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?”
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