Michaela Skuce is ready to step onto the world stage of dance now that she has graduated from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, Professional Division.
First, the Rossland teenager is going to let her hair down and en avant to the grand alpines to stretch her legs out of studio. Most of all, she’s yearning to spend some quality time with her mom, dad and older sister.
Michaela was only 12 years old when she was accepted into one of the world’s most prestigious dance programs at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Canada’s oldest ballet company.
Dance was her calling, leaving her family wasn’t so easy.
But away she went, moving 1,800 kilometres east and into her purpose of one day becoming a professional ballerina.
Now 18, and after six years of studying ballet eight hours each day with only Sundays “off”, Michaela is graduating from the ballet program this weekend (June 10).
So how did such a young girl so far from home, stay on track to success?
Simply put, she has the heart and mind of a dancer.
“For me, personally, I really like the work in ballet,” Michaela said. “And working towards the goal of performing, I think some people find it hard to discipline themselves and take class every day and work on the same things everyday,” she shared. “But I actually really enjoy that part, doing the class work and working on polishing the little details. Something I really like about ballet is the amount of work you put into it is directly related to how much you improve – so the more you work the more you improve – it’s really satisfying to see the result of your hard work.”
And her mom, father and older sister couldn’t be prouder.
“It’s not easy sending off your almost 13 year old to live and study something in another province,” says mom Michele Skuce. “When Michaela announced at age 10 that she wanted to become a professional dancer and a professional dance teacher, she may as well have told me that she wanted to become an astronaut,” she added. “Not many people would devote six years studying and practicing an exacting art form that is incredible demanding and difficult to master, but there you go.”
After some down time in her hometown, Michaela will be ready to start auditioning and land a job with a professional dance company – in Canada or abroad.
“My next step is to put myself out there and see where’s a good fit,” she said. “And I’m definitely excited because now is the fun part – I get to perform more and it’s not as a student. But I am also nervous about finding a job.”
The extra challenging ballet program sets the graduates up for what comes next, because the school is very difficult to get into, and once in, “acceptance” isn’t over.
“The students are reassessed and re-accepted into it each year and they have formal exams where they perform in front of, and are marked by the entire artistic staff,” explained Michele.
“Ballet has a very high attrition rate. For example, from Michaela’s original class of 13 girls, only one other has graduated from the program. A couple decided not to continue, but in many cases they aren’t re-accepted. So it’s tough and extremely demanding.”
On top of a full day of dance, the students face a tough academic load as well.
Michaela pushed through the challenge, and graduated on the Dean’s list as a student of highest distinction in her academics last year.
“That was a great achievement, especially with the schedule of classes and rehearsals they juggle, and doing all their own laundry, running their own errands and making their own appointments at the shoe room, for example,” Michele noted. “Dancers’ careers are precarious and short, and most have a viable Plan B and take their academic studies seriously … by precarious I mean they can be injured just like any athlete.”
At the end of the day, ongoing support from Michaela’s inspiration, former teacher Renee Salsiccioli of Kootenay Danceworks, and the community-at-large, helped the young dancer achieve her remarkable goal.
“The thank-you’s, this is really the most important part of the whole piece in my mind,” said Michele. “We are so proud of Michaela but it also made me really appreciate where we live and the people here who’ve really pulled for her along the way,” she added.
“We have been so grateful for the community support she’s been given … via the Rossland Arts Council through Columbia Basin Trust (Kootenay Cultural Alliance) for two years, the Trail Arts Council (also via Kootenay Cultural Alliance), the Rossland Legion, and the Nelson and District Credit Union … this is in addition to a BC Arts Council Scholarship and several scholarships from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. We are really grateful for all this support.”