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By Kristie Pearce
The Windsor Star
January 2, 2012

AMHERSTBURG, Ont. — For the next seven years of his life, 12-year-old Conrad Mueller will live away from home spending countless gruelling hours in a Winnipeg studio perfecting the art of ballet.

Conrad, like any typical preteen, can often be found with his nose buried in a comic book or goofing off with his friends, but when it comes to ballet the Grade 7 student becomes quite serious.

“He’s very mature and he just knew that he wanted this,” said Cindy Pattison-Rivard, one of Conrad’s first ballet instructors, who teaches at Nancy Pattison’s Dance World in Windsor. “He was very focused for a young boy that age. You know, usually my boys that age are horsing around having a good time, but you could tell that he was different. He really wanted this.”

After an audition for Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet School in October 2010, Conrad was notified he had been accepted the next day.

“I think when he went to that audition it just sparked him like, ‘This is what I want,'” Pattison-Rivard said.

After attending an intensive summer dance program at the school in July, Conrad had one month to pack his belongings and say goodbye to his family before he moved to his new home. He is back in Amherstburg for the holidays.

He attends school full time in Winnipeg while taking dance lessons. He will return home only two months of the year – June and August.

“I like challenging things,” Conrad said surrounded by his family on New Year’s Eve day in their Amherstburg home.

The dancer was home for the holidays and brought his schoolmate Yuki Shimaoka, 14, from Chiba, Japan – just outside of Tokyo – to experience his first Canadian Christmas.

The two quickly befriended each other over their bond of dancing and Conrad’s limited knowledge of the Japanese language. Yuki was shy and smiled more than he spoke, but said the stage is where he most feels comfortable.

Conrad’s 16-year-old sister was brought to tears when she talked about her brother. She said she was proud, but “sad to see him go.”

His grandmother was beaming with pride. She compared his accomplishment to a hockey player making the NHL. “I am so proud. I watch him dance and he’s so graceful it makes me want to cry,” she said.

Conrad’s mom Stephanie was a ballet dancer who was forced to stop due to a twisted knee. But that’s not why Conrad said he wanted to dance. It was after watching Happy Feet, an animated film teeming with dancing penguins, that Conrad asked his mom to sign him up for dance.

Conrad and Yuki are both in agreement about their futures. They want to be onstage performing in front of large crowds. Conrad said he would also like to open his own studio one day.

The two will return to ballet school on Saturday [January 7].

© Copyright 2012 The Windsor Star

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