In Labrador, virtual dance auditions give budding ballerinas dreams of a career on stage

At a ballet practice in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, an instructor leads a group of teenage girls through various compositions.  (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)
At a ballet practice in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, an instructor leads a group of teenage girls through various compositions. (Heidi Atter/CBC - image credit)

Thanks to virtual auditions, Canada's National Ballet School is working to reach rural and remote dancers for auditions, giving aspiring Labrador performers a chance at a career on the stage.

Phillip Payne of the ballet school's faculty grew up in Newfoundland, in Cow Head and Corner Brook. He knows first-hand how small towns can produce good dancers.

"I was used to carrying logs with my dad, so I knew how to do a shoulder sit," Payne said. "I kind of knew how to place my ladies and they all felt comfortable from what I understand on my shoulders. So it was great. Thank you, Dad."

Payne said he hopes virtual auditions will help the school expand its reach, and so far it seems to be working.

"It's been extremely positive, to be honest with you, to be able to reach through technology like Zoom. I love it," Payne said. "It just broadens our scope."

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

The seven teenage dancers in the Let's Dance program at the Lawrence O'Brien Performing Arts Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay were excited by the prospect of virtual auditions, shared by instructor Robyn Rumbolt.

Amber Ernst said she's thinking about doing one, and wants to go into it with a positive mindset.

"If you give yourself positive affirmations it might make things a little bit easier and make you better in the long run," Ernst said.

Payne said he would welcome Labrador and northern dancers to audition virtually, and offered some advice on what makes a good dancer.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

"For me, it's passion," Payne said. "Technique is meant to support your love of moving so that's what it's there for. And so if you can come through the rigours of the training and still have that deep passion and that love for what you're doing, that's exactly what I want to see."

Emily Williams-Ford said for her dance is more than physical exercise: she feels happy and rewarded when dancing.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

"As a person who has a lot of problems fitting in, it makes me feel comfortable to express myself and make mistakes," she said. "It's important for young people to have that safe space because not everybody does and it helps us develop into kind people."

Williams-Ford said she hopes to one day dance professionally but is nervous to say so because not everyone who aspires to a dancing career succeeds.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

"It's a big, far, long, distant dream," William-Ford said. "That's an amazing dream that I wish to accomplish: to go to a ballet school."

Dancers can sign up for an audition through the National Ballet School of Canada's website. Successful applicants will be invited to a summer school then be asked to take part in the professional program.

Heidi Atter/CBC
Heidi Atter/CBC

"We pick our dancers, I think, based on the joy of movement, seeing somebody move with a real love of what they're doing is what the art form needs, and it's what we're interested in cultivating," Payne said.

If dancers don't get accepted in their first audition, Payne said they shouldn't be deterred.

"It can be disappointing in the moment, but you absolutely need to pick yourself back up and go, 'No, this is what I truly want to do and I'm going to keep going."

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