What started as a pen pal exchange has become one of the biggest proponents of Emma Tomlinson’s promising ballet career. It was January when a community pen pal project was launched for residents of The Wexford.
What started as a pen pal exchange has become one of the biggest proponents of Emma Tomlinson’s promising ballet career.
It was January when a community pen pal project was launched for residents of The Wexford. The Tsawwassen seniors’ residence was then subject to strict containment measures related to COVID-19. The response proved overwhelming.
“It was amazing. We got hundreds of emails, some of them from Europe and South America,” recalls John Meier, Wexford Recreation Assistant and organizer of the project. “I think people searched on Google pen pals in Canada and this article popped up. Most exciting of all was Karel and Emma.
“We have almost 70 suites here and I tried to place the letters with the right people to make it fit. When someone saw Emma’s letter they said, ‘You need to talk about this. in Karel.”
Tomlinson, 14, was encouraged by her parents to write a letter about herself and her passion for ballet. The South Delta high school student was stuck at home with her school closed and dance lessons canceled at the height of the pandemic.
Her submission ended with Karel Ley, whose lifelong friend is one of the most accomplished Canadian ballerinas of her generation.
Lynn Seymour was the same age as Tomlinson when she won a scholarship to Sadler Wells Ballet School in London. She went on to be a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, a world renowned classical ballet company.
Ironically, for three consecutive years, Tomlinson had traveled to London to attend the Royal Ballet School’s White Lodge Intensive Summer Program, where she won two Lifetime Achievement Awards and direct entry for what turned out to be be a postponed visit in 2020.
From the first letters, Tomlinson and Ley began to write to each other regularly and to exchange photos as well.
“It’s really cool. I have a lot of dancer friends, but (Karel and I) are from different generations and the fact that we have so much in common is great,” Tomlinson said.
Ley eventually moved to London and lived with Seymour as a nanny to care for her two children during the height of her career.
“I was a big fan and supported Lynn from a distance while I was here in Canada. We wrote a lot of letters when she was in London. All sorts of things she could complain about,” Ley smiled who started ballet lessons with Seymour after the couple were inspired by a Theater Under the Stars production in Stanley Park.”She had twins and was desperate for a nanny. She begged me to come. I always wanted to go to London.
Ley sees a bright future for Tomlinson who will train full-time with Vancouver’s Goh Ballet Academy starting this month, having made his debut with Deas Island Dance 10 years ago. Tomlinson inspires to dance in Europe one day and hopes to land with a professional school within the next two years.
“That’s what I really love about their relationship is that Karel offers so much advice to Emma that even I can’t because I don’t come from the same kind of background with a love of dance” added Tomlinson’s mother, Heidi Surman. “She has a long, wonderful history and knows what it’s going to take from a commitment standpoint.”