Each year, Ballet Jörgen works with many young dancers through our Nutcracker Youth Participant Program. This program offers dancers the incredible experience of touring and dancing alongside the Company. One of the most important roles is that of the Nutcracker Prince, danced by a touring cast participant, who travels through the story alongside Klara.
We recently caught up with Noah So who danced the role in the 2018 tour of The Nutcracker: A Canadian Tradition. Since his tour, Noah has continued his training, is a student in Canada’s National Ballet School’s Professional Ballet-Academic Program, and has developed a strong sense of independence, maturity, and confidence.
We were so happy to hear from Noah and his mother Shaheeda about the positive impact of the Nutcracker touring program and that, as a boy in dance, Noah continues to thrive and find joy in ballet. Hear from Noah and Shaheeda about the importance of an arts education, Noah’s training, and how dance makes him feel!
What do you feel is important about an arts education?
I think it’s important because it provides a rounded education for children. It’s something that they enjoy so it is something that they will pay attention to. They apply skills learned in other subjects and they don’t even realize it, like math, when they’re counting their barres of music out. Often times, if they continue through high school, it’s like learning a different language. Even in art; there’s math in art. There’s no art in math, but there’s math in art. So, I think it provides a more rounded education so they’re unwittingly applying all the must haves into the arts education. It shows them a different world, too.
Absolutely! So, I guess you touched on this in your answer already, but what are some of the benefits that you’ve seen for Noah from the arts education that he’s received?
Every child learns differently. Noah was definitely very, very active physically in his classrooms and at home. His specific ballet and arts education helped him release some of that energy. He would focus his energy on a sketch or a piece of art and then come out of it more refreshed. Arts education isn’t really something that anyone really hammers into their kid. It’s math and languages and science. All the basics, right. Arts was his way of learning but enjoying it as well and I think that really helped him with his focus.
Absolutely. I feel like we sometimes have a very limited sense of what is really necessary and how kids should learn, but the arts can expand that and make various subjects that we have deemed fundamentally important a little more accessible and engaging.
Noah has now chosen specifically a ballet path. Can you talk about the impact that ballet has had on Noah?
Well, the funny thing is, we always start the kids with soccer as the main launching point for whichever activity they want to get into later on. Noah never scored a goal. Sorry, one goal, one goal. He would break out in pirouettes and dance. Finally, one of the other moms from my daughters’ class said, “I’m a ballet teacher. Would your son be interested in a dance camp?”. I talked to his dad and we said, might as well because he’s not enjoying soccer. He’s enjoying it in his own way but that’s not helping. He’s very good at soccer now.
I think it’s grounded him. He didn’t even like ballet to begin with, to be honest. He’d do all the steps unofficially in the playground or the soccer field, but his focus was Irish. So, we started out with that, just those two, and what we found was that he was very focused after that. It pulled his focus and that translated into other things. It finally translated to academics. It finally translated into his organizing skills. Boarding at the National Ballet School, he has limited space so he’s learned to fold his clothes properly so everything can fit where it’s supposed to. It’s just simple things like that have permeated every aspect of what he does and how he does it. That focus and discipline.
Noah was our Nutcracker Prince three seasons ago. What do you remember most about Noah as the Nutcracker Prince?
Just his happiness and the joy it brought being part of the cast. It’s the opening scene that I remember the most. I was at the Kitchener venue, and I remember sitting there watching him leap out do a spin and come back down, and I didn’t realize he could do that. That’s what I remember, just his joy and what he learnt being the prince. Travelling with a bunch of ballerinas, he learned a lot.
What do you think he learned the most that stuck with him?
Taking care of himself. He was so young. He was only 11-years old and just managing things, his phone he had to manage on his own, and I had to remind him to keep it charged; you can’t let your phone die. Or, keeping up with his homework. He did that really quite well. He kept up with his homework and he came back and he still knew all his songs for the school choir. He kept up everything, because we did say, you must keep up. I mean, we can’t pull you out. That wouldn’t be fair to Ballet Jörgen but we would certainly be stricter going forward on how you participate in things. So, you have to prove to us that you can do this. So, just his growth in that. He became a young man from a child because he had to manage so many things on his own.
Noah has been dancing for a number of years now and is training seriously. How has he grown and developed since he started training?
He thinks more about his future because he understands that a dancer’s body doesn’t last until retirement age at 65. His constant conversation is what do I do after I graduate high school? What should I do? How am I going to get there? How do I become an adult? How do I have a life after training for dance? We go through that a lot with him, and because he realizes that he’s become more academically inclined.
That’s really wonderful and it’s so great to see that he’s been able to thrive and keep moving forward in such a positive way.
Can you tell us about your dance journey so far? How and why did you get involved with dance?
Well, I started off as a soccer player when I was really little. My parents tried me out with that, but I think I really had a knack for movement since I was little. I’d always be moving. I’d always be dancing around the house. Soccer wasn’t really my cup of tea. I wasn’t really good at roughhousing in that way, so my parents put me in dance instead. At first, I didn’t really like ballet. I wanted to do all these cool tricks and in the beginning it was really simple and I thought it was boring. But after my first class, I actually really liked it, and from there ballet was my favourite thing and that’s what I wanted to do. My ballet teacher actually, she recommended that I try out and do the audition for the summer school program for Canada’s National Ballet and I got in. I went to the summer school program for about three years until my parents allowed me to go to the full year program. So far this is my third year at the School for the full year program. I have to say, it’s really fun and super exciting. I love how the teachers teach. I love waking up every morning and going to school. It’s very different from what I had before. The way that they structure the barre and the dancing, and how they explain things is a lot more different too. They really go in depth with each student and try to just juice all the potential out of us, and I feel like there’s such a community at the School that I enjoy, too.
