Ainsley Nivens is pirouetting towards her dream of becoming a ballerina by joining the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s professional school this fall.
The 12-year-old from Red Deer is in elite company. She is among only 70 dancers from around the globe chosen to complete Grades 6 to 12 at the renowned company’s year-round training school.
Ainsley attended a month-long summer camp at RWB this summer, along with other dancing hopefuls from across Canada as well as Korea, Australia and the U.S. The program was treated was like a prolonged audition for the professional school, she recalled. “The artistic director was always looking at you,” watching for good form and technique.
In the end, Ainsley was among a handful of dancers invited to move into the RWB dormitory to start Grade 7 at the ballet school next month.
This means most of her academic subjects will be compressed into morning studies at the nearby University of Winnipeg secondary school, freeing up most afternoons for ballet training under professional mentors in the RWB dance studio.
“I”m very excited, but also kind of nervous,” said Nivens, who will miss her parents, big brother and friends. “But I think it will be a good experience.”
While she has no family in Winnipeg, she’s gotten to know the city and supportive RWB teaching staff while studying there this summer. “It was hard training, but really fun and everybody there is so nice,” recalled Nivens, who had been attending Red Deer’s Central Middle School.
Her mom, Shannon Nivens, admitted it will be difficult to have Ainsley move away at such a young age. “But this is the path she’s wanted since she was six years old. I don’t want to stand in her way.” Ainsley has always loved dancing, said Shannon.
She started classes at Dance Magic when she was just two, later studied at the Penhold School of Dance, and has been dreaming about dancing with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet ever since she was in Grade 1.
Ainsley remembers checking out a book on the ballet company from her school library. “I was the only one who ever borrowed the book. No one ever took it out, but me.” She poured over pictures of the RWB dorm rooms and the dancers in their navy blue leotards.
“I love the feeling that you get, moving to the music,” said the student. “It gets your mind off of things and you can lose yourself in dance. It’s a way of express yourself… sort of like another language, almost.”
Ainsley’s parents, including dad, Todd Nivens, plan to do a lot of Skype-ing to keep in close contact with their daughter during the school year. “And they’ll get to know the highway between Red Deer and Winnipeg quite well,” predicted Ainsley
“— And the airport,” added her mom.
Ainsley hopes to stretch her dance skills at every grade level, so she will be invited to continue with the professional school until graduation. Students are weeded out at every grade, either by school officials, by injury, or their own decision to go on another career path.
Ainsley’s goal is to be accepted by a professional company someday. “I’d love to dance in their Nutcracker Ballet at Christmas.”