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A Shot of Culture for a Redeveloping Community

New yoga studio and dance space are open to the public in Regent Park.

Laurence Lemieux in rehearsal.

The intersection of Dundas and Parliament has come a long way in the past few years. Situated at the base of Regent Park, the neighbourhood has evolved from one of the highest crime areas in Toronto to the site of a massive urban redesign. The corner is now home to pricey condos, a sparkling Sobey’s, and, as of today, The Citadel—a brand new public dance studio and community yoga space.

Dating back to 1912, The Citadel is housed in a three-storey building formerly owned by The Salvation Army, who gave the structure its name (all Salvation Army churches were called citadels, as indicated by the sign at the top of the building). The brainchild of husband-and-wife dance team Bill Coleman and Laurence Lemieux, the project was planned over two years ago, when the duo bought the building for their dance troupe, Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie. Having recently moved to Toronto from Montreal, Coleman and Lemieux were hoping to find a living and working space where their two children could grow up and their company could produce and perform contemporary dance.

“We’re a young family and we don’t have massive means financially, so we were looking for a space in Regent Park, which was the appropriate price range. We purchased this building, and then afterwards we found out that we were kitty-corner to a really big urban revitalization project,” says Coleman. “After living here, we’ve become involved with the community.”

The property was completely gutted, and Lemieux and Coleman began a massive renovation on the three-story brick structure. Now complete, the main floor features a state-of-the-art dance studio and performance space, which can seat up to 60 people and features the only complete grid of LED theatre lights in Canada. The building’s first floor houses a professional yoga studio, which will be home to pay-what-you-can yoga classes as part of an initiative between the CLC and The YogaBeat, a project organized by Felicia Ross of Moksha Yoga. The third floor serves as the family’s residence.

Coleman and Lemieux are committed to making the space as accessible to the local community as possible. “The yoga’s PWYC, and Laurence is offering a free Saturday morning dance class. Before, we were doing partnerships with the local schools—teaching classes and workshops out in the community,” says Coleman. “Now that the building is renovated, they can come here and use our space. The dance shows will be affordable, and the space is affordable to rent, so the dance community and the local community can use it.”

The building’s renovations, designed by Diamond Schmitt Architects, took two years to complete and cost $2 million. The project was partially funded through the City of Toronto, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, and the Canadian Cultural Spaces Fund, along with private donations. But according to Lemieux, their work isn’t done yet. “We still have lots and lots of money to raise to pay back what we borrowed to renovate the place,” she says. With this in mind, the couple has created a campaign called Brick by Brick, where contributors can donate anywhere from $25 (for a brick, to complete the building’s façade) to $80,000 (for the cost of the LED light system).

While the building may not yet be fully paid off, Coleman and Lemieux are eager to kick off their company’s season. The Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie’s first show of the year, a solo piece choreographed and performed by Lemieux entitled Les cheminements de l’Influence (Pathways of Influence), opens tomorrow at The Citadel and runs until February 25. The YogaBeat’s PWYC classes are slated to begin this Saturday.

For Jason Kandankery, a vice-principal at the neighbouring Regent Park/Duke of York Junior Public School, the opening couldn’t come soon enough. “This is a wonderful opportunity to fuse teaching and learning through art,” he says. Kandankery has been working with Coleman and Lemieux ever since Lemieux began teaching dance workshops for the Grade 3 students at his school. “I hope we can have both the student and parent community come into this space, and show them the power of dance and drama,” he says.

Coleman and Lemieux are confident that the community will take advantage of The Citadel. Coleman recalls that before construction began on the Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre, studies showed that community residents requested more opportunities to see and learn dance in their neighbourhood. “Dance is a great thing, “ he says. “It’s healthy physically, it has the benefits of participating and interacting with people, and it’s something all cultures can share.”

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