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LeCounte ends her teaching career

As a preschooler living in Finchley, London, Helen LeCounte would ride the upper level of the double-decker bus and see the ballerinas practice in their second-storey studios.

As a preschooler living in Finchley, London, Helen LeCounte would ride the upper level of the double-decker bus and see the ballerinas practice in their second-storey studios.

She asked her mother if she, too, could take lessons and, at the age of six, LeCounte got her first ballet slippers.

She fell in love with dance and studied other forms as well - jazz, tap, musical theatre, to name a few - all of which she continue to hone as a 21-year-old immigrant in Toronto.

Two years later, she moved to the west coast and performed with several dance companies including Theatre Under The Stars' productions ofMy Fair Lady andAnything Goes.

But it wasn't until after she had raised her boys to the ages of five and nine that she started to teach dance. "Somebody asked me to and I thought, 'Why not?'" she remembered.

LeCounte began with children's creative movement classes for three- to five-year-olds in Burnaby, New Westminster and Coquitlam.

"Ms. Helen," as she was known by her younger students, then progressed to jazz and tap for adults before landing gigs with seniors.

In 1991, LeCounte took up a new dance, square dancing, when - again - she followed someone's advice: "They said, 'Try clogging.' So I took a few classes and that was it. I never looked back."

Since September 1992, LeCounte has been busy teaching the traditional fancy steps of Celtic immigrants, first at Centennial secondary and Winslow Centre in Coquitlam and, two years later, at Port Coquitlam's Wilson Centre.

Last month, she taught her last class at the PoCo rec centre and was presented by two of her classes with flowers, gifts and a meal out. "I felt really special," she said.

In total, LeCounte estimates she has instructed more than 1,000 people around the Lower Mainland over the past 30 years, and she can recall many of their names and faces.

Still, of the six dances that she has mastered, clogging is her favourite.

"It's a happy dance," the Port Coquitlam resident said. "It's recreational, it's social. I think it's better than aerobics because it's mentally stimulating as well as physical. There is no competition and you share the routines.

"That, I like. That's what drew me to it in the first place," she said.

But she and a few students have performed in contests: her Time Step Cloggers won awards at the PNE and danced at the Peak Invitationals in 2007 and 2009.

They also showcased their talent at the 1993 Kitsilano Show Boat, and locally at the Canada Day celebrations, May Day and Harvest Fest in PoCo and Golden Spike Days in Port Moody (LeCounte can also be seen clogging on YouTube videos on the internet).

Though the grandmother of three says she's "burned out" from teaching, LeCounte plans to remain active as a student and stay in touch with clogging associations.

Her greatest achievement as a teacher? "Seeing my students understand and perform the steps correctly," she said. "That is the best reward any teacher can ever ask for."

What is clogging?

Much like tap, clogging involves the dancer's soft shoe and heavy, loose metal base striking the heel or toe - or both - against a floor to create a musical sound.

Clogging was a social dance in the Appalachian Mountains in the 18th century and it is often referred to as flat-footing, foot-stomping, buck dancing and jigging. It is also known asthe first "street dance."

- courtesy of Wikipedia

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