Sleepovers and ballet classes; who needs more than that?
Ballet was something I always did. From as far back as I can remember, I danced ballet. It was never something I thought of doing professionally, though. It was just something I did because I liked it. I’d go to school, play with friends, and go to ballet lessons. So when my mom drove me into the big city at the age of 9 for my first experience with skyscrapers, billboards, subways and the hustle of Toronto, I wasn’t really aware of the journey I was about to embark upon. We exited the Gardener Expressway and drove up Jarvis Street to 104 Maitland Street – home to Canada’s National Ballet School. I spent the next couple of hours in the school’s Studio A/B, pointing my feet, sucking in my stomach and running away from wolves in an exercise where I was playing an escaping Little Red Riding Hood. Little did I know at the time that my convincing Red Riding Hood routine would determine the next 22 years of my life. I had just passed my first of many ballet auditions. I made the cut to take part in the National Ballet School’s (NBS) summer program. I wasn’t really sure what the summer program would be like, but four weeks of ballet and sleepovers sounded like a dream. I was sold.
My assumptions about summer school at NBS were not correct. Summer school wasn’t just slumber parties and ballet. It was much better than that! It literally surpassed all of my expectations. Alongside ballet, the program was packed with tons of organized activities such as visiting theme parks and water parks, doing scavenger hunts, going to the zoo and checking out the CN Tower. So when, at the end of the 4-week summer school program, they told me that I had proved to be a dancer with enough potential to join a class of less than twenty other girls – aged 9 and 10 – to attend the full-time ballet school program in September, it was a no-brainer decision for me.
This is how at the age of 9, I packed my bags, said goodbye to my friends and family in Burlington, Ontario and moved into the NBS residence on Maitland Street in Toronto to pursue ballet full time, and, of course, to do sleepovers with a bunch of my new friends and visit themes parks on a regular basis. Except it wasn’t quite like that.
Ballet is a real business
In fact, not at all like that. And here’s why: different from the summer school, the full-time program meant that you had to accomplish and uphold good grades in all of your academic courses like math, science, history, French etc. And we only got to dance a few hours a day, compared to the summer program where we’d dance all day long. Adjusting to the new regime was not easy. The classes were more serious and the demand was much higher. This was: business. Ballet business. And I soon released the bets were placed on me to succeed.
Despite the various pressures I progressed and moved along up through the school, even when others in my class could no longer face the challenges and were asked to leave the program or decided to leave the school of their own accord.
When times got tough – and it did get tough -, I also found myself questioning if the career path I was on, was the right one for me. However, any doubt I had vanished when at the age of 12, I was able to work together with the dancers of the National Ballet of Canada on the production of the Nutcracker. Seeing for the first time the dancers work off the stage, behind the scenes and in the studios confirmed for me that this was meant for me and I for it. With the affirmation that I was on the path to fulfilling my dreams, I continued to study until the age of 17, when I graduated high-school with honors, and I decided to move to Hamburg, Germany to study and dance ballet with John Neumeier.
Since ballet is something that I just always did, the stage also became like a second home to me. The pre-show preparation rituals, the point-shoe sewing, the stage make-up, the toi toi toi’s and merde’s, the quiet before the curtain went up, leaving the theater with a bun in my hair – this was all normal to me. So normal that sometimes, I forgot to appreciate how special and unique it was to live the life of a dancer. Until one day, at the age of 20, when the Hamburg Ballet was on a 4-week performance tour in Japan, I was walking down a street in Tokyo thinking, ‘I’m 20 years old, I receive a paycheck for doing what I love, and I get to travel around the world – how cool is that!’ Only then did it really dawn on me that I had more or less won the jackpot that I’d been playing for my entire life.
Something that is very special about ballet and ballet training is that it is never finished. There is always something to work on and work toward; a nuance to improve, a passé to perfect, a landing to nail, one more pirouette rotation to achieve. To me, this is one of the many reasons why ballet is special and never gets boring.
The need to explore more – from Ballet to Business
However, throughout my career I felt there was something I was missing. I felt like I had something more to offer the world and that “something” whatever it was, needed to be explored. One step toward my personal exploration was the decision to continue to study. I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to learn about, but I knew I wanted to learn and so I just started with what ended up to be a Social Science 101 course at The Open University. I initially started my studies parallel to my dance career and continued this way until the pull and drive to focus fully on this new explorative sector in my life grew so strong that I decided to take a permanent break from my dance career.
After 8 years in Hamburg dancing ballet for John Neumeier, I now live in Munich, have completed my degree in Business Administration and have been working for the BMW Group since 2011.
Do I miss ballet? Everyday! Making the switch from Ballet to Business was not an easy transition. I still have days when I am walking down the corridor toward the copy room but in my mind I am really doing piqué turns and grand jetés toward that copy room. And if no one is around, sometimes I literally do piqué turns and grand jetés toward the copy room! The need and urge to break out into random acts of dancing and express myself through dancing has never been stronger than when I am in the office, sitting at my desk or in a meeting. However, I am grateful for these feelings because they remind me of who I am after all. I’m a dancer. And I don’t need to be on a stage to know that. No matter where I am, what I do or whom I am with, I am a dancer.
Everybody in their lifetime, dancer or not, faces decisions concerning their future; which path to take, which road to venture down and each must create their own destiny. The hardest part is taking the “leap of faith” or in dancers words “the grand jeté of faith” to set off down that path.
I am happy to say that for me, this was the right decision, if not an easy one. And I have been able to leverage many of the qualities I developed as a dancer into my new roles and responsibilities in the business environment as well as take on many new hobbies that my rigorous ballet regime did not allow. My past ballet training and professional dancing makes me no stranger to discipline, perseverance, and pushing myself to the limit. Goal setting is something I do every day, at work and at home, in my private or business surroundings. Dancing has made me competitive yet team-oriented, shown me to interact with different cultures from around the world, given me the ability to embrace flexibility (figuratively and literally) and the gave me the ability to adjust to new situations with elegance, grace, and tact.
In the end, I am still a dancer, except now I am also much more than a dancer. I am an athlete and a yogi. I am a businesswoman. I am a traveler, goal-setter, achiever and I am doer. I am a Canadian living in Munich. I am open-minded and passionate. I am a leader and I am a follower. I am a giver and a taker. I am Steph, and this is my story.
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