LETHBRIDGE, AB – COVID restrictions have taken a heavy toll on Ammena Dance Company.

Spring and summer sessions in 2020 had to be cancelled. September brought about eight weeks of half in-classes and half Zoom classes but since then, only virtual classes have been available.

Owner and instructor Lise-Anne Talhami says the studio went from about 190 students to only 20.

On top of that, the annual March performance that usually draws most of the studio’s yearly revenue, is a no-go this year. It was supposed to take place this weekend.

As a sole proprietor, Talhami says she’s eligible for very little government assistance, adding she doesn’t have enough deferrable expenses because she’d already cut “everything possible” knowing student enrollment would drop once Zoom classes were the only option.

After 15 years in operation, she says she had to break the news to her students that the studio would likely have to close its doors for good.

Talhami says her dancers wouldn’t hear of it and, through a number of initiatives including a hugely successful GoFundMe campaign, they rallied together to raise more than $15,000 to help keep her afloat.

Taunya Pickles authored the GoFundMe campaign on behalf of the group.  She tells our radio station “so many of us who dance with Ammena found this dance studio at a time in our lives when we needed it. Some have been through traumatic accidents, have debilitating illnesses, mental health, confidence, or body issues, etc. Lise-Anne has created a safe space for people to be creative and heal through dance. This is our family, our tribe, our community.”

When asked how it felt to see such overwhelming support, Talhami says “I think I understood that the studio has an importance. At our peak, we had about 600 adult students and they’re coming 4 to 5 times a week to classes so I think I understood there was an importance and a need for the studio … but I didn’t really think that it would make it through this.”

Talhami says she’s now receiving rent relief from her landlord and one of her students, an accountant, is helping her get as much government assistance as possible.

“It’s been quite amazing” she says. ” The community has really come together to support this dance studio in a time when everybody is kind of suffering.”

Talhami believes she now has enough funding to get through the next six months and hopes to be able to open up for in-person classes once again this fall, followed by a return of the annual performance next March.