DSI Grant Recipient Attends National Ballet Summer School

Written By Julia Boyd, Aged 13

Grant Recipient

 I was completely clueless. One moment I’m warming up on the big day, doing the exercises just as they instructed, with the moves in which I’m so accustomed, and the next moment, I’m on the edge of my seat in front of the paper scattered table, trembling hands holding the precious envelope. I didn’t really know what it all meant right then, but none the less, I was elated. On October 29, 2017, I auditioned and was accepted into Canada’s National Ballet summer school. 

Many professional ballet schools have summer sessions, and this one was no different. It is a month long program that is used as the second step audition process to be accepted for the year round professional school. Kids come to Toronto from all over the world with the hopes of being noticed as a good fit for the school

Amongst the auditioning dancers, Wednesday, July 4, this widely recognized and arguably one of the most nerve wracking days of the month: placement day. I had just settled in the day before, so I needed to stick with the big group to find my way around. 

This is when I met the other girls in my grade. It was daunting to be in the midst of such extraordinary people with endless talent and potential, but in the end we all shared that same passion for ballet, and that’s what really mattered. Everyone was right away so friendly and welcoming, each with a different background. There were 24 of us auditioning. They came from across Canada as well as from Romania, Switzerland, New Zealand, and from all over the United States, including New York, San Francisco, Florida, and Iowa. We immediately bonded, forming connections that will last a lifetime.  

But we had little time for discussions. Right then we had a placement class to attend! We were led into one of the biggest studios, where a long table was situated at the front. There sat Ms. Mavis Staines, Artistic Director of the school, Ms. Laurel Toto, Junior School Manager and Community Engagement Co-Manager at NBS, Ms. Carina Bomers, a teacher in the professional program, and who we would later find out would be our everyday ballet teacher, and Alexander Gorbatsevich, National Audition Tour Manager and a teacher in the Professional Ballet Program. It’s so hard to describe my emotions when we started. Dancing in the massive studio spaces with live music was of course an absolute thrill, and being surrounded by all the amazing dancers was invigorating. Along with those emotions came a small bit of fear to have such legendary people in the dance community watch you perform. These were the ones who have travelled the world, danced with the biggest companies, and have seen it all before. First impressions stick, and we all knew this. The actual exercises in this and every class weren’t in the least bit hard, but they were watching for performance. These simple placement classes told them everything they needed to know. I think the class went exceptionally well, as I felt I showed them what I was capable of; a thrilling feeling. After that the month really took off. 

I met one of my roommates the following day, and the other a few days later. They were both returning students my age who were already attending the professional program. Aureli is from Quebec, and Ana Sofia is from Mexico, and they were the best company I could have asked for. They were more than happy to show me the ropes. Throughout the next four weeks we would continue to stick together as often as possible. They would tell me all there was to know about the school, with all the teachers and kids as well as the daily life during the year. In exchange, I would tell them stories about life back home here in Saskatchewan. We grew tight, and try to keep in touch as much as possible. 

My everyday dancing schedule was intense. Each day I had an hour and 45 minutes of ballet with Ms. Carina Bomers, and another hour and half of pointe and repertoire with Ms. Zhou Lin. Then depending on what day it was, we could have jazz with Ms. Aly Mckenzie, NBS alumni and current Rockette, and/or pool conditioning with one of the on-site physios. I enjoyed every class, and felt I really improved, both technically and mentally. However, it was challenging for me at first, because we were studying in a completely different style of ballet than I was used to, and learning it at a faster pace. Familiar moves had different names, and the head and arm sequences were new. But I persevered and learned and I’m proud of myself for that. In pointe it was much the same story, but half of the class would be spent on technique, and the other half on a variation that we would perform for the parents during the observation days. Jazz was a nice change of pace, and something I was used to, but not everyone was. And lastly, pool. We donned our swim caps and goggles, and reluctantly jumped in the pool, where we could practically see our own breath. The exercises were simple, and most could be done on land, but with the resistance of the water, it was extremely difficult. The few moments that we paused, usually just hear instructions, we would be told to run on the spot, simply so we wouldn’t freeze and turn blue. I will say that I loved and really do miss these and all my classes, painful as they

were, and felt that they strengthened me. I suppose that’s why dancers are so extraordinary, and why other people are so entranced with them: although we love the costumes, the performances, and the glittery, beautiful side of ballet we present to the audience, a true dancer will love every part of it. Classes and corrections, bruises and blisters, and all the painful placement. We need to relish in every step of the process, otherwise, what’s the point? 

Alas, my adventure at Canada’s National Ballet school came to an end much too soon. Before I knew it, my family came to pick me up. The last two days were known as observation days, and the parents would come in and watch our classes. This was exciting, as we were able to show off to our families what we had learned, and how we (hopefully) visibly improved. It was hard to move out of residence, emptying out drawers, checking under beds, making sure nothing was left behind. I said goodbye to Ana Sofia and Aureli. I do dearly miss them and everyone I met along the way in this fantastic experience, and I hope our paths will cross again one day. My parents came and hauled my bags away, and as quickly as it had started, summer school ended. I am so very thankful for this opportunity, and would never have been able to have it if it wasn’t for everyone behind me, supporting me every step of the way: my family, my academic teachers, and my current and past dance teachers and friends. I would also like to thank Dance Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Arts Board for their generous scholarships in helping me reach my destination.  I am so humbled by this wonderful experience.

P.S. After having experienced the strict ballet world in Toronto, I am glad to come back home to see all the amazing dancers here in Saskatoon. I love to experience all types of dance and Saskatchewan is rich with many styles, genres, and talents!  Since being back,  I have had the opportunity to watch a performance of Dance on the Saskatchewan, taken a few classes at my home studio and pop-up classes with my previous teacher. I also took a street jazz, hip hop and contemporary workshop where there were remarkable dancers from numerous studios. I feel very fortunate to be able to bring what I learned at the National Ballet School home and be able to bring what I learn at home, to wherever I go.     

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