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Aidan, 13, and Avery Grierson 11, are going to study full-time at Canada's National Ballet School (Metroland News Service) 2014

 

Metroland News Service
August 27, 2014

 

[Waterloo, Ontario, Canada] – Avery Grierson’s satin slippers sagged. She felt tired and a tad homesick. So the 10-year-old Waterloo girl snuggled into her bed in summer residence at the National Ballet School in Toronto, a few blocks from old Maple Leaf Gardens. An allegro afternoon of twirls and jumps and stretches had worn her out.

Her brother Aidan, 13, quietly watched over her. Aidan bent down with aplomb and gently embraced the restless ballerina. He softly sang a lullaby to his little sister.

“Rock-a-bye, baby, on the tree top,” Aidan warbled.

“When the wind blows, the cradle will rock …” That was only weeks ago. Next Tuesday, Avery will make the Grand Jeté — the Big Leap — with her brother Aidan by her side. Both will be full-time students at the school, pirouetting for up to four hours a day while pounding the books the rest of an 11-hour schedule.

Aidan, entering his second full-time year at the national college of choreography and croisée, is in Grade 7. Avery, a newcomer to full-time tour en l’air status, is in Grade 6.

Their sibling pas de deux — not the norm, but not unheard of, school officials say — works out wonderfully as the national company aims to find and nourish the next Karen Kains and Frank Augustyns. Aidan just got his babysitting licence, he proudly proclaims.

“You don’t have to babysit me!” Avery protested as the siblings sat side-by-side in the family’s dance studio, the Classical Dance Conservatory in Waterloo, on Tuesday.

“I’ve got three counsellors with me on my floor!” Her mom Audra, a dancer who learned ballet in Montreal and went to the University of Waterloo, shakes her head. Last year, Aidan could only tease his sister parttime, during visits home. Now they are together, dancers since they were little, all week along. “He gets to tease her full-time now,” she said.

Avery, who turns 11on Thursday, can handle it. She can happily return-pester Aidan like she plucks her violin.

They’re a special pair. Every year, the school auditions 1,000 potential ballet prodigies in a 20-city tour. About 150 are invited to summer residence. From there, about 50 are selected for full-time study. Once in, you’ve got to be invited back.

Aidan got his phone call to return back in May, around his birthday. Avery got her first fulltime invitation in July.

No, it’s not cheap. The school will tell you it costs $90,000 to train a dancer for a year. With grants and donations, they whittle that down to about $32,000. Then, you can apply for financial help to get tuition lowered further.

The Griersons have been through all the steps. Don’t ask what it costs exactly. They’d rather arabesque all day than say. But you get the idea.

The kids’ stay-at-home father Todd, a former part-owner of Elmira Poultry, couldn’t say no to Avery after saying yes to Aidan. Besides, it’s a grand opportunity for two siblings who get their dancing genes from mom and their sense of balance from their one-time figure skater of a father.

“If that kind of talent and skill is in the family, it’s not uncommon for siblings to share it,” said Joanna Gertler, a ballet school spokesperson. Gertler says there are two sisters from Toronto at the school. As well, she recalls three siblings from British Columbia once attending together in a recent year.

Other students come from as far away as Taiwan and Texas. Aidan’s summer roommate Harrison — nicknamed Harry Potter for fun — came from England.

The school goes as high as Grade 12. How long a student stays depends on their passion for ballet and their progression. But the barre is set very high. Avery doesn’t know if she wants to be a ballerina when she grows up. But she knows what she’d like as gifts when she shares a birthday with her mom on Thursday. “A puppy and a gecko,” she said.

Dad shook his head. Despite what Aidan says, a gecko wouldn’t be welcome at the school. And the Griersons already have two dogs, Maggie and Brutus. But soon, within days, they’ll have two kids away during the week.

“We become empty-nesters,” Todd said. “You never think you’re going to be there, but it is what it is, right?”

 

Copyright 2014 Free Daily News Group Inc.

 

 

Kieran Murphy, 12,  has been invited to a four week course with the Canada's National Ballet School (photo Mike Dibattista)2014-02

By John Law,
Niagara Falls Review
March 3, 2014

[Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada] – Kieran Murphy couldn’t understand it – why was he being shamed by his friends for loving dance? It was physical. It was hard work. It was something they all watched on TV. And yet, he was mocked for deciding this was what he wanted to do with his life.

“I just remember everyone kept bugging me and stuff, and then teasing me,” says the 12-year-old John Marshall Public School student. “They just wouldn’t stop. At the time I was shy and didn’t really stick up for myself. I didn’t say anything, really.”

“He did it for several years and he was very good,” recalls mom Amber. “Then (people) started saying ‘Dance is for girls, especially ballet.’ He became self-conscious.”

Kieran Murphy, 12,  has been invited to a four week course with the Canada's National Ballet School (photo Mike Dibattista)2014-01A few years later his younger sister Lilah became interested in dance, and Kieran decided to give it another go. If his friends weren’t on board, so be it. “This fall, he just came into his own and realized, ‘I don’t care what other people say’,” says Amber.

