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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection


Rising star captures imagination of ballet scene

By David Chilton
Special to The Toronto Sun

Julie Hay would rather not think about joining the company of those ballet dancers whose names are familiar even to those who've never seen a production of Swan Lake or The Nutcracker.

Instead, the self-effacing 25-year old is enjoying the promotion to second soloist that she was awarded by the National Ballet of Canada in May, and looking ahead to dancing in Toronto's Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts scheduled to open in 2006.
Julia Hay

Hay loves her job, although being a ballerina wasn't something she had her heart set on from the beginning.

"I couldn't say when I was three I wanted to be a ballet dancer. I think that happened when I went to a ballet school," Hay says.

Her sister, who's four years older than her, was taking ballet lessons, and their mother used to bring Julie along.

"I'd sit on the side, then I kind of joined in on the side, and eventually the teacher asked me to join in on the class."

Those ballet, jazz and tap lessons at the Carol Manning Dance Studios in Toronto lasted until Julie's family moved to Milton, Ont. when she was nine years old, but they resumed at the Kade School of Dance (now out of business). She later transferred to the Linda Collins School of Dance in nearby Burlington.

At 12, the National Ballet School offered Hay a provisional student placement. "That was a huge deal. I had a little writeup in the paper. I went there for summer school but I wasn't accepted."

Hay admits the National's rejection hurt, but she persevered. In 1989, she passed a private audition to the Quinte Ballet School in Belleville, Ont, where fees are about $8,000 a year, and moved away from home at just 12 years old.

"I was excited to go away," she recalls. "I was homesick, but maybe not as much as the other girls. I enjoyed every minute of living in residence."

Hay spent the next six years in Belleville, most of it billeted with the family of supermodel Liisa Winkler, who became her best friend as they grew up and attended ballet classes together.

Hay went to ordinary public schools in Belleville, but that didn't mean schooldays were ordinary for the fledgling ballerina.

In grades 6, 7 and 8, the dancers left at lunchtime for about four hours of ballet class. In high school she'd leave at 2 p.m. and take classes until 7.30 p.m. during the week. There was another 90 minutes of instruction on Saturdays. "We had to do all our homework on Sundays," she says with a laugh.

When Hay was 17, she auditioned once more for the National Ballet and was offered an apprenticeship -- only to turn it down because she wasn't sure what she wanted to do. A two-week trip to Europe that made her "terribly homesick" set her right, and between 1996 and 1997 she continued to learn as a National apprentice.

Instruction at the National Ballet in Toronto was largely the same as the instruction Hay received at Quinte, but the atmosphere was different. "I realized how good everyone around me was," she says.

Hay's days as an apprentice mirrored those of a regular member of the National: a warm up class from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., then rehearsals until 6:30 p.m., although on some occasions -- not many -- rehearsals lasted only a couple of hours.

In November 1997, Hay was accepted into the corps de ballet, and this spring won promotion to second soloist, a perch from which she modestly deflects questions about her future. "Just being in this company is amazing. As second soloists, we still get to do exciting, challenging roles. For me, that's enough. I don't have to be Juliette."

Hmmm. The National Ballet's choreographers may disagree.

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