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By Ellwood Shreve
Chatham Daily News
July 3, 2015


Benjamin Alexander, 12, is to perform with Cirque du Soleil during the opening ceremonies of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games (Chatham Daily News) 2015b[Chatham, Ontario, Canada] – Benjamin Alexander will see the opening ceremonies of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am/Parapan Am Games from an interesting perspective. That’s because the 12-year-old Chatham resident will be part of the show.

Alexander, who attends the National Ballet School of Canada, is among the 56 students from the professional ballet program selected to perform with Cirque du Soleil.

He divulged the 31 students in the junior program will be performing the “Forest Borealis” segment of the opening ceremonies, being held next Friday [July 10th] at the Rogers Centre. “It’s very fun,” he said. “They have acrobats in our number . . . so it’s a really cool scene.”

He said there will be bubbles hanging from the ceiling with Cirque du Soleil acrobats inside doing various maneuvers. However, Alexander said he and fellow students keep their feet firmly on the stage during the performance. “In our dance we reach out and try and find our dreams,” he said. “We’re reaching out to the Pan Am torch.”

This will be the biggest performance of Alexander’s young career, with the opening ceremonies expected to draw a television audience of 50 million viewers. “I feel like there’s a lot more pressure doing this, because there is a bigger audience,” he said.

When asked what it has been like preparing to perform live for television, Alexander said: “It’s really cool . . . it’s a different experience, they really want you to always be smiling, because you never know when you’re on camera.” He noted they were told there will be 42 different television cameras in operation for the opening ceremonies.

Performing live at the Rogers Centre will also be different experience, he said, because the audience will be all around the stage.

There has been quite a time commitment required to be part of this event with rehearsals beginning in February, which run during the week and on weekends.

Cherie Alexander is looking forward to seeing her son perform on such a grand stage. She said she tried to get tickets for the opening ceremony, but they were too expensive.

Fortunately, she said, “they’re letting the parents go to the dress rehearsal. “So, I’ll get to see it the day before . . . that will be exciting,” she added.

Cherie Alexander said Benjamin has been accepted for a third year at the national ballet school. She said he will be busy preparing for the opening ceremonies with rehearsals going from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday.

She added he will also have show up at 9 a.m. on Friday for the opening ceremonies and expect to be there until 11 p.m.

Afterward, she said Benjamin will take part in three weeks of “summer intensive” at the national ballet school. He’ll come home for August, before returning to the Toronto school for another year of study and ballet, she added.

“It’s been a great experience for him,” she said.

© 2015 Chatham Daily News.

Related Article: Boys breaking ballet stereotypes


By Abigail Cukier
The Oakville Beaver
December 11, 2014


Cole Sweet, 11, attends Canada's National Ballet School 2013[Oakville, Ontario, Canada] – Oakville will be well represented in The Nutcracker at the Four Seasons Centre in Toronto this month.

[Oakville native Cole Sweet] will perform in the holiday favourite.

In his second year at Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS), Cole Sweet will be dancing the lead male role of Misha. Cole embodies the character of Misha, according to Laurel Toto, NBS Junior School manager and community engagement co-manager, and Mavis Staines, artistic director. “He is a musical and charismatic young dancer, as well as having a mature work ethic. It has been a rewarding experience to work with him on this role.”

Sweet took up dance because his sisters’ studio offered free classes for boys. He was accepted to the prestigious ballet school just a couple of years later.

In last year’s Nutcracker, Sweet danced the roles of a son in the family scene, as well as a courtier. “It is more nerve-racking this year because of my new role. But I am really happy about it,” said the 12-year-old.

Show runs Dec. 13-Jan. 3, 2015

© Copyright 2014 Metroland


Read more about Cole:

A ‘Sweet’ role in The Nutcracker for young dancer

Boys breaking ballet stereotypes

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 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

By Ben Lypka
The Squamish Chief
August 22, 2013

Christopher Waters, 11, will attend Canada's National Ballet School 2013[Squamish, British Columbia, Canada] – It’s not quite his original dream of becoming a soccer star, but Squamish native Christopher Waters is using his legs and feet in a slightly different way. The 11-year-old Ecole les Aiglons student will head to Toronto this fall after being offered a spot at the prestigious Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS).

Waters said it was his love of soccer that led him to the world of ballet. “I started dance when I was five,” he said. “I always wanted to become a soccer player and my dad said most athletes did dance as they grew up so they could become better at sports. So I started doing dance and I got better the longer I did it.”

He said dance helped him with his coordination and balance in soccer but he learned to love the stage. “I enjoy how you use movements to express people’s feelings,” he said.

