If you had asked Sage Irvine four years ago if she wanted to be a ballet dancer she likely would have laughed.
But now the 14-year-old Lambton Central Centennial student is headed to one of the most prestigious ballet schools in North America for the summer – an opportunity she can barely believe she has earned.
Irvine says she was a bit of a tomboy in her younger years, participating in sports such as soccer and wrestling – the tougher the better. Then at age nine, she started in dance. Irvine took lessons and was required to take ballet to compete in other tournaments for contemporary dance.
“I would complain I don’t want to do this…Ballet seemed girly and too delicate – it wasn’t tough,” Irvine says.
But after taking some ballet lessons, Irvine realized it was very tough, challenging and that ballet dancers need “a crazy amount of strength.
“So I stuck with it.”
Sticking with it requires 22 hours a week of classes, practice at home, a diet which includes only healthy foods – with room for the occasional slice of pizza with friends. And then there is “the torture machine” which she uses to stretch out the muscles in her foot, pushing it as close to the floor as possible.
All this may seem extreme for a 14 year old, and Irvine admits sometimes it is tough. “Sometimes I think ‘Why am I doing this? I could just be a kid.’ But when I start to dance I say ‘Oh yeah – this is why I love it.’”
Her parent’s, Ron and Jackie, says Sage loves the discipline of ballet – being pushed to that higher standard.
So when Irvine’s teacher recently told her about auditions for the summer program at the National Ballet, she and her parents drove up the road to try out. Irvine was one of three girls selected from the audition to spend one month at the National Ballet this July.
“I still can’t believe I have this opportunity,” she says. “I feel lucky and blessed.
“There was so much talent in the room…People there flew in from San Francisco for the opportunity.”
The summer training is actually another audition. Officials from the National Ballet will be watching Irvine and the 150 other young women selected and may offer them the opportunity to attend the school throughout the year.
If she is selected, Irvine will have to move to Toronto for the school year. While her parents want to encourage her talent, they admit that the prospect of their 14 year-old daughter moving away for school is difficult to grasp.
“Seems to have a true gift for it,” says Jackie. “I’m anxious to see how she does this summer to train with this company…This will give her a taste of what this is really all about.”
Ron says he was “caught off guard” when Sage’s teacher told them “she does have a gift and if she was interested in pursuing this she would have a favourable chance” at getting into the school.
But the idea of Sage going away for weeks is “hard as a parent.” Jackie agrees.
“We tell Sage ‘We want you to follow your dreams’…but we’re not ready…and then we think ‘Really you want that? You want to leave us?…but at the same time you want your child to flourish. It’s a learning curve for all of us.
“It’s in God’s hands; if this is the path he has for you then we have to trust that he’ll show us how to deal with it.”
As for Sage, she’s just amazed how she has gone from a soccer-playing, wrestling tomboy to a girl who loves and lives to dance.
“The last thing I pictured myself doing was ballet,” she says. “Now ballet is the one thing I want to do for the rest of my life.”