“She came home from the show wide-eyed and told me with all the seriousness possible for a seven-year-old, ‘I need to take ballet!’”
Jessie Marshall was not always interested in ballet. At the age of seven she was competing in gymnastics and taking one jazz class a week. Then in the winter of 2015, she saw Canada’s Ballet Jörgen’s production of The Nutcracker in her hometown of Guelph, Ontario. “It changed everything,” says Jessie’s mother, Michelle Marshall. “She came home from the show wide-eyed and told me with all the seriousness possible for a seven-year-old, ‘I need to take ballet!’ She went from going to see the show, to wanting to be in the show.”
Jessie immediately enrolled in ballet classes at her studio, Holly Hughes Dance Academy. By the next year, she realized her dream of dancing in CBJ’s The Nutcracker when she landed the role of chipmunk in her audition for the company’s Local Participant Program. “I have been auditioning every year since,” explains Jessie, who rejoined the production in 2017 as a frog and in 2018 as a chipmunk and beaver. “It’s a very nice experience,” she shares. “My favourite parts are meeting new people, learning new things, and getting to dance with a professional company. It’s really fun!”
Jessie currently dances about ten hours a week as she pursues her passion for dance. “This all stems from going to see that one performance of The Nutcracker,” reflects Michelle. “It ignited a passion that we didn’t even know was there until she saw it.”
“So many children in schools don’t have the experience of seeing professional dance. It’s so important to bring that to kids who either wouldn’t have the ability or initial desire to go see it.”
Making professional ballet accessible to young audiences is the driving mission behind CBJ’s Ballet 101 program, a free one-hour interactive ballet presentation. Having witnessed the impact of live professional ballet on her daughter, Michelle was compelled to bring the Ballet 101 program to Jessie’s school. “So many children in schools don’t have the experience of seeing professional dance. It’s so important to bring that to kids who either wouldn’t have the ability or initial desire to go see it.”
CBJ visited Jessie’s school, Gateway Drive Public School, at the beginning of May with the Ballet 101 program. “It was fantastic,” says Michelle. “The way they presented it to children who have never had any dance exposure was really interesting. I was surprised by some of the kids who got up to perform the quick combination the dancers taught. The audience participation really engaged the kids.”
The interactive experience was a highlight for Jessie. “I liked that they had us standing up and doing the moves,” she says. Her classmates enjoyed it, too. “They thought it was very interesting,” she reports. “They really liked the little performances they put on for us and all of the costumes.” The appearance of the menacing Rat King from The Nutcracker went over particularly well.
After witnessing the students’ response to Ballet 101 at Jessie’s school, Michelle encourages others to bring the program into their communities. “I’ll be letting other parents at our dance studio know that this is something they can look into bringing to their children’s schools,” she says. “So many children just don’t have exposure to professional dance. I think that CBJ’s whole education program, between Ballet 101 and involving local kids in productions, is just fantastic.”
You can learn more about Ballet 101 at canadasballetjorgen.ca/ballet-101/
To book a Ballet 101 in your community, contact Andrea Page, Program Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org or 416-415-5000 ext. 2886.
Written by Victoria Campbell Windle, CBJ Communications Contributor.
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