Watching shows like Dancing With the Stars, Kieran’s eyes lit up at how high they could jump. He had to try again. He started taking classes at Imagination Dance & Fitness in Niagara Falls last fall, then decided to take his shot at the big leagues: The National Ballet of Canada. He was among 1,000 kids who attended a recent open audition in Toronto, with the top 150 kids invited to a four-week training program this July.

Kieran thought his sister, who also auditioned, would be the one invited. Instead, it was him. “I just wanted to go home, because I didn’t think I was going to get in,” he says.

“These people that were auditioning were phenomenal,” adds Amber. “But it’s based on potential. They saw something (in Kieran).”

Now comes the hard, and expensive, part. The summer program will be an intense program meant to weed out the great prospects from the merely good. Of the 150 chosen, 50 will be invited to the full-time Professional Ballet Program in September.

But affording the summer program is tougher than any pirouette. Giving her son a chance at his dream will cost Amber, a single mom with three kids, $4,000 tuition. To help soften the blow, she has started a page at GoFundMe.com. As of Monday [March 3], it had raised just over $1,000 of the costs.

She wouldn’t go through this if she didn’t see a future in dance for him. “He’s always been one of those driven boys, with everything he’s ever taken on,” she says.

Kieran is still trying to grasp how he made it this far. “It’s just hard to believe. When something’s so cool, it’s hard to accept sometimes!”

But he’s also aware of the pressure put on his mom. “Without her, I probably wouldn’t be back into dance.”

© 2014 Welland Tribune

By Nil Koksal
CBC News
January 31, 2014

[Toronto, Canada] – Precise plies, pirouettes and jetes, but it’s not all pointe shoes and tutus in ballet. For the first time at National Ballet School of Canada, first-year boy students outnumber the girls.

Teachers and practitioners have long tried to encourage boys to dance in what is often stereotyped as a girl’s activity. “I think all of us that have been here a long time have tried to encourage young boys to see ballet as an artistic option for them,” said teacher Laurel Toto.

This year it seems some of that encouragement has worked to break down some of those preconceived notions about the very tough physical art form.

More boys in class also means more balanced training for the girls. “When I started there were four boys, so it was a little disappointing, but I think its great, I think ballet is getting cooler,” said ballerina Olivia McAlpine.

Dancers from around the world

The popular stage show and movie Billy Elliot — about a boy ballet dancer — may have helped.

Some boys say it’s still hard to tell other boys their age about their chosen art. But this school’s stature also helps. NSB has students from around the world.

“Being surrounded by people who love to do what I do, it’s easier to talk and make friends and feel more comfortable dancing every day really helps,” said young dancer Leo Hepler.

Charles Berry graduated from the school in 2001 and went on to become a professional dancer. But he remembers how it could be hard in the younger years, dancing as a boy. “Before I joined the National Ballet School, you got the usual ribbing as a kid, being a guy doing ballet,” Berry said.

An injury sidelined Berry, who is now an accountant, but he maintains that the power of ballet helps in any path. “The key thing about ballet is that it teaches you a lot of discipline and that’s an attitude that’s important in any profession, whatever you’re doing.”

Copyright © 2014 CBC

Related Articles: Boys breaking ballet stereotypes

By Abigail Cukier
The Oakville Beaver
December 31, 2013

Cole Sweet, 11, attends Canada's National Ballet School 2013[Oakville, Ontario, Canada] – Cole Sweet took up ballet because his older sisters’ dance studio was offering free classes for boys. A couple of years later, he was accepted at Canada’s National Ballet School.

Sweet, who had been doing jazz, acro, tumbling and hip-hop since age eight, fell in love with ballet. “I liked the discipline of it,” says the 11-year-old Oakville native.

And that’s a good thing [ - because] at Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS), Cole’s day starts at 8:30 a.m. and includes academic classes and a two-hour ballet class. He has a 90-minute ballet class Saturday mornings and a one-hour conditioning class weekly.

He has been preparing for his part in The Nutcracker since September. Cole will dance the roles of a son in the family scene, as well as a courtier in another scene. The production continues at Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts until Jan. 4.

In its 18th year, the holiday favourite features students from NBS’ part-time Associates Program and Teacher Training Program, as well as full-time students from the Professional Ballet Program. Since 2006, NBS students have been joined by more than 60 others from Toronto’s performing arts high schools in the battle scene.

Cole Sweet, centre, at Canada's National Ballet School (photo by Andrew Francis Wallace) 2013Boarding school has been a big change for Cole, who was home-schooled, but he knows he’s lucky. About 1,000 dancers audition in 15-20 Canadian cities, as well as through video auditions from around the world. About 150 make it to the second stage, which is spending four weeks at the school in the summer. Then, the school chooses 50 students. Cole began in September with a scholarship at the youngest age at which a student can be accepted.

Because of The Nutcracker rehearsals, Cole spends about 24 hours at home each weekend with his mom Myra, dad Todd and sisters Tyra, 18, Madison, 15, and Sierra, 13.

