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It all started with scenes from The Nutcracker. It was a special Christmas for Katie, who had been adopted that year at the age of seven. In celebration of their first Christmas together, Katie’s parents brought her to see Canada’s Ballet Jörgen’s production of The Nutcracker at the Capitol Centre in North Bay. Katie was immediately captivated by the performance, the first live ballet production she had ever seen: “After I watched The Nutcracker I told my parents I wanted to be on stage and be just like the dancers.” Several years later, Katie joined George Brown Dance, the official school of Canada’s Ballet Jörgen. Having graduated from the Dance Performance Preparation Program in 2018, she is now enrolled in the school’s two-year diploma program.

Katie’s journey from realizing her love for ballet in the audience of The Nutcracker, to becoming a full-time dance student has been full of dedication and discovery. Katie shares the milestones of her dance story, reflecting on the importance of dance education in rural areas and smaller cities, and her future plans to share her ballet knowledge and passion with Indigenous communities.

Katie is from Nipissing First Nation, an Ojibwe reserve just outside of North Bay, and identifies as an Oji-Cree First Nations person. She reflects that while she was not introduced to ballet until the age of seven, she had been exposed earlier to traditional dance styles because of the prominent place of dance in her community. She enjoyed fancy shawl dancing as a young child and making up dance routines with her friends on the school playground. The possibility of professional dancing, however, was not something she discovered until seeing The Nutcracker: “I’d never seen a dancer dance on stage and I didn’t know you could make a career out of it, so when I saw Ballet Jörgen perform it really inspired me and made me realize that I could do that too.”

A few weeks after seeing The Nutcracker, Katie began taking classes at Barbara Treleaven School of Dancing, (now BTS Corp). After 4 years of competitive dancing, it was clear to Katie’s parents that she possessed a strong gift and love for ballet. “When I was about 12 my parents sat me down and asked me if I’d ever be interested in going to a professional ballet school,” Katie recalls. “I said yes, and so that became a new goal for me.” To achieve this aspiration, Katie took several private lessons while continuing to dance on the competitive team. She attended summer intensive programs at both the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Quinte Ballet School, leading to her acceptance into Quinte’s full-time program in 2012.

Katie during CBJ's Summer Dance 2018. Photo by W.W. Hung

Katie moved to Belleville to study at Quinte for her grade nine year. It was a challenging time, as Katie shares: “I moved home just because I really needed my family at that time. When I moved home, I decided to take a break from dance because it was hard to go back after going to a ballet school and it not working out. I went through therapy with my family and, a couple years later, felt strong enough to go back to dance.”

Katie credits her parents for encouraging her to return to dance: “They didn’t want me to give up on dance because they really thought I had a gift for it.” With this family support, Katie decided to apply to George Brown Dance because of its relationship to Canada’s Ballet Jörgen, the company that first inspired her to pursue ballet.

“When I got into Dance Performance Preparation program (P101) I decided to take the opportunity to get back into dance and it really boosted my confidence. I think it made me into more of a mature dancer because now I can really understand my body and what I have to do to reach my goals.”

Now pursuing her diploma in the George Brown Dance Performance program (P105), Katie has several goals for herself moving forward in her dance career, including sharing her ballet knowledge and skill with Indigenous communities.

Reflecting on the impact of ballet education across diverse Canadian regions, Katie explains: “I grew up on a reserve, but I went to North Bay to see The Nutcracker and that’s what inspired me to do ballet. I think it would have an amazing impact because it would inspire other people. That’s what I really want to do. I want to give back to my people with my dancing. I want to go to rural communities and do workshops because I think it would be good for other Indigenous kids to see someone like them dancing.”

As part of its mission to build dance skill and knowledge across geographies, Canada’s Ballet Jörgen will be expanding its Ballet 101 Program to visit communities in every region of Ontario. Ballet 101 is a one-hour program that introduces audiences to dance through live performance, while learning about ballet as a storytelling medium through interactive education. Learn more about this community outreach initiative.

Written by Victoria Campbell Windle, CBJ Communications Contributor