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Motivation, Discipline and a Deep Passion for the Art: Mentorship Dancer Chole Bruce’s Journey from Injury to Sharing Dance with the World

August 19, 2020

At home in Halifax, NS.

“I have always wanted to be a Company Member with CBJ and the Mentorship Program would give me a taste of what that would be like.”

Born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Chloe moved to Toronto to further her dance education in George Brown College’s two-year Dance Performance Program which is run by CBJ. Chloe graduated from George Brown College in the spring of 2019 and was accepted into Canada’s Ballet Jörgen’s exclusive Mentorship Program.

During her Mentorship, Chloe suffered an injury that would change the way her year unfolded but did not stop her motivation and fight to dance again. 

What has your dance journey been like leading up to training at GBD?

At the age of 4, my mother enrolled me in a ballet class at the Maritime Conservatory of Performing Arts, in Halifax. As I grew older, I began taking more and more classes each week. I fell in love with ballet and craved more. By the time I was in middle school I was dancing 30 hours per week, in the Conservatory’s Professional Dance Program. I began taking RAD exams, and later took Cecchetti and Canadian Dance Teachers Association exams. I also started pointe, jazz, modern, character, and flamenco classes. For cross training I was doing pool conditioning twice a week in the morning before school, and Pilates after school in the evenings. I started going to a private academic school, called Kings View Academy, which programs at Ballet Jörgen, Ballet West Academy, and of course the Conservatory. As my time at the Conservatory was coming to an end, I began thinking about where I wanted my dance career to go. I always wanted to be a dancer in Canada’s Ballet Jörgen. I decided to enroll in GBD’s Dance Performance Program (P105) in hopes of building a stronger relationship with the company. I applied and auditioned for the program in the spring of 2017 and was accepted! I couldn’t wait to begin.

Why did you choose the Mentorship Program at CBJ?

I found out about the Mentorship Program at CBJ while I was studying in the Dance Performance Program at GBC. I wanted to do the Mentorship Program to strengthen my relationship with CBJ and smooth my transition from dance student to professional dancer. I have always wanted to be a Company Member with CBJ and the Mentorship Program would give me a taste of what that would be like. My ultimate goal is to be given a contract as a company dancer. I feel that the Mentorship Program acts as a stepping-stone on the path towards achieving my goal.

During your mentorship you got injured — can you talk about the injury and the emotional & physical strain that had on you?

Mid-way through CBJ’s summer Junior Company (2019), I noticed a small bump in the middle of my left shin. The bump hurt to touch and it hurt to jump on the one leg, but the pain wasn’t that bad. I figured that most dancers feel pain somewhere in their body every day. Because the pain was so minimal, I assumed that it was just one of those things that would eventually go away. I didn’t think that it was enough of a problem to stop and get it checked out. Over the next few months, the bump remained on my lower leg, and I didn’t think much of it. It wasn’t that big of an issue until the Fall. The bump quickly began causing more and more pain and then suddenly I couldn’t even do a demi plié in first position without feeling a large amount of pain. This was when I decided I needed to see a medical professional. That day I left the studio early with tears running down my face, and went to CBJ’s sports medicine doctor at Pivot Sports Medicine and Orthopedics. On my way there I was worried that I would be told to stop dancing. The doctor sent me to get an X-Ray which showed a bump in the middle my left Tibia. The doctor told me that he thought it could be a stress fracture. I needed to ger more X-Rays and have an MRI.

I was told to take Vitamin D and Calcium to help it heal faster. In the meantime, I wasn’t allowed to dance. I was devastated. I knew it would be months before I could dance again. Over the next month I did floor barre and conditioning in the morning and sat in on rehearsals taking notes for the rest of the day. This was incredibly difficult for me. It was torturous having to sit on the floor alone all day, watching all my friends do what I love. I would fight back my tears, but sometimes I couldn’t help but cry as I watched the muscles in my lower leg disintegrate. 

On top of all this I was now forced to wear a big clunky air cast boot to protect my leg. In the boot it took me double the time to get anywhere, and when the snow came down the amount of time tripled. In the snow I had to cover up the boot with a plastic bag to keep it from getting wet. This made it incredibly slippery, and hard to walk on my own. Some nights I had to have someone help me walk home from the studio. I feared that if I slipped and fell, I wouldn’t be able to get up again on my own. I felt useless, frustrated and bored.

“While everyone in the class participated in the shallow end of the pool, I had to wear a floatation belt, and do everything in the deep end. This was probably the best core workout I had ever done.”

Mid November, I received the date for my MRI. My appointment wasn’t able to be scheduled until March. I knew that I could get an appointment faster in Halifax, so I decided that it would be best for me to go home to heal. When I got home to Halifax, I saw a doctor who specializes in fractures, a physiotherapist who was a former dancer with the Alberta Ballet and a nutritionist who works with athletes. I had more X-Rays done. This time, you could see a black line starting at the bump and going midway through my Tibia. This was a clear indication of a stress fracture. A few weeks later I was able to get an MRI. 

