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By Aonghus Kealy
Toronto Star
May 09, 2012

The Wagmans’ kitchen is alive as six boys, two Maltese-Shih Tzus and two parents buzz about. This is a neighbourhood social hub in this Vaughan subdivision and the Wagmans say this is their quiet day in the middle of accountant dad Michael’s tax season, two teen sons’ hockey playoffs and youngest boy Shale’s busiest time for competitive dance.

Shale is the 12-year-old ballet and dance phenom in Citytv’s star search Canada’s Got Talent: dubbed Canada’s Billy Elliot by show host Dina Pugilese. Unlike his brothers and many Canadian boys, he has no interest in hockey stars like Wayne Gretzky and Claude Giroux: he wants to be the next Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Shale was the top vote getter on the night of his semifinal performance in April, blowing away Canadians with a very emotional contemporary routine to Coldplay’s ballad “The Scientist,” getting a standing ovation from the 450-strong in attendance and the show’s three judges, comedian Martin Short, pianist and composer Stephan Moccio and opera soprano Measha Brueggergosman.

“I want to inspire Canadians to achieve their dreams,” Shale told the audience.

As one of 12 finalists competing Sunday (8 p.m. on Citytv), Shale has made his mark with strong support coast to coast, says John Brunton, the show’s executive producer. “He’s just an extraordinary talent for his age and despite his age. He’ll only get better, but he’s pretty exceptional as a dancer now. Not just technique. It’s also that magical ability to move people and he carries himself very, very well.

“I call it angel dust, charisma.

“As a producer you always ask, ‘Can somebody hold the screen? Can you take your eyes off him?’ You’re not going to change the channel when Shale’s performing.”

Brunton says it’s the same with the other 11 competitors, including two opera singers, two beatboxers, three dance troupes and a rock band.

Training between 20 to 25 hours a week at Vlad’s Dance Company in Richmond Hill, Shale is the top competitive junior dancer (ages 9-12) at the private studio, where the main hallway glitters with gold trophies. He trains for individual ballet performances, group chorus numbers, like the company’s upcoming annual June show, and with partners.

He has learned and excels at all forms of dance taught at Vlad’s. “He’s a multi-talented dancer. He’s strong in ballet, acrobatics, hip-hop, tap . . . ” says his trainer, Vlad Novitski. “He’s a little pro.”

But the little pro isn’t given the pro treatment at home. Heather Wagman, who Shale calls “my No. 1 fan,” says, “In our home, it’s about everybody. It’s not the Shale show at home. Everybody’s the same. There’s no special treatment.

“It would be very easy because he gets a lot of attention all of the time. Vlad keeps him very grounded.”

Earlier at home, Shale’s not really that interested in talking about himself, but he comes to life when the camera is ready. He walks on his toes across his mattress, then performs leaping splits and side jumps.

Looking at Star photographer Tara Walton’s playback, he isn’t happy with what she’s got. Grimacing, he tells her, “My hand looks . . .” and bends his left one backwards to show it’s bent too far back for his standards. “Can we try it again?”

That’s typical, says Novitski. While the Russian choreographer creates all of Shale’s acts, he says Shale always adds his own touch to the final product. And he always seeks perfection. “He’s one of those kids who never stops,” Novitski says. “I’ll ask him to do six pirouettes and he’ll do eight.”

Besides the Canada’s Got Talent final on Mother’s Day, Shale is in the middle of dance’s competitive season, which runs in April and May. While his brothers, Max, 15, and Jered, 13, are focused on playing for the Vaughan Rangers hockey team and the NHL playoffs, Shale is focused on competitions.

Twenty-six trophies cover one of the shelves on one bedroom wall, small black and white photo portraits on another.

And he has no interest in sticks and pucks, despite being part of a typical Canadian hockey family.

“No, not really. I love being unique, that’s just me.”

Does he watch his brothers play?

“Sometimes, when I don’t have dance and that’s like never.”

Heather Wagman says his community has embraced Shale and he has avoided being bullied despite being a dancer.

Shale is completely unconcerned with the effeminate stereotypes that come with dance. “Dance is not an area only for women. Men started dance. Women couldn’t go on the stage. When people say something like that to me, I tell them they don’t know the history of dance and how it works.

“I like it because ballet is like a culture dance. Dance is expressing your feelings through movement, to be in a different place when you’re mad or sad. You just want to go into a different place in your own mind and that’s like dance.”

WORD-GAME WITH CANADA’S BILLY ELLIOT

DANCE: A way to express your feelings.

HOCKEY: A sport that is very aggressive.

VLAD: My dancing coach that I love.

BLUE JAYS: A beautiful bird

HARRY POTTER: The movie and J.K. Rowling; yeah; I really don’t stay with it.

BALLET: A beautiful dance style that is the base of everything and makes you good at everything in dance.

BARYSHNIKOV: One of the best ballet dancers in the world. He’s my idol. I want to be really like him. He does things that are almost impossible and he’s just amazing.

TORONTO: The city I live in and that I love.

GROUP OF SEVEN: Very good art group that makes beautiful paintings and pictures.

SCHOOL: A place where I have a lot of friends and I look to be around my friends and teachers and a place I don’t like being all of the time.

MOM: My biggest fan, my No. 1 fan, I love her so much and she helps me so much for my career to become alive.

DAD: Also one of my No. 1 fans. Sacrifices a lot for my dreams to be accomplished.

BROTHERS MAX AND JERED: Also my No. 1 fans and always support me whatever I do and we will never grow apart.

RUBY AND SCOTCH: My two cute doggies that I love, I love to cuddle with them.

STUDIO: My best friends and all of my family is there.

CANADA’S GOT TALENT: I really, like, it’s the biggest talent show in the world and I love to be around everyone and it’s a great experience and opportunity.

Copyright 2012 Torstar Media Group

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