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Canada’s National Ballet School Honours Alumni in an Inaugural Symposium

By Rachel Silver
  • Juri Hiraoka (NBS alumni) with guest speakers Deborah Bull and Sue Hoyle / Photo by Tim Campbell/Siveredge Images
  • Peter Dingle, Veronica Tennant, Jamie Persson (Tapper) and Charles Berry during the Empowerment through a Healthy Mind, During Transitioning panel / Photo by Tim Campbell/Siveredge Images

The Global Alumni Symposium for Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) took place in Toronto for the first time May 20 through 22. The event brought NBS alumni together to participate in a host of activities and to hear their feedback on how the school can best prepare its students for their careers.

“We wanted to engage the alumni in helping us evolve the curriculum at the school so that we can better serve the students,” explains Cheryl Epstein, a member of the organizing committee and a speaker for the event.

“Part of the planning began almost two years ago with a survey that was sent out to the alumni asking them to reflect on ways in which the school might have better prepared them for issues they faced in their dance careers and other aspects of their lives. And we got a wide variety of answers which we then had to organize into panels.”

The symposium was free of charge to alumni, and the panel discussions were live-streamed to those who couldn’t physically make it. The seminar topics included health and wellness for current and retired dancers, self-realization, dance pedagogy and leadership. There were also dance classes, yoga classes and opportunities to watch current students rehearse the twentieth anniversary of the ballet Yondering by John Neumeier.

Epstein says that the feedback from the event has been “wonderful” and “exceeded expectations.” Those who attended in person numbered 138, and an additional forty-five alumni from around the world live-streamed the discussions (which have now been archived).

In addition to honouring their alumni, the NBS has greater goals in mind for strengthening connections between alumni, the school and students.

“One of the things we are hoping to create out of all of this is a kind of resource database around professions,” Epstein explains.

“So that if a student here at the school, or someone who is in a dance career and is ready to retire or transition out, wants to talk to somebody else who is an alumni of the school who is working in a different profession – whether it is a health profession or the law or other kinds of arts careers – [they are able to]. We are trying to create a mentorship program and a resource database where that person is able to find and reach out to people that are working in that field.”

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