Sonia Fabian devoted her life to sharing and fostering her passion for dance.
She was the first person to establish a dance school in the northern city of Prince George, BC, offering classes in styles ranging from ballet to jazz to tap. The pioneering teacher also founded the Prince George Dance Festival, the North Battleford Dance Festival in Saskatchewan and played a part in the development of dance festivals in Quesnel and Prince Rupert.
Fabian was dedicated to bringing dance training to students in remote communities, and her concentration on outreach led to a legacy of dancers who went on to professional careers.
The late matriarch grew up in Regina, SK, where she opened the Martin School of Dance with her sister Maureen in 1953. According to an obituary published by the Speers Funeral Chapel, the school was run out of their parents’ basement. In the early days, both sisters focused on travelling to competitions and workshops across Canada and the United States, learning new skill sets to bring home to their students.
Fabian later left Regina to open a dance school in Saskatoon, SK. It was here that she founded the North Battleford Dance Festival, bringing competitive dance to the Prairies. She also ran satellite programs to smaller rural communities in the province such as Allan and Davidson.
In 1974, Fabian relocated to Prince George where she founded the Sonia Fabian Dance Studio, a hub for dance training in the small city. The studio remained open for twenty-one years. Teaching the importance of learning from an array of instructors, participating in summer courses and encouraging students to explore travel opportunities were gifts Fabian passed on to former students, according to an obituary published in the Prince George Citizen. From taking students to perform at the Plaza of Nations at Expo ’86 in Vancouver to campaigning The National Ballet of Canada to conduct auditions in northern communities, Fabian saw the necessity of a connected and supportive greater Canadian dance community.
“She is with me every day when I teach,” says Genevieve Merkel, a former student who attended the National Ballet School’s summer program thanks to Fabian’s perseverance, in her quote in the Prince George Citizen. “Everything I learned from her I now pass on to my students. Her legacy lives on.”
In 1999, Fabian was one of the first individuals inducted into the Prince George Arts Gallery of Honour, hosted by the Community Arts Council. She later retired to Regina in order to be closer to her sister Maureen. The two business-savvy women opened All About Dance, a dance retail store catering to the growing Regina dance community.
Sonia Fabian died July 12, 2016, of natural causes. Her funeral ceremony was held August 30, 2016, at Riverside Memorial Park in Regina, Saskatchewan.
On April 18, a new award that acknowledges excellence in critical writing and commentary on the visual, performing and literary arts will be celebrated in Vancouver. The Max Wyman Award for Cultural Commentary, or “The Max,” is the brainchild of community leader and philanthropist Dr. Yosef Wosk.