Waters has spent his dance career at the Howe Sound Dance Academy, having learned his craft under instructors Donna Kirkham and Shalimar Blanchard. He said he never really thought he was a great dancer until he received praise from his father as he improved.

“I didn’t really think I was that good at dance, but whenever we had our year-end recitals my dad would always tell me, ‘Wow, you’re a great dancer for a boy,’” he said. “He told me he’d never seen a male dancer like me before and what he said felt really special to me.”

He said it was a difficult decision to move to Ontario for an entire year to pursue dance but that a summer session at the NBS cemented his desire to try it. “I tried it just for the summer and met a lot of friends from all across Canada and some from even places like Japan and Mexico,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, I had nice teachers and learned a lot.”

This year was the second straight summer Waters attended the NBS session and last year he was also offered to attend the school year round but declined the invitation. “I was accepted for the full year last year but I felt more like staying home with my friends and family,” he said. “This year all my friends got accepted and I decided to go.”

He said he’s looking forward to the challenge of moving across the continent and the additional dance practice that will fill his days. “It’s kind of a mixed blessing,” he said. “It’s exciting because you’re going to a new school with new things but at the same time, I’m really going to miss my friends and family in Squamish. It’s going to be a whole new adventure.”

But Waters won’t stay away for long. He said he will be back in town in late October during a school break and hopes to celebrate his 12th birthday in Squamish. His family will make the trip to Toronto during Christmas break and there will also be times to visit in the spring.

“They’re going to miss me,” he said, of his family. “But when in Toronto there’s always going to be a lot of stuff for me to do to keep busy.”

The school works with other dance groups to out on productions throughout the year. For example, NBS casts and rehearses students for the Nutcracker but the production is run by the National Ballet of Canada company. Students can attend the NBS all the way to Grade 12 but are assessed on an ongoing basis to ensure they respond positively to the program’s broader challenges.

“I want to go there and see what it’s like,” he said. “You can always take a year off and come back but if I continue going there or not depends on how much I like it.”

For more information on the NBS, visit

© Copyright 2013 Glacier Community Media

By Parvaneh Pessian
Photograph by Sabrina Byrnes
Durham Region
August 11, 2012

Up until two years ago, Eamon Stocks had never attempted ballet. Dancing since the age of 7, the 11 year old from Whitby had dabbled in everything from break dancing to hip hop and jazz before he stepped into his first ballet class in 2010.

“It was a hard (transition) because at first, I didn’t know what they were talking about when they said things like ‘first position’ or ‘fondu,'” recalls Eamon, who was recently accepted into the prestigious National School of Ballet in Toronto.

“The more I did ballet, I found I had a real passion, love and passion for it.”

Located in Toronto, Canada’s National Ballet School is one of the world’s foremost training institutions for aspiring young dancers. The facility attracts students from around the world and is the only ballet academy in North America to provide elite dance training, academic instruction and residential care all on one campus.

“I went there last year for the summer program and I loved it so now that I’m finally old enough to make it in, I feel really proud of myself,” says Eamon.

There are about 150 students in the program, which runs from September to July and combines a professional ballet curriculum with academic classes for Grades 6 to 12. Students spend between two and four hours in the dance studio daily, depending on their age.

“We have different classes every day along with ballet so it’s really intense but it feels really good,” he adds. No stranger to hard work, Eamon won Durham Has Talent at the Oshawa Centre in 2011, singing Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing and has been a member of the Whitby Courthouse Theatre youth group for the past two years. He also takes piano and vocal lessons and recently completed Grade 5 at John Dryden Public School in Whitby with straight A’s.

Eamon is looking forward to stretching his abilities and reaching new heights in dance at the ballet school. “I feel like the only person in the world when I’m on stage performing, especially in solos, and I love ballet because it really works me,” he says.

“I love a good challenge and ballet is definitely one of the big challenges that I have in life.”

© Copyright 2012 Metroland

By Elena Ferrarin and Kimberly Pohl
The (Arlington Heights) Daily Herald
May 23, 2012

If life falls into place for Arthur Stashak, a year from now he’ll be gazing out at one of Hamburg’s historic canals, taking a quick breather between his pas de deux and variations classes. The 17-year-old, who grew up in this northwest Chicago suburb, wants nothing more than to move to the German port city and study at the Hamburg Ballet School’s postsecondary program under renowned choreographer John Neumeier.