To my surprise, the MRI didn’t show anything wrong. After finishing these last tests, the doctor used my X-Ray to diagnose me with an Anterior Tibial Cortex Stress Fracture. Because my stress fracture was in the thickest part of my Tibia (the middle) it would take much longer to heal. The doctors told me that this kind of stress factor was rare. If I had kept dancing on it, it would have eventually snapped forward into two pieces. I wouldn’t be able to start dancing for about two months, and when I did start again I’d have to pace myself. 

With the help of all three doctors, I began changing my lifestyle. I was given a weekly schedule of exercises to do. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I did a pool conditioning class at our local gym, and a couple calf exercises. Pool classes were very hard because I wasn’t allowed to touch the bottom of the pool. While everyone in the class participated in the shallow end of the pool, I had to wear a floatation belt, and do everything in the deep end. This was probably the best core workout I had ever done. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, I did floor barre, and then a series of exercises to strengthen my calves, glutes, and hamstrings, and work on my balance and ankle stability. Sunday was my day off. I was going to physio twice a week to get dry needles and electrotherapy. I was also on a new diet. I was told that I need to start eating more, and every night before bed I was required to take a hand full of pills. I was told to take Calcium, Vitamin D, Magnesium, Zinc, Comfrey, and Melatonin. All together that added up to 11 pills. It felt like I was having a second dinner. This new schedule was hard to keep up with. There were many days that I simply didn’t want to do any exercises or go to pool classes, but I knew that they would get me back to dancing faster so I forced myself to do them anyway. It didn’t matter if I wanted to do my exercises and take my pills or not, I had to do all of these things in order to dance again. This new lifestyle wasn’t an option. I learned that motivation means nothing when you’re not disciplined.

When did things start to look up for you?

Months later, I was out of the boot, and the doctors gave me the “okay” to return to dancing. I was thrilled! However, I couldn’t dance as much as I was before I got injured. I was told to start by doing 25% of ballet class for one week. the next week, if everything felt fine I could do 50%. The next week 75%, and the week after that 100%. If there was any pain, I was to stop and slow down the process. I also had to do all of my physio exercises before class. This meant I had to get to the studio much earlier than I normally would. In my very first class back I could only do about three exercises, but I didn’t care! I was just happy to be dancing! I couldn’t help but smile through that whole class. I was beaming with joy.

Chloe practising to meditate which she found helped with her mental health. 

“After suffering for a few weeks I was able to push through, and continue dancing.”

How did COVID impact rehabbing your injury and how are you now?

A few weeks after getting back into the studio, COVID broke out in Toronto. This had an enormous impact on rehabbing my injury. I had just got back into the studio, and was now being forced out again. I think that a lot of dancers were scared because they didn’t know how they would ever be able to keep up with their training. I on the other hand wasn’t too worried. After all, I had been staying in shape on my own all year.

I rearranged my bedroom so that I would have enough space to take class at home. I started by doing my exercises in the morning, then taking barre from whichever Instagram Live I thought was the most appealing that day, then doing some sort of conditioning and stretching.

At first everything was fine, but after a few weeks things started getting harder. I live in a basement apartment which means that my floors are basically just cement. Because the floors were so hard, there was a lot of weight and pressure in not only my Tibia, but all of my joints as well. This made my body very sore. There is a reason why ballet studios have sprung floors. My floors are also extremely slippery. Because of this I found myself gripping in the fronts of my shins to try to hold my turnout. This was probably the worst thing I could do for my injury. It put a lot of pressure on my Tibia and was beginning to cause quite a bit of pain. I was also becoming depressed. I missed the studio environment. I missed dancing with other people in the room. I missed being able to take up space with my movement. For about a week, every time I tried to dance I would burst out into tears. My body ached, and I thought things would never get back to normal.

After suffering for a few weeks I was able to push through, and continue dancing. I found that mediating and doing yoga really helped with my mental health. As of right now, I’m able to do everything except allegro. Each week I am getting stronger and stronger, but I feel that pointe work is definitely my biggest challenge right now.

© Linda Schettle 2019 In Rehearsal for the Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet™ world premiere in Halifax, NS.

I had never helped create something with a professional ballet company in my life! I remember walking home from rehearsal each night feeling so accomplished. Being able to see the ballet slowly come to life was incredible.

What was it like to be part of the World Premiere of Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet?

Being a part of the World Premiere of Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet™ was an incredible experience, and I will be forever grateful that I was given the opportunity. The whole experience was surreal. I never really thought of myself being so involved in something this big. I had never helped create something with a professional ballet company in my life! I remember walking home from rehearsal each night feeling so accomplished. Being able to see the ballet slowly come to life was incredible.

