Volume 6 Week 51

Friday, Feb. 23


Updated March 170

Updated July 223

Orléans Ward
Bob Monette


(Posted 12:30 p.m., Nov. 6)

East end dancer earns invite to prestigious ballet school
By Fred Sherwin
Orleans Online

Twelve-year-old Emma Portner has been invited to the National Ballet School’s summer program for the third year in a row. Fred Sherwin/Photo

Emma Portner loves to dance. Jazz, hip hop, tap, ballet... you name it she does it. She competes in all four disciplines and often trains up to 20 hours a week at the Leeming Danceworks studio in Orléans.

Two years ago, Emma auditioned for the National Ballet School’s summer program as a 10-year-old and was accepted.

After attending the month-long session in Toronto, she received an invitation to join the school’s full-time program. She ended up graciously declining for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the idea of being away from home for the entire school year. She also wasn’t prepared to walk away from the other dance disciplines she loves so much to concentrate solely on ballet.

“Here I get to do whatever I want to do, plus all my friends are here,” says Emma who is currently in Grade 8 at St. Peter High School.

Emma ended up attending the summer school auditions again last fall and was invited back a second time, but unfortunately, because of a conflict in scheduling with the American Dance Awards championships in Orlando she had to decline.

During the past year and a bit, however, she’s stayed in contact with a number of the girls she met at last year’s summer school program who accepted the invitation to go to Toronto and study ballet full-time.

“They all love it,” says Emma, whose been a member at Leeming Danceworks since she was five years old.

As a result of the conversations she had with her friends, Emma started thinking about trying out for the summer program, which is a mandatory prerequisite to getting an invitation to the regular school, a third time .

The auditions were held last month and Emma passed with flying colors. She also attended the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School’s summer auditions in Ottawa and passed those as well.

Her plan now is to go to the National Ballet School summer program and earn an invitation to the full-time program.

Leeming Danceworks owner Sharon Leeming says that being invited to the prestigious summer school three years in a row is extremely rare especially if you’ve already turned down an invitation to the full-time program.

“I’ve never had a student invited three times before Emma,” says Leeming who has been teaching Portner ballet since she was very young.

Whether or not Emma decides to pursue the opportunity to join the National Ballet School on a full-time basis should it present itself still remains to be seen. However, there is no question that she is definitely leaning toward that way. Going to the school is serious business that requires a serious commitment. Most of the students who are from out of town and stay in residences. They study up to 12 hours a day, six days a week, 11 months out of the year.

Emma’s mother, Heather Paszkowski, says the final decision will be 90 per cent her daughter’s, although she and her husband plan to guide her 100 per cent of the way.

“We’ll guide her, but she has to be the one who makes the decision on whether she’s ready to go or not and whether she wants to be away from home. It’s a big decision,” says Paszkowski.

Even if her daughter does get an invitation and does decide to accept it, it doesn’t mean that she can’t change her mind down the road.

“She can try it definitely and if she loves it that’s great and if she hates it then she can come back home,” says Paszkowski.

Each year about 1,000 dancers attend auditions for the National Ballet School’s summer program in 23 different centres including Ottawa. Out of that number, only about 200 are invited to attend the summer school. Of that number only 50 will be invited to the full-time program.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)



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Bob Monette

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