Heather Milne, Courtesy RWB

Royal Winnipeg Ballet Has Invited a Former Student with Brain Cancer to Perform with the Company

When Catherine Wreford found out that she had brain cancer in June 2013, with doctors predicting she had only two to six years left to live, there was one thing she knew she wanted to do: dance.

She had grown up training in the recreational division at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, then went on to perform on Broadway and in musical theater productions around the country. She eventually left the stage to find more stable work, running a mortgage company and later getting a nursing degree because, she says, "I knew that I could do that for a long time."

But a diagnosis of anaplastic astrocytoma meant she didn't have a long time left.


Catherine Welcome stands in front of a group of dancers, all raising their port de bras in a welcoming gesture, right hand up

Wreford in rehearsal at Royal Winnipeg Ballet

Heather Milne, Courtesy RWB

"When I was diagnosed, I got the opportunity to discover what truly makes me happy," she says. "Being onstage and performing and teaching and expressing my love of dance and just being able to be present was the answer."

After nine years away from the studio, she's once again taken to performing, appearing in Winnipeg's outdoor Rainbow Stage for five different musicals, choreographing for Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, among other organizations, and teaching musical theater classes at a local dance school.

This month, a longtime dream is also coming true: She's performing with her best friend Craig Ramsay. The pair originally met at RWBS, and bonded closely over their shared love of musical theater. (Like a line out of "Center Stage," she didn't quite have the feet for ballet, while he didn't have the heart.)

RWB invited the pair to perform as Lady and Lord Capulet in the company's upcoming production of Romeo & Juliet, after Wreford and Ramsay (who also went on to perform on Broadway, and is now a reality TV star on Bravo) visited their old stomping grounds last summer.

"Not only is dance good for her soul, but it's good for her survival," says Ramsay of watching the rehearsal process. "I believe dance has been an outlet that has allowed her to keep going and stay with us."

Case in point: This June will mark six years since her diagnosis, the upper limit of her doctors' original predictions for life expectancy. Yet she's still going strong.

Although Wreford is wearing character shoes rather than pointe shoes, her and Ramsay's roles are far more involved than mere supernumeraries. "There's much more dancing than we expected," says Wreford, with a wry laugh. Even after years away from the barre, both say the classical ballet steps are still ingrained in their bodies.

"Once a dancer, always a dancer," adds Ramsay.

While some in the ballet community have wondered whether this casting is merely a publicity stunt, other well-wishers have made heartfelt videos for the pair, with the hashtag #merdecraigandcath.

For her part, Wreford remains grateful for the chance to show her two kids the power of determination. "I want to inspire them, and I want them to know that just because I have brain cancer, it is not going to stop me."

Latest Posts


Courtesy Tiler Peck

Tiler Peck's Top 10 Tips for Training at Home

On March 15, New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck announced to her 172,000-plus Instagram followers that she'd be teaching a live class from her family's home in Bakersfield, California, where she's currently waiting out COVID-19. Little did she know that she'd receive such a viral response. Since then, Peck has offered daily Instagram LIVE classes Monday through Friday at 10 am PST/1 pm EST, plus an occasional Saturday class and Sunday stretch/Pilates combo. "The reaction was just so overwhelming," she says. "These classes are keeping me sane, and giving me something to look forward to."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Miranda Weese and Damian Woetzel in "Swan Lake" (1999)

This February, New York City Ballet presented Peter Martin's two-act version of Swan Lake. In her New York Times review, Gia Kourlas reminisced about some of NYCB's past Odette/Odiles, pointing to a masterful, and high stakes, 1999 "Live From Lincoln Center" performance starring Miranda Weese and Damian Woetzel. With just an hour's notice, Weese stepped in to dance the Swan Queen for an injured Darci Kistler. The live television broadcast was Weese and Woetzel's first time dancing these roles together, though you'd never know; in this clip of the White Swan pas de deux the pair looks connected and utterly captivating.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
An instructor from The Hive in Chicago leads class over Zoom (courtesy The Hive)

The Dance Student's Guide to Making the Best—and the Most—of At-Home Training

If you're social distancing to do your part to slow the spread of COVID-19, you've inevitably realized that training safely and successfully at home poses a significant challenge. We talked to dance experts to find out how you can make the best of this less-than-ideal scenario—and about the unexpected ways it can help you grow as a dancer and artist.

Keep reading SHOW LESS