I remember our first tech rehearsal in the theatre for the ballet. It was scheduled to be on my 20th birthday, September 11th. I had mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I knew that it was going to be an extremely long and stressful day filled with anxiety and tension. On the other hand, I was thinking what a wonderful birthday gift it would be for my dreams of performing with a professional ballet company to come true! It was both the best and worst birthday I’ve ever had. 

Performing the ballet was very stressful at first, but as time went on it became easier. One thing that made it so stressful was all of the costume changes. Depending on casting for that night I had between 10-12 quick changes per show. I don’t think I’ve ever changed that many times in one show before. To help me remember everything, I would write down all of the scenes in order. Next to the scenes I would write which costume I had to change into next, and what I was doing. I wrote all of this information down in a little pink book, that Daniel Da Silva nicknamed: “my Bible”. I carried my little pink “Bible” around with me wherever I went in the theatre. It helped me remember my costume changes, the order of the show, my props, whose dress I had to zip up next, which local participant I needed to find and cue, and which side of the stage I needed to run to after I finished changing. There is no way I would’ve survived without it. 

The most exciting part of the whole experience was getting to dance the role of a Daffodil while touring through the United States. Previously, I had been told to learn two specific spots, but at the last minute I was switched into Momoka Matsui’s spot! Momoka is an exceptional dancer, and I’ve looked up to her for her for years! I couldn’t believe that I’d be dancing in her spot. I remember only having an hour-long rehearsal, the day before we left for tour, to learn her place. I was a nervous wreck! Thank goodness I knew what I was doing! This was stressful, but I was ecstatic! I got to wear a tutu and pointe shoes in a professional ballet company, on an international tour. Unbelievable! My childhood dreams were coming true. 

Over all, getting to be a part of the World Premiere of Anne of Green Gables – The Ballet™ was an amazing experience that I am so grateful for, and will never forget. It was probably one of the greatest things that has ever happened to me. Being able to participate in the making of this Ballet was like a dream come true.

“Ballet is really just movement used to express feeling and emotion. Anybody that has a body should be able to participate in this beautiful art form.”

How did it feel to perform the premiere in Halifax, with Symphony Nova Scotia?

The day I found out that I would be taken to Halifax for the premiere was one of the happiest days of my life! I felt proud and honoured to perform in the premiere of Anne in my hometown. It was the first time I had ever performed a full-length ballet with the company. Being able to perform in the premiere of Anne in the same theatre and with the same Symphony that I grew up with was very special. I was also glad that all my family and friends were able to come experience it with me. 

Dancing with Symphony Nova Scotia was a lot of fun, but it took some time to get used to it. Dancing to the live music versus recorded music was difficult at first because it sounded slightly different and sometimes the tempo was different from what I was used to. Because of these slight changes, we were forced to connect with the music and really stay present. When we first started creating the ballet, we only had an electronically recorded version of the music. Later when we received the recorded music being played by an actual orchestra, we were all in awe. Hearing and dancing to the music being played right below my feet by Symphony Nova Scotia was amazing. The live music really added energy life and excitement to the performance! 

How do you see the current movement in race in ballet?

Racism is a major issue in the ballet world. People in the ballet community are beginning to understand and educate themselves on the topic of racism, but there is still a long way to go. In my opinion, I believe that ballet is for everyone. It doesn’t matter what colour you are, where you come from, or what your body type is. Ballet is really just movement used to express feeling and emotion. Anybody that has a body should be able to participate in this beautiful art form. I am glad to see that more people in the ballet community are standing up to fight against racism. I think that as a community we’ve recently stepped on to the right path. I truly hope that all issues regarding racism in the ballet community will be fixed. Let’s strive to welcome everybody into our community. Together, we can make a difference.

“I love the way dance enables me to speak my truth through my movements.”

Chole Shares her Breakfast Smoothie Recipe

What do you love about dance?

There are so many things that I love about dance. I love the way I feel when I’m dancing. I love seeing how much space my movement can swallow up. I love being able to express what what I’m feeling on the inside without using my voice. I love the way dance enables me to speak my truth through my movements. I love learning about the technique and physics involved in dance. There is no better feeling in the world than the feeling you get when you complete a difficult step with ease. I love the way the stage lights feel on my skin when I dance on stage. I love that in dance you’re never perfect, and there is always something to work on. I love the fact that dance is an art form that is constantly growing and evolving into new things. I love how disciplined dance makes me. Most of all, I love sharing stories through dance with the world.

For more information about our CBJ Mentorship Program click here and for our HBE Contemporary Mentorship Program click here.

View our Interactive 2020 Mentorship Project playlist.