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79-year-old ballet dancer finds way to live out childhood dream

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As a child, Fay Richardson wanted to dance, with the grace and movement of ballet captivating her.

“There just seemed to be a freedom in the ability to use your body that way,” she recalled.

Fay Richardson is the oldest dancer in her class, as well as in her dance school, Youth Ballet of Saskatchewan. Her instructor, Barb Cameron, says she is an inspiration to all students and proof that everyone can dance, no matter what level they are at. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

It wasn’t in the books for her, with her family moving far from any place near a dance school, and as she notes, “Dance was not something that everybody could afford either.”

But now, at the age of 79, Richardson is living out her childhood wish, as the oldest dancer at the Youth Ballet of Saskatchewan, a Regina-based dance school.

Richardson says she fell in love with ballet as a little girl because of the dancer’s grace and freedom. However, she says that ballet was less accessible when she was a child. She attended her first ballet class at age 45 and has not stopped since. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

As the instructor tosses out a list of steps, Richardson listens carefully and balances her way through an arabesque across the room, breathing heavily by the end.

With a dash of self-consciousness, she admits that she isn’t as speedy or as limber as the other dancers. While they may twirl around the room, she may only be able to do a spin a couple of times before getting dizzy.  

“I can feel my balance go. I’ve been told I have to stay standing up and I think it’s wiser to quit at that point,” she said, laughing at herself.

Richardson says ballet helps keep her memory strong and her body flexible and healthy. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

Richardson began dancing as an adult at the age of 45, and found even if grace wasn’t something that just flowed naturally, she enjoyed the motion of ballet.

“There was a joy and kind of an excitement in learning something new, learning it about my own body, learning it about dance itself.”

Richardson practises at the barre with her teacher Barb Cameron. Cameron and Richardson have been dancing together for decades. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

And while she’s had those thoughts about quitting, each time, her fellow students have encouraged her to stick with it, at whatever speed or level she can.

“And I thought, if they don’t mind having me in the class, then fine. And I really respect them for that,” she said.

Richardson says her advice to anyone who is hesitant about trying something new is to “be brave.” (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

Instructor Barb Cameron calls Richardson “an inspiration” and says she reminds everyone, including the school’s youngest students, that dancing can be for everyone.

“Keeping dancing, and doing ballet at her age, it’s incredible,” said Cameron. “There’s not many people that do it, so we’re just thrilled to have her.”

The encouragement from her fellow dancers fills Richardson with emotion.

“It feels special, because I am doing it and I like it,” she said.

“It’s also special in the way that the others don’t say give up, or get out and let us show off at a better level. They bring me to their level, somehow.”

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When Ontario declared a COVID-19 health emergency last spring, the first instinct of Ottawa entrepreneur Peter O’Blenis was to preserve cash.

“We basically stopped our discretionary spending,” said O’Blenis, the co-founder and CEO of Evidence Partners, which makes software for accelerating the review of scientific and medical literature, using artificial intelligence. “We cut investments in things meant to help us grow.”

It was a defensive posture born of experience. O’Blenis had 12 years earlier nearly been crushed by the global financial crisis. Another looked to be on the way.

In 2008, O’Blenis and his colleagues, Jonathan Barker and Ian Stefanison, hit a brick wall with their first venture, TrialStat, which helped hospitals manage patients’ electronic data. While TrialStat had secured $5.5 million in venture financing just a couple of years earlier, the founders had burned through most of it during a rapid expansion. When the financial world collapsed, so did their firm.

The trio played things far more conservatively with Evidence Partners, which has relied almost exclusively on customer revenues to finance expansion.

The caution proved unnecessary. Like so many other businesses, O’Blenis underestimated the government’s willingness to keep the economy afloat with easy money. Nor did he anticipate that COVID-19 would prove a significant catalyst for the firm’s revenues so soon.

Evidence Partners is hardly the only local firm with technology particularly suited for the war against COVID-19. Spartan Bioscience and DNA Genotek adapted existing products to create technology for identifying the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Ottawa-based units of Abbott Laboratories and Siemens Healthineers make portable blood analyzers that diagnose patients afflicted by the virus.

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Shepherds of Good Hope wants to expand ByWard Market operation with eight-storey housing complex

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The Shepherds of Good Hope plans to build an eight-storey building near its current shelter for the homeless in the ByWard Market that would include supportive housing for up to 48 people, a soup kitchen and a drop-in centre.

The organization says it wants to be part of the solution to the housing crisis that has fuelled a rise in homelessness in Ottawa.

People would be moved out of the emergency shelters and into their own tiny apartments in the complex, which would include a communal dining hall and staff available to help with mental health, addiction and medical problems, said Caroline Cox, senior manager of communications for the Shepherds.

Some residents in the neighbourhood are opposed, saying services for the homeless and vulnerable should not be concentrated in one area of the city.

“I was flabbergasted,” said homeowner Brian Nolan, who lives one block from the development proposed for 216 Murray St., where currently a one-story building houses offices for the Shepherds of Good Hope.

Nolan said that, in the 15 years he’s lived in the area, it has become increasingly unsafe, with home and car thefts, drug dealing, loitering, aggressive and erratic behaviour, urinating, defecating and vomiting on sidewalks and yards and sexual acts conducted in public on his dead-end street. Before he lets his son play basketball in the yard, he checks the ground for needles and his home security camera to see who is nearby.

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Carleton University Hosts the Forum Lecture: Towards a Feminist Post-COVID City

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evehe Carleton University Forum Lecture: Towards a Feminist Post-COVID City given by Leslie Kern launches Ottawa Architecture Week. Urban geographer, author and academic, Kern will discuss how the pandemic has highlighted long-standing inequalities in the design, use and inclusivity of urban spaces. The talk will share some of the core principles behind a feminist urban vision to inform a wider vision of justice, equity and sustainability.

When
: Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.
Registration: https://alumni.carleton.ca/event-registration-architecture-forum-series-with-leslie-kern-2/.

About the Speaker

Kern holds a PhD in Women’s Studies from York University. She is currently an associate professor of Geography and Environment and director of Women’s and Gender Studies at Mount Allison University.

Kern is the author of two books on gender and cities, including Feminist City: Claiming Space in a Man-Made World (Verso). The book discusses how our cities have failed in terms of fear, motherhood, friendship, activism, the joy and perils of being alone, and also imagines what they could become.

Kern argues, “The pandemic has shown us that society can be radically reorganized if necessary. Let’s carry that lesson into creating the non-sexist city.”

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