Amazing! So, it sounds like it’s a really positive experience for you.
You were our Nutcracker prince on the Nutcracker tour in 2018. Can you tell us about your experience with Ballet Jörgen and your experience performing with a professional company?
Being with the company really gave me a visual of what it was like to work in a company. To see company class, really late rehearsals, costumes, and what goes behind the production of a ballet is really amazing. Obviously, I was pretty young, so I didn’t really understand a lot of what was going on but now looking back on the experiences that I had, it’s like, wow, I was really lucky. It was amazing to dance on stage with the company. I just had a lot of fun being with all the company members and seeing what life is like outside of school and what life could be like for me.
What was your favourite part about dancing the Nutcracker Prince role?
I liked being on stage. I liked the acting and interacting, the dancing. I liked being a part of the ballet and making it happen for all the people that were watching, and I just overall enjoyed being on stage with the lighting and the music and everything.
You’re now training at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto. What has that experience been like? You described it a little bit when you answered the first question, but do you want to go a little bit more in depth?
Sure. Being at the School is, like I said, a lot different from what I had before – the training, the School, the schedule. Everything’s different. It’s the first time I’m living somewhere other than my house. It’s a lot of change to deal with but there’s amazing people and amazing friends that I have. It’s a really amazing community of people. Everybody’s connected. All the events and things that the faculty and staff make happen for us is really amazing. I really enjoy going to ballet class and doing all of these things that are a part of this school.
Wonderful. What does a day kind of look like for you?
Well, I wake up in the morning and I get ready for school so I pack my bag, I have breakfast and I go over to the dance building, which is the newer building. I take my dance class and in the dance schedule there is the regular ballet class, which is two hours, and then we have either Nutcracker rehearsals or we have contemporary, or we have a repertoire and conditioning segment at the end of ballet class, so it’s pretty different when it comes to the dance aspect of the day. Then we have lunch, and then academics is the regular school, science, math, until around 5:30pm. Then I come home, do homework, and I go to bed.
That’s a very jam-packed day but it sounds like it’s a lot of fun. What are some important lessons that dance has taught you?
Dance has taught me a lot of discipline, learning exercises and rehearsal material, along with balancing trying to learn technique and improving. I think it’s taught me to manage my time better, how to not give up when things get rough, and learn to solve problems on my own without needing to rely on other people so much and learning to ask for help when I need it. It’s really taught me how to balance my life in a way and it’s taught me how to enjoy my life, too.
Amazing. Those are some super important life skills. Has it contributed to your confidence levels too?
I think dance has actually contributed to my confidence level a lot. I feel like now that I can express my emotions and my feelings and what I keep inside through dance and ballet, I can leave the studio more accomplished and feel like I’ve done something with my talent and all the stuff that I’ve learned. I feel like that gives me a confidence that I can do anything else that I put my mind to. Like, if I can do what I do in the studio, I can do great on a test, I can walk in the streets without caring what anybody else thinks. It gives me this sort of validation whenever I’m out and about, so I don’t really need to care what anybody else thinks because I know what I think.
Amazing. I’m really glad to hear that. Would you encourage your friends and other boys to join dance? What message would you share with them to try to encourage them to start dance?
I think I would definitely tell people that if they want to dance, definitely dance. It doesn’t matter how old you are, how young you are. It doesn’t matter. Anybody can do movement. Anybody can dance and I think that it’s super important that you believe that you can before you try because if you don’t, you’re not going to get anywhere. If you want to do it as a professional or just for fun, it doesn’t really matter. Anybody can get on their feet and do any kind of movement. If it’s something that you really enjoy, take it and run with it because if you wait too long, you’re going to miss your chance. And if you’re thinking about it, you have nothing to lose really.
Yes, I feel like that’s a good motto to go through things in life with so I’m glad you’re thinking that. How does dance make you feel?
Dance makes me feel a lot of things at times. Sometimes I’m frustrated and sometimes I’m confused, but at the end of the day, dance is something that makes me happy. It’s something that I want to do always. It’s something that I’m willing to carve time out for and make sacrifices for. The feeling of being on stage with the music with other people or on your own, it’s indescribable. It makes me feel super happy and overall, really good.
You’ve already accomplished so much and you’re really succeeding, but what are your hopes and dreams for the future?
I think now I really want to graduate the School so I’m working on improving ballet. After the School, I haven’t given it too much thought because I definitely have time. I think I do want to audition for a company. Obviously, this is definitely scheduled to change. Things are definitely going to be different four years from now but right now, in this moment, that’s what I want to do. I want to join a company and see what all this training led up to.
And so, I have one more question. What is your favourite ballet and what would your dream role be?
My favourite ballet is [Christopher Wheeldon’s] Alice in Wonderland because it’s not a typical ballet. I think, in a way, it’s very wacky and weird. It sort of breaks the rules of what people would think ballet is. But I just love how the dancing and music is different, and how all these characters create a crazy, wacky world. And I think my dream role would be the Caterpillar because I love the Caterpillar dance and I love the music, too. The music is my favourite.
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