Girl Crush // Jenn Nichols of The Extension Method
I really believe there is art in all of us. Artistic expression comes in many forms, many facets and many disciplines. For Jennifer her art is in her dance, in her entrepreneurial spirit, in her connection to music, in her athleticism. She perfectly embodies the splendid life of an artist, the daily expression of oneself, the extension of that to others around you. What is striking about Jennifer despite her inherent beauty (she’s a stunner!) is her dedication to her art and ability to weave dance, athletics, music, and design. Her studio encapsulates all of these facets, it’s a tapestry of the dance experience and goes far beyond what you would expect from a studio. Her openness and passion to teach others and to share her love is why The Extension Method is a beautiful space to explore and dream of possibility. What is truly inspiring about this gifted artist is that she took what was instinctively her passion from a young age and turned it into her life’s career, continuously challenging herself and then sharing that with the world. That energy is contagious, that authenticity inviting, that openness brave, and she shares all the facets of her life with us in this week’s Girl Crush.
You have been a trained dancer your whole life, what sparked that passion and how did you create The Extension Method?
Well...although I've always been a very physical person, an athlete from a young age, my initial love for dance was sparked by music. I grew up in a musical household. My father was a DJ and broadcaster for 41 years. The impetus for movement was always rhythm, it was musically driven. Because I was so deeply in love with music (of all genres) and naturally a physical person, it was a natural marriage.
What sparked the Extension Method is a different story. It started with a visit to a wonderful chiropractor. Dr. Joe Pelino was the first to bring ART (Active Release Technique) to Toronto. He treated athletes from various pro teams (Raptors, Leafs, Senators) as well as professional dancers. While being treated by him, we started chatting about the parallels between pro sport and dance, and the potential crossover. He firmly believed that ballet could be an athlete's secret weapon and was hoping to find someone to explore this further. Insert Jennifer. I took that concept and ran with it. Football teams in the US have been doing this for years, having their players take ballet for greater co-ordination and grace on the field. Yet no one has yet to make this a fully integrated program. This is what I hope to do. I work with synchronized swimming teams and figure skaters, but it is more challenging to break into a male dominated sport arena. Stereotypes and preconceptions about ballet must be broken down first. But I'm making headway. This was the origin of Extension Method. I then opened it up to be a methodology which appeals to anyone, not just athletes. Anyone who is looking for an alternative to what they are already doing at the gym. It is a different way to approach movement. Since I started Extension Method in 2003, ballet style workouts have become very popular. In fact, barre classes are 'all the rage'. Yet what we do is so much more than just a barre workout. It is a fully comprehensive, professional ballet program adapted for fitness purposes and targeting all elements of conditioning.
Something I took away from my very first class I took at The Extension Room was how much fun and challenging it was, along with the perfect playlist and beautiful loft space. Was creating the right atmosphere always a top priority? And what are 5 songs in your current dance rotation that you are loving?
Yes, absolutely! I am very much affected by my environment. It inspires me, or conversely stifles me, and as such, I wanted to create a place that if I were a student I would want to come to to escape my daily grind and feel free to MOVE. Size and space are essential, as are subtle elements like clean lines and an open aesthetic, yet also an artistic uniqueness. I've been told by many people that the Extension Room feels very much like a New York urban loft space. I love that comparison, yet I like to think of my space as very much the essence of Toronto. Our city is so diverse and interesting, we don't need to pretend to be anything other than what we are. But I understand the analogy and appreciate it.
Harkening back to music, and the impetus to become a dancer in the first place, my playlists are pretty unique (or so I've been told!) Here are 5 songs that are on my current class rotation and are killing me softly:
Howling - Ry and Frank Wiedemann Hold On - SBTRKT Rumble and Sway - Jamie N Commons Omen - Disclosure If I Go - Jake McMullen Joy Parade - Lennon and Maisy (Nashville soundtrack) - had to add one more!
You work extensively in film and television as a choreographer and dancer, including the CW hit Reign! What is that experience like for you?
Working in film and television is incredibly rewarding and challenging. In television, the pace is wildly fast; decisions are made quickly out of necessity, yet the attention to detail cannot be sacrificed. As a result, the pressure is high but the payback is delicious. The subtleties which cannot read from stage due to the simple reality of distance are highlighted on camera and this is wonderful. Getting to know how camera angles work adds another element of 'play'. The endless possibilities of variation in depth and perspective for a choreographer are like clay in a sculpter's hands. I've been very fortunate to have been given opportunities to build my resume on camera. Working as choreographer for Reign has been pure joy from start to finish. It is terrifying sometimes, because the scope is so grand; yet the team of people I work with, from the principal actors to each crew and production member, blow my mind daily with their generosity and support for their colleagues and the show as a whole.
