Two sisters from Dartmouth had a rare chance to fulfill a dream at a Toronto ballet school this summer—and to do it together. Maggie and Mollie Oates-Johnson (age 10 and 13) demonstrated the talent, technique and determination necessary to win a place in Canada’s National Ballet School summer program.
The sisters were two of roughly 1,000 aspiring dancers who auditioned in 20 cities across Canada. Only about 175 of them were accepted into the summer program at the revered Toronto institution. The second stage of the audition process for the year-round professional program, summer school consisted of four intensive weeks of training and scrutiny.
The daily routine of dance classes and conditioning was gruelling but the girls were quick to embrace it. It was Mollie’s choice to rise at 6:30 a.m. to stretch and to cross things off her list of goals. The older of the two, she’s wanted to be a professional dancer for most of her life and the NBS was her ultimate goal.
“All I want to do is dance,” she says, from her Dartmouth home. “If I didn’t dance I just couldn’t envision that. Like I don’t think that would be me.”
Despite an appearance of maturity beyond their years, the sisters are full of giggles as they share stories about roommates at summer school, funny “photo ops” in the swimming pool and an outing to a lion safari. But ballet class itself is the strongest memory. The plan was to dance and to learn.
“My focus was to improve on my technique,” Maggie says.
“I learned a lot of new steps and new pointe,” says Mollie. “I came out of there with much stronger ankles.”
Each girl discovered the world of dance around age three. They call the Leica Hardy School of Dance, a “second home.” They spend up to 16 hours a week there during the school year. Both perform extensively and spent many summer weeks training intensively.
Their teacher, Leica Hardy, says the girls have always been dedicated and focused, describing them as part of a “different breed,” the kind that go after their chosen art or sport with exceptional intensity and discipline. “These kids are smart,” she says. “These kids are focused. They’re not going to go hang out at the mall. They’re part of something larger and they know it.”
A ticket to Canada’s National Ballet School is an elusive goal. The NBS is known for its rigid selection process, partial to certain body types and abilities, and choosing only a lucky few from a large pool. Young dancers yearn to go there and return year after year to try all over again.
The audition in Halifax last November was Maggie’s second attempt. Organizers selected her the same day. Then came Mollie’s call back. She made the cut on her third attempt.
Their mother, Tina Oates-Johnson, says when Mollie learned she would go with her sister, “a happy and peaceful look came over her face. She had waited for this opportunity and wanted it badly inside.”