“We were not expecting our first child to move out would be our youngest,” his mom said. “When he started, we did not anticipate the National Ballet School. He started recreationally to get exercise. We never thought it would be a vocation, but it fell into place for him. All we can do is support him. The school is also very strong academically, so if ballet is not what he ends up doing, he will have a solid foundation.”

For now, Cole is enjoying it. Asked what he likes best about The Nutcracker, he says, “I like the sets, the costume, the dancing. It’s all really fun.”

© 2013 Copyright Metroland

Related Article: Boys breaking ballet stereotypes

Siphe November, 12,  (centre) dances with other students during a class at the National Ballet School  2010

Fourteen year-old Siphe November is from Montague ,South Africa and is currently a student at Canada’s National Ballet School.

Read more about Siphe: From South Africa to the National Ballet School: A young boy’s great big leap

CBC News
August 28, 2013

Finn Hepting, 11 will attend National Ballet School 2013[Saskatchewan, Canada] – A Regina youth, Finn Hepting, has been accepted into the National Ballet School in Toronto where he will begin classes next week. Hepting, who is 10 (but turns 11 on Saturday), was accepted into the prestigious program following a rigorous audition process during a summer camp.

“I’ve been dancing since I was three,” Hepting told CBC Radio’s Afternoon Edition host Craig Lederhouse Wednesday. “I liked it, lots.”

About two years ago, Hepting said, he decided to get even more involved in dance.”I started taking more classes,” he said and enjoyed learning more moves. “You get to do these awesome jumps.”

Hepting spent almost a month at National Ballet School, for the summer camp and audition. He said he was almost overwhelmed by the place.”Once I first walked in, I’m like ‘Whoa. This place is cool’,” he said.

Hepting said his friends are excited for him.”Some of my friends at dance don’t want me to leave, but they do,” he said. “Some of my other friends are super happy and stuff.”

He said his daily routine, for school, will start at 8:30 a.m. and end at 5 p.m. with a combination of dancing and school work. He said the early morning dance regime will be a new experience, admitting he is not much of a morning person.

© Copyright 2013 CBC

By Ellwood Shreve
Chatham Daily News
August 27, 2013

Ben Alexander, 10, has been accepted to the National Ballet School of Canada (photo by Diana Martin) 2013

 

[Chatham, Ontario, Canada] – You never know where your inspiration to aspire to new heights will come from – all that matters is you follow through on it.

Ten-year-old Ben Alexander is about to take a huge step in attaining his dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer. The Chatham boy is leaving home in September to attend the National Ballet School of Canada. He will live, train and be educated at the prestigious Toronto school, after spending part of his summer auditioning to earn a place there.

Ben, who started dancing at age three, and has been training with long-time dance instructor Florence Abel since age 4, remembers exactly when he became inspired to take up dancing. “I started because I wanted to be a reindeer in the Christmas show my sister was in,” he said with a big grin.

Ben enjoys dance because there’s always an opportunity to grow and “I really love competing.”

Abel, who has had plenty of students accepted into the national ballet school over her 55-year instructing career, praises Ben for having “the strength and flexibility” to be successful at ballet, along having a “sense of imagination … and of course a love of dance.”

She believes a key factor for Ben being accepted into the national school is he was able to complete Grade 3 and Grade 4 of the Royal Academy of Ballet exams last year – it typically takes a year to complete one grade. Abel added Ben achieved this feat while earning high distinction marks, including 94 for Grade 3 and 86 for Grade 4.

While she will miss her student, Abel said, “I want him to follow his dream, that’s for sure.”

Ben, who had been attending McNaughton Avenue Public School, is ready to take on this new challenge. “I’m going to miss everybody, but I’m really excited,” he said.

Judging from the demanding schedule of the school, Ben will have plenty to keep him busy. He’ll be attending academic classes from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., which include an emphasis on the arts with such courses as the history of ballet and the history of art and music.

His schedule calls for him to be in the dance studio from 1-3:30 p.m. daily, before heading back to school for another hour. Then he heads back to the studio after class for more training. Students also spend Saturday morning in the dance studio.

Ben won’t be able to rest on his laurels just because he was accepted into the program this year. Every student must audition each year to keep their spot in the school. Ben said his goal is finish his post-secondary education at the national school.

His mother Cherie Alexander admits she’s going to miss Ben and it’s not easy to see him go off the school at such a young age. “My philosophy is my job (as a parent) is to give them (my children) all the opportunity to be the best adult possible,” she said.

Alexander said Ben has had great experiences with Abel and performing with Pure Dance Academy’s elite ballet company in Chatham. She is looking forward to seeing her son excel at his new school.

“It’s nice he’s getting pushed by other boys at his level and at his age,” she said, adding kids from around the world attend the school.

The national ballet school has two streams for post-secondary study – one for becoming a teacher and the other to become a professional dancer. Ben said he’s aiming to go pro.

The ballet he dreams of playing the lead in is Don Quixote, having been inspired by famous Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov’s performance. “He’s my idol,” Ben said.

© 2013 Chatham Daily News

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