Being a professional dancer and entrepreneur takes years of dedication and, shall I say blood, sweat and tears. What has been a defining moment for you and how did you push through the inevitable hardships?
Yes, I would have to agree, pursuing a career in dance does require years of commitment and willingness to put up with a great deal of pain and fatigue. As Martha Graham said, 'There are daily small deaths'. But I wouldn't change my decision to pursue this path. A defining moment for me was when I was told at a young age that I was too old to begin to train for a a professional career, that I was not flexible enough, that I was too tall. I decided to prove the naysayers wrong. And did. Another defining moment was when I lost my first studio, the original Extension Room, after just one year in business, because the building was sold and I was forced to vacate. I had the choice to quit, or to fight for a year to find a new location, against all odds of finding an ideal space. Here I am today, at 30 Eastern Ave, in a magical place.
What is a fun anecdote that people may not know about you?
A fun anecdote that people may not know about me, is that I was such a book nerd in my youth (still am), that I refused to go anywhere without a book. So adamantly so, that I would tuck a novel inside my ski jacket pocket when I went skiing, to read on the chairlift on the way up the hill. Even when night skiing! I would wait the chair passed under a pole that was lit and get in a couple of paragraphs. One night, my book fell from my jacket pocket and a skier found it on the way down. When I was drinking my hot chocolate in the Blue Mountain south base lodge, I was called on the loud speaker to the front desk to collect my 'book'. I still remember what I was reading. 'Beautiful Joe', a sad story about a wonderful dog. The pages were wet at the edges, but it was still readable. I think this type of obsession with escape into literature or music is similar to what defines my passion for movement, for dance.
There is something so elegant, magical and feminine about ballet apparel. What are some of your favourite things to wear in and outside of the studio?
Hmm...what are my favourite things to wear inside and out of the studio? Well, inside the studio I wear the barest things possible for my Extension Method classes. Usually Lululemon or Nike crop tops and three quarter length tights. I am a huge sweater, and I cannot bear to be too hot when I'm teaching fitness. Also, my students need to be able to see the lines of my legs and arms in order to pick up the exercises and technique. For my own ballet and contemporary class, when I attend as an artist, I prefer baggier clothing, loose pants and a leotard with an oversized sweatshirt. For 'real life', I am very classic. A lot of neutral colours, knits, loose sweaters. I am usually in jeans (either skinny or boyfriend baggy style). I live in dockers or flip flops in summer and Blundstones or wellies in fall/spring. When I dress for more formal occasions, I prefer clean lines and block palettes. I know how to rock a fabulous pair of heels, but it is usually a short-lived time period due to damaged feet. ;) In general my wardrobe tends to a lot of nautical and bohemian looks in summer and Canadian wilderness the rest of the year.
How has dance formed who you are today? What is something ballet has given you that could not be found in any other artistic endeavour?
Dance has defined my ability to be fiercely disciplined and stubborn in the face of adversity. Academic endeavours have always come easy to me, and dance really shook me up and proved to me that I would have to work far beyond what I thought was required of me every day just to even come close to the standards and barre I set for myself. I still haven't gotten there. That's why I'm still doing it. That and the fact that when you grace that state of moving in the way you've dreamt of, even for a fleeting second, there is nothing that compares. Other artistic endeavours are satisfying, of course, but I think because dance embodies the 'entire' you; the mental, the creative, the physical, the spiritual, it is unique.
What is something that…
Moves you? Discovering another conduit for physical release (besides dance)- this year, it was cycling; I've been distance road cycling for awhile now, and it is such a release, mentally and physically.
Inspires you? Anyone overcoming adversity, or standing up to their own insecurities (every time someone attends my Extension Method classes, with no dance background at all or confidence in their fitness level, and is determined to try nonetheless- this is a great example).
Gives you immense joy? Music- in every form (particularly in the form of early period music, Baroque, and jazz); writing- when my pen takes flight and assumes its own identity, and I read it the next day and hardly remember where it came from; finally, dogs in clothes (particularly sweaters).
The way a dancer glides across the stage, or that feeling when a student lands a step for the first time is nothing short of magical. What does magic mean to you?
Magic means to me that place in time where all intention, love, fear, passion, coalesce; where it makes perfect sense in that context, and there is no need to question anything. These times are fleeting.
Photos: Karolina Kuras
Ana is an actress and writer and host of the blog series Girl Crush. She loves hanging with her friends, finding the best vintage pieces and travelling to every small town. You can follow her musings over on her blog and instagram.