcoming Extension Method’s new web site launch later this month. We recently caught up with Extension Method’s founder, Jennifer Nichols, and discussed her story behind Toronto’s premiere movement studio. So grab yourself your favorite coffee or espresso, and discover Extension Method.
Jennifer Nichols and Extension Method/Room Instruction team
Tell us a little about yourself, and establishing your dance studio?
I’ve always been am athletic person. As young girl I was a swim racer and a long distance runner. When I discovered dance I fell madly in love because of its marriage with music. To this day, that is what drives me and compels me to keep dancing. It’s always been music first. Dance is the perfect homogeny of athleticism and sound. I started to dance quite late, when I was fourteen, and in order to make it a career with such a late start I had to dig my heels in (quite literally). I graduated from ballet school and began to take contracts across Canada. I struggled with my height (I’m over 6ft en pointe) and chose not to take the path of seeking a full time contract in a corps de ballet, but rather to see where things could go if I shaped my own career, in a sense. Which led to my entrepreneurial enterprises, including The Extension Method (and Extension Room), Hit and Run Dance Productions, and Pointe Break Retreats. These are aside from my career as an independent artist, dancing and choreographing on stage and screen. I wear many hats and it is sometimes difficult to balance it all, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I feel like the sheer diversity of my experience has been what has contributed to my success and I am just now coming into my own as a performer and creator.
The Extension Room opened its doors in 2010 as a necessity. The curriculum and methodology of ballet conditioning that I began to create in 2003, the Extension Method, had become so popular across the city of Toronto that I was spending more time travelling from place to place than actually teaching! I decided to place it under one roof and train colleagues to teach it as well. I also dreamed of having a space where I could create anytime, day or night, a studio for choreographic processes, intimate chamber performances, and artistic gatherings.
The Extension Room is the home of the Extension Method, a method of ballet conditioning that was initially born of my own experimentation with working through and preventing further repetitive stress injuries in my dance career, and then evolved, at the recommendation of a physician who treated pro-athletes, to something much bigger. It is designed to augment professional sport training, assist in rehabilitation, and also offer a unique workout alternative for anyone, not just dancers and athletes. It appeals to those looking for a boost in their dance or athletic career, those who fondly remember dancing as a child, or those who simply seek something different than the typical gym workout. Essentially, everyone who loves to MOVE. It is rewarding for me, 5 years after opening the Extension Room, and thirteen years after beginning to develop the method, to see individuals from all of the above demographics, sweating together in one room.
Classsical Ballet Technique Class
What styles of movement and instruction are offered at Extension Method/Room?
Aside from the Extension Method, which now encompasses seven classes under the same umbrella of specialized ballet fitness conditioning, The Extension Room offers traditional classical ballet technique classes, Pilates, and yoga, as well as personal training/coaching. We also host special dance workshops.
Additionally, the Extension Room plays host to dance, opera and classical music events. I have choreographed and performed in several of these, which is always very exciting for my students. After taking instruction from me (and several of my staff who are also still dancing professionally) in class, then witnessing me on stage translating this into performance is a thrill for them. It’s also incredibly satisfying to see individuals who have never attended a live dance or classical music performance be drawn to it and then become hooked. We need to remember that there are so many different conduits for awakening a love for the arts. This is one of the reasons I wanted to make the Extension Room more than just a ‘gym’ or ‘fitness studio’. It’s quite magical what has developed within those walls.
Jennifer Nichols leading technique classes
How do you combine ballet techniques, with movement exercise in your instruction?
I try to stay true to the essence of classical ballet, yet ‘strip away the satin’, so to speak. I pare it down to it’s fundamentals, it’s bio-mechanical magic, meaning the focus is not on the artistic aspects but the functional components. It still ends up being ‘artistic’ (because dance cannot help but be anything but), yet the intention is a much more practical approach from a fitness stand point. I take ballet steps and package them in a way that is different than a traditional dance class. There are more ‘reps’ (repetitions of the same movement at one time), and rather than the typical anaerobic style of a classical dance class, I have structured it to be aerobic, which adds an additional challenge. I’ve also incorporated props such as light weights and bands. It all still remains under the umbrella of classical dance, yet with a twist.
What movement and dance inspiration has influenced your style and instruction?
Hmm…that is a two part question. My inspirations for my work as a choreographer and dancer would be geniuses such as Pina Bausch, Jiri Kylian and Crystal Pite, as well as those I’ve worked with personally, such as David Earle and Robert Desrosiers.
I also dance with Opera Atelier, and the Baroque dance vocabulary I have acquired from performing with them for many years has a very strong influence on my work in every facet. It informs my period dance choreography for the television show ‘Reign’ (CW network) and also bleeds into my contemporary choreography on stage and screen.
All of these influences have helped in some way to form the basis for my Extension Method pedagogy, but I’ve also been inspired and greatly influenced by athletes of several different sports. I have studied the greats on the field, the ice, the court, and the track, and observed how they move. There are so many parallels between sport and dance, and recognizing this, I decided that there should be cross-over of some sort, so that each could enhance the other. That was the real genesis of the Extension Method. I would be thrilled to one day work with professional teams in all sports, developing a cross training program. I currently work with synchronized swimming teams and figure skaters, but the reach could be so much broader. They did, after all, call Lynn Swann (Pittsburg Steelers) the Nureyev of the field. He studied dance religiously, as did Evander Holyfield, whose fancy feet in the ring were a key element of his success.
Athletes are dancers, dancers are athletes.
And, most importantly, favorite type/ style of coffee?
Americano. Two shots espresso. No sugar. Touch of milk.