By Nicole Fitzgerald
In an outdoor haven with a reputation for producing world-class athletes, a broader identity gracefully steps forward with the hard work and lofty dreams of nine-year-old Whistler resident Shay Saver.
Monday afternoon, 3 p.m., school is out, but Shay’s studies have just begun.
Young dancers clamour up and down the stairs at Soul Function Dance Studio and crowd into the dressing room to fasten their hair into ponytails and slip on dance shoes.
The lower studio is quiet with only two lone figures at work.
Studio owner and ballet instructor Codi Dalen corrects the willowy posture of Saver, who is dressed simply in pink ballet tights and a black body suit.
Extra private lessons are needed, adding to Shay’s already 12-class, six-day-a-week training schedule. The young dancer is being groomed for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet summer school — Shay is the first person from Whistler to attend the exclusive school.
From all over the globe, more than a thousand young girls with Swan-Lake dreams audition for the prestigious ballet school. Only 100 are chosen. An invitation is a huge honour. From the summer school, approximately 50 students are invited to train fulltime with the professional division program, joining Canada’s oldest ballet company and the longest continuously operating ballet company in North America.
Dalen sent two of her students to this year’s auditions earlier this month, a first for the studio. The relatively new, three-year-old studio is raising the bar on dance in Whistler, with classes spanning all dance mediums. The studio also hosts an award-winning competitive team. The regimented and demanding training schedule for the team includes everything from classes and flexibility training to diet and grooming. Shay has danced with the senior competitive team for two years; good preparation for handling audition pressures.
She stood amongst 42 other girls at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet auditions in Vancouver. She was nervous, but nerves turned to fascination as she performed the various routines.
“I thought it was really fun at the audition,” Shay says after one of her private classes with Dalen. “I liked the exercises a lot. I thought it was very interesting and beautiful.”
The flexibility test was the easiest component of the audition for the Grade 5 student, often referred to as rubber band girl.
“She’s got so much raw talent,” Dalen says. “Her body is so loose; almost Gumby like. It’s been a big step for her to gain enough muscle to control her body. She works really hard. She comes in for extra studio practice time and takes her corrections and applies them to the next class.”
Dalen says Shay’s acceptance to the school illustrates the growing awareness of dance in Whistler.
Shay, a California native, only came to Whistler three years ago. But despite growing up in one of the entertainment capitals of the world, it was a local dance production by the now defunct Whistler Dance Academy that first inspired Shay to dance.
“I had never thought about dance before,” Shay says. “I saw the academy’s year end show and I thought, ‘Wow this looks really nice. It’s something I want to do.’ So I went to (Soul Funktion’s) summer camp.”
Shay is well aware of the hard road ahead of her, but she says she is up for the challenge — the straight-A student notes she is already keeping up with school and a six-day-a-week training schedule.
“If I go to school and have dance classes all day, it’s going to be a lot of work,” Shay said. “But that’s what it is like right now for me. I am always trying to fit in homework.”
Shay studies ballet, tap, lyrical and competitive jazz at Soul Funktion. She also assists the Grade 2 ballet class.
Shay’s parents are fully behind their daughter’s ambitions. Her mother will stay with Shay while she attends the Royal Winnipeg summer school this July.
“They want me to become a good dancer and they want me to follow my dreams and to go to a school that I think would be good for me,” Shay said. “I wouldn’t be able to do this without Codi. (Dance teacher) Heather has really helped too. Codi has helped me work on my technique and ballet, and to make sure I am working to my full potential.”