For dance teacher Lizette Nel, it was the third time in Merritt that was the charm.

“It’s the strangest feeling – I feel at home here. We got here, I started teaching in December, we were really busy getting things organized, then it was Christmas, then the new year, and the school term started, but apart from that, I don’t know what it is,” the Pretoria, South Africa, native said of her few months in Merritt so far. “I was really welcomed into the community and so was my husband, so I think that made it so easy for us.”

The soft-spoken ballet instructor said the friendly people she has met here have made the transition easier. Still, coming from such a faraway country, Nel said there are some things about living in Canada that she is still adjusting to.

“The thing that is very, very different that I still cannot get used to is the peace,” Nel said. “Where we lived, the crime is incredible – and it’s not just crime, it’s violent crime. For us, here, to see children running down the sidewalk and the mom is strolling behind them with the little ones going there and here … that’s something that I’m still amazed by.”

On the lighter side, Nel said the snow was another big adjustment.

“Coming from South Africa, we don’t know snow. We quickly learned a lot about snow shovelling and compacting snow,” she said.

However, it was the opportunity to escape South Africa’s high rate of violent crime that Nel found so appealing in taking over dance instruction at the Olde Courthouse Arts Centre. Her son-in-law originally spotted the job posting and Nel got a chance to peek inside the studio when she met former dance instructor Linda Sanford on her second visit to Merritt.

“I became aware of Linda Sanford, who was retiring and looking for a new ballet teacher, and specifically a [Royal Academy of Dance] ballet teacher to take over the classes,” she said. “I applied for the job and I was successful, and then we started the very long process of obtaining a work permit.”

Nel said her passion for dance began after a rocky start in ballet. Nel said her mother enrolled the self-professed tomboy in ballet classes at a young age to help calm her down and channel her energy, which she resisted at first. However, it was Nel’s second dance teacher who helped her learn to love ballet as an art form. Now, as an instructor, Nel said appreciation of discipline and poise is one thing she likes to pass on to her students.

“Ballet is a disciplined art form,” she said. “It’s not silly fun. I think any movement with music, most people enjoy, and it’s therapy – but there’s also joy in achievement.”

She just held Merritt’s first dance art competition, which she designed to engage entrants in the various artistic aspects of dance, including costume and set design, and it doesn’t look like things are slowing down any time soon for the multi-tasker – spring break will bring more offerings of youth dance classes and Palm Sunday will bring a ballet recital at a local church.

“It’ll be a busy month,” Nel laughed.