Ballet dancer

Alexander goes to Austria to fulfill his dream of being a professional ballet dancer

Ben Alexander knows that achieving his dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer means sometimes having to leave family and friends to make it happen.

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Ben Alexander already knows that achieving his dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer means that he will sometimes have to leave his family and friends behind.

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When he was just 10 years old, Alexander left home to study at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto in pursuit of that dream.

Now the 19-year-old Chatham native is moving to Austria at the end of the month to join the company of Vienna State Ballet.

Alexander said he feels some of the same emotions he felt almost a decade ago as he embarked on his professional career, which again means leaving family and friends behind.

He also noted that part of him was nervous.

” What’s going to happen ? Is this the right decision? said Alexander. “But then I really have to focus on the fact that this is an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I just have to take.”

The Vienna State Ballet company had a place for a male dancer, and Alexander was recommended by the state school’s artistic director as a possible candidate.

Alexander traveled to Vienna at the end of October, where he spent a week participating in “company classes”, working with professors and ballet masters. He also attended rehearsals and was invited to attend one of the company’s shows.

“When I was there I was super excited because every day I fell more and more in love with the city and the company,” he said.

He enjoyed watching dancers to learn their styles and see how he could fit in and be part of the company.

“It was a little scary,” he said, admitting a bit of creeping doubt, “but I stayed calm and cool and collected. I just pushed through.

Ben Alexander is seen here aged 10 in the studio of longtime dance teacher Florence Abel, shortly after being accepted into Canada's National Ballet School in Toronto.  He leaves for Austria at the end of the month to join the company of the Vienna State Ballet.  (Postmedia file photo)
Ben Alexander is seen here aged 10 in the studio of longtime dance teacher Florence Abel, shortly after being accepted into Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto. He leaves for Austria at the end of the month to join the company of the Vienna State Ballet. (Postmedia file photo) Photo by Diana Martin /Diana Martin/Chatham Daily News/QMI Agency

The first person to recognize Alexander’s talent was veteran Chatham dance instructor Florence Abel, who has been teaching for 64 years. When her former student was only seven years old, she predicted that he would be the next professional dancer she would train.

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“I saw that right away,” Abel said. “He loved it from the day he walked in and he was so excited.”

Abel also cited Alexander’s impressive talent and work ethic, noting that he was able to complete the Royal Academy of Ballet Year 3 and Year 4 exams in a single year rather than the typical two.

Abel said she was “very proud” of Alexander: “I think he will do well”.

Alexander credited Abel with putting him in his path.

“She maintained a very rigorous and strict environment, but it was also very affectionate,” he said. “She was truly there for me every step of the way. I wouldn’t have gone to (the national ballet school) if it wasn’t for her.

“I owe a lot to this woman; she is very inspiring.

One of the things that appealed to Alexander was the challenge of learning ballet.

“It was so demanding, and I was always looking for something to constantly improve.”

Alexander had stood out in his class at the national school, winning the coveted Christopher Ondaatje Ballet Prize which recognizes outstanding achievement through discipline and commitment to ballet, study and personal development.

He was able to work with other ballet companies at the National School, including a month in Melbourne, Australia in the summer of 2018 to train with the Australian Ballet School.

In the summer of 2019, he was in Tokyo, Japan, performing from La Bayadère at a gala. In February 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, he traveled to Hamburg, Germany to perform at another ballet gala.

“I had a lot of opportunities to travel during my stay at (the national school), which I am really grateful for.

“I’m living my dream.”

“It’s very surreal right now,” he added. “I left with the goal of becoming a principal dancer and I’m on the verge of realizing that dream.”

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