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Ballet West Academy Professional Training Division student Olivia Book. Haskell Photography, Courtesy Book.

When you see Olivia Book dance, you first notice her long lines, incredible control and captivating stage presence. It's obvious why the Canadian dancer received high marks at Toronto's Youth American Grand Prix competition last year—the girl has talent! It isn't until a second or third glance that you realize that one of the 16-year-old's arms is a little different than most. Born with congenital upper extremity limb deficiency, Book's right arm ends just above her elbow and is significantly smaller than her left one. "My right arm, or 'little arm,' has forced me to rely on my left arm for all of my daily life activities," says Book.

Though she's had to work twice as hard at things that might be second nature for many dancers, Book's passion for ballet trumps any of the physical challenges she faces. "I love how beautiful ballet is," she says, "and there are so many professional ballerinas that I admire and look up to. Knowing that one day I could dance that beautifully and make ballet my career makes me so excited."

Book, who trains full time at Ballet West's Professional Training Division, appears to be well on her way to making her dreams of dancing professionally a reality. Pointe talked with Book to learn more about her path to Ballet West Academy and how she manages some of her unique challenges.

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Trending
Giannis Vlamos, Courtesy Kousouni.

Ballerina Maria Kousouni is used to an attentive audience. But when she stepped onstage in Paris this past July, her audience—not to mention the venue and the costumes—were a little unusual. After all, opening a couture fashion show for designer Celia Kritharioti during Paris Fashion Week—with British Vogue's editor in chief in the crowd—isn't exactly a typical gig. "I never imagined that I would be opening a haute couture fashion show in Paris," says KousounI, a principal dancer with the Greek National Opera Ballet. "To enter this world of fashion and beauty, which you usually admire from a distance, is a rare experience in a dancer's career."

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Ballet Stars
Alexandra MacDonald (front row, third from left) didn't win a medal at the Genée International Ballet Competition, but says she came home inspired and newly motivated by the people she met there. Photo Courtesy Genée IBC.

Ballet competitions are an exciting part of any dancer's career. Yet while scholarships, prize money, job offers and the prestige that comes with winning a medal are compelling incentives to participate in one, they're not the only benefits. In fact, many dancers who go home empty-handed still look fondly on the experience and go on to become successful professionals.

This week, the 2019 Genée International Ballet Competition kicks off in Toronto. From August 20-29, over 50 dancers, ages 15–19 and trained in the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus, will perform three solos in the hopes of winning a medal and a $10,000 cash prize. Many past medalists have gone on to illustrious careers—but so have those who didn't win anything. We spoke with three Genée alumni now dancing professionally who know what it's like not to place. Read on to find out why they deem their comp experiences a success, and how you can make the most of yours—whether you win or not.

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Just for fun
Screenshot via YouTube

Stage fright is no joke! Any dancer who's experienced the sudden whirl of butterflies in the stomach that can make you feel slightly nauseous will agree that those nerves can hamper your performance, no matter how many hours you've practiced. So we can totally relate to the tears shed by this tiny toddler as she practices her dance on stage for the first time.

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Roper took her first ballet class in college. Photo by Theik Smith, Courtesy Roper.

At first glance, Ballet Hispanico second-company member Stefanie Roper looks as though she has been dancing since she could walk. Her perfectly arched feet and petite, athletic frame accentuate a particular fluidity of movement that only the most seasoned dancer tends to be able to harness. But Roper didn't follow the conventional ballerina's path, where training from age 5 is the norm.

The Utah native first encountered dance as a freshman at Utah Valley University in Orem. Roper's pride in her Colombian and Venezuelan heritage led her to audition for a cultural-folklore dance company. Within a couple of months, she was choreographing, producing and directing most performances.

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