Do well there, and the world will be Stashak’s stage as he embarks on a professional dancing career. “There’s no doubt in my mind this is the life I want to be leading,” Stashak said. “I can’t believe that I’ll be dancing all day soon and even getting paid for it.”

But Stashak needs to finish school first, and for him, that’s in Toronto. He’s a senior at Canada’s National Ballet School, one of the world’s foremost training institutions. He accepted a full scholarship to attend the school after performing three years ago in New York City at the Youth America Grand Prix, one of the world’s most prestigious ballet and contemporary dance competitions.


The move to Toronto came after Stashak’s freshman year at Maine West High School, when it proved too difficult to juggle his dance schedule with traditional schooling. So Stashak decided to sacrifice the comforts of home for the half-century-old school up north.

“I knew we had to send him somewhere he’d get the absolute best training,” Stashak’s mother, Cathy Stashak, said. “I miss his smiling face. I’ve watched his passion and maturity blossom.”

At school, Stashak’s free time is minimal. A typical day starts with four hours of academics in the morning, followed by lunch, an upper-body workout and then three dance classes until about 6:30 p.m. After that, it’s back to the dorm for dinner, homework and an essential good night of sleep. Saturdays may require several more hours of work depending on upcoming performances. “It takes a toll on your body and can be really exhausting,” Stashak said. “But I love being different from normal society, and I couldn’t imagine moving back.”

Industry leaders have recognized Stashak’s talent in recent years, offering him spots in several elite programs. He’s studied under Spanish dancer Angel Corella at an intensive summer course in Segovia, Spain, and twice spent three weeks in Martha’s Vineyard at Stiefel and Stars, a highly selective workshop led by Ethan Stiefel, co-star of the 2000 movie “Center Stage.”

Closer to home, the Des Plaines Arts Council made Stashak a three-time recipient of its fine arts scholarship, allowing him to study with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago and the Faubourg School of Ballet in Hanover Park.

“Stashak is extremely bright and impassioned about exploring his talent,” said Mavis Staines, artistic director and co-CEO of Canada’s National Ballet School. “And that means he doesn’t find long hours of practice boring, but rather an opportunity to problem-solve and explore.”

Stashak’s journey began about 12 years ago when his mother dropped his twin sister, Katie, off at dance class. “He looked at me from the back seat and said, ‘Why can’t I go, too?'” Cathy Stashak recalls.

Before long, Stashak and his sister won small roles in the Joffrey Ballet’s “Nutcracker” at the Auditorium Theatre. In 2007, which proved Stashak’s fifth and final “Nutcracker” performance because he’d grown too tall, he was the first boy ever cast as polichinelle No. 1 — the first child who comes out of Mother Ginger’s hoop skirt — and danced a 30-second solo.

Even before moving to Toronto, his commitment to dance kept Stashak’s life hectic. Weekdays usually involved a full school day in Des Plaines, baseball or football practice, a brief sponge bath and dinner while his mom drove the 25 miles to Hanover Park, several hours of training at Faubourg, and then homework into the wee hours.

Adding to the stress were peers who bullied him for being a male ballet dancer, a tough period Stashak doesn’t mind now. “If I was a normal, popular kid, I wouldn’t have gone to Canada,” Stashak said. “It was character building and gave me an even greater passion and drive to show everyone what I could do.”

What Stashak can do appears to defy gravity, with his 5-foot-8 frame weightlessly leaping and moving in ways most can’t fathom.

Still, he’s not the model dancer. Many ballet companies are drawn to taller men with long legs and good feet, which extend a body’s line with beautiful arches and flexible ankles.

But what Stashak lacks in technique, he makes up with a certain X-factor. He brings charisma and energy to the stage, and excels at interacting with his partners and portraying a story. Plus, you’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who works harder.

“Being onstage just elevates me,” Stashak said. “I may not have a classical body or the best technique, but I can shine.”

That’s one reason Stashak thinks Hamburg would be such a good fit. Unlike more traditional dance companies, Hamburg mixes classical with contemporary dance, which involves more freedom and less rigidity.

He also wants to experience life in Europe. “I hate knowing just one language, and ballet provides an amazing opportunity to learn about new cultures,” Stashak said.

As one of his mentors, Staines believes Stashak will be an asset to whatever company he ultimately joins. “Arthur is incredibly musical and has a particular catlike movement,” she said. “Though he’s working quite hard, it looks fluid and without effort.”

Although he won’t be able to join a company until he stops growing completely, Stashak hopes he’ll find a spot where he can build a reputation that will open stage doors everywhere. “I have the passion and the love and the strive for it,” Stashak said. “This is definitely the life I want to be living.”

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