Young dancers explore their dreams of the national...
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Jan 08, 2013  |  Vote 0    0

Young dancers explore their dreams of the national stage

Our London

Like many young girls, 11-year-old Hannah is dreaming of a career as a professional dancer.

Hannah and 28 other young boys and girls took a step towards that dream on Monday (Jan. 7) as Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) brought its 2012/13 National Audition Tour to London’s Dance Steps Studio. Auditions for the school’s full-time professional ballet program (students in Grades 6–12) and post-secondary program (high-school graduates) take the form of a specially designed ballet class where dancers are assessed for quality of movement, co-ordination and overall suitability for the demands of classical ballet.

Hannah, who has been dancing since she was two years old, auditioned for the school last year and was looking forward to her second attempt. “I really hope things are different this time. Being able to dance every day would be the best part.”

Established in 1959, NBS is the only ballet academy in North America to provide dance training, academic instruction and residential care on the same campus. And while the idea of leaving home might worry some children, both Hannah and fellow 11-year-old Piper, said they would welcome the opportunity.

“I think it would be really great to be chosen,” Piper said. “I wouldn’t be too worried about leaving home. It would be a fun thing to do.”

The minimum age to audition is 10, and no prior ballet training is required for students ages 12 and under.

Ashleigh Powell, a member of the NBS artistic faculty and community engagement co-manager, said the London auditions are near the end of a nationwide tour that began in Halifax on Nov. 5 and has travelled to 17 communities across Canada.

“It is really a wonderful experience to step out into the communities and see the wonderful work that dance teachers and students are doing,” Powell said. “It is nice for us to step outside the school and see there is a really strong passion for dance in this country.”

One of those teachers is Donna Bayley, director/owner of Dance Steps Studio, which opened in London in 1989.

Bayley received her ballet training in the Forest City before moving on and becoming a professional dancer herself. When she finished that phase of her life, Bayley said she moved into teaching as a way to help other young dancers receive the opportunities she did.

With that in mind, Bayley contacted NBS and had London added to their annual tour schedule. That happened for the first time back in 2000.

“When you are talking an international school, it is sort of like hockey, where the talent pool is so vast and the opportunities are so few and far between,” Bayley said. “There just isn’t that huge demand for ballet dancers. I didn’t realize it that much until I got older. So I am glad we are able to give dancers the opportunity to come show what they can do.”

Those dancers don’t just come from Dance Steps Studio either. In fact, dancers come from across London, even from the United States, to have the opportunity to audition for NBS.

Powell said she is always thrilled to travel the country and see how dance studios are thriving. Not just from a business perspective, Powell said, but from the position that strong dance programs lift up everyone connected with them.

“They are important parts of communities across the country,” Powell said. “And really, a strong dance system, a strong dance community makes for a stronger dance audience and stronger dancers. It is all part of the same whole.”

During the audition tour, Powell said potential students are being judged in areas such as their natural sense of movement, their passion for dancing, as well as physical characteristics such as flexibility. All together, she said, it comes down to whether students are ready for the rigors of the NBS program.

That program begins with a summer school where potential students are invited in for a month-long program where they get to experience the program, meet the teachers, see if they are comfortable with daily dance training, and whether they are comfortable being away from home. At the end of that four weeks, they might be invited into the full-time program, which Powell said typically has around 150 dancers.

“We are seeing some very talented kids pursuing their passions,” Powell said. “And whether they do that because they want a career in dance or because they want to be healthy, active people, either way, we want to support that.”

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