by Erin Madsen
I had my very first ballet class at age 7. My mother was my first teacher. She decided to teach dance in our small town because she said that she needed activities for my sisters and I to do to “keep us out of trouble”. It was something she knew and enjoyed so thought it would be good to share with us and the other children in town. I was young so I didn’t understand what that meant, but was excited for the opportunity. From that very first class it was LOVE!
I don’t think she, or anyone else thought it would mean so much to me. I was a chubby little girl and didn’t really look the ballerina type, but I connected to the art right from the beginning and couldn’t get enough.
At the age of 12, my family was faced with my desire to dance taking me away from home. This was not what either of my parents was hoping for, but my mother knew that staying in my small town would not be enough to take me to my dream. It was settled. I was going to Edmonton to audition for Alberta Ballet School. I attended their summer school and stayed with a few other girls in a billet. I spend 4 weeks training in a new place and familiarizing myself with living in a “big” city, while my family prepared to move here. I’m pretty sure it was not what my father or my sisters wanted, but my mother saw the many problems of staying in that small town and was determined to give her daughters more opportunity.
At the end of my summer school, I was called into the principal’s office, Miss Deborah Morgan! She was probably the most intimidating teacher I had to this point and I was terrified to sit in her office. She looked a piece of paper and then at me. There was a long pause and then she spoke. “Your thighs are too big and developed wrong. I do not have the time to fix them, you will not be invited to stay for the year”. I thanked her for her time and left. It was devastating. Was I wrong to want this so bad? Rejection hurts.
My mother then enrolled me in summer school at Edmonton School of Ballet. This was a very different experience. I worked with some very interesting teachers: David Adams, who became a large influence in my life, Maria Bokor, Clinton Rothwell and Eve Noonan. Mrs. Flynn had my mother in to her office and offered a place in her school. I was so elated, but my mother was not convinced it was what I needed. She searched the city for a ballet teacher she had seen at Alberta Ballet School, when I attended at age 9. I did not have this teacher because she only taught the majors. At last, my mother found her teaching at Marr Mac! We immediately went there for an assessment class.
That was the beginning of an amazing, difficult, frustrating journey. I dealt with great pain from my hips that almost forced me to quit. Thank goodness Mrs. Skinner was a good friend of the Artistic Director of Alberta Ballet, Mr. Lambros Lambrou. We were able to connect with the company’s physiotherapist and get on the road to recovery. Mrs. Florence Skinner was my lifeline and the most amazing teacher I had have worked with. She helped me get from having massive pain in my hips and doctors telling me to quit dancing, to completing my Advanced RAD exam at the age of 15. Because of her, I was invited to many master classes and company classes, when they came into town. I even went back to summer school at Alberta Ballet School and received the most precious compliment from Mrs. Deborah Morgan, truly the most gratifying moment in my young life. I had offers to dance in a company in Switzerland, train at École Superior in Montreal and train at the Goh Ballet in Vancouver, but my family would not allow me to leave home.
This felt like the end of the road for me. Being young and immature, I couldn’t see what I could do for a few years before my parents felt I was old enough to leave home. What do you do after you have your advanced, if you are not joining a company? That is all I ever wanted to do.
Many things happened between my best summer, training at the Banff Centre for the Arts, and that fall. My parents separated and later divorced while I was away. I was told my place was to help my sisters. I tried to continue with my training, but there was no money to pay for my classes anymore. The roadblocks just got too big. Then, my ballet teacher told me she was moving to Vancouver. She offered to take me with her family so that I could continue to train, but again, my parents were not on board. No money for my dance, no way to move forward, Alberta Ballet left Edmonton. It felt like all my opportunities were slipping through my fingers. I felt there was no other choice. I had to hang up my pointe shoes. I loved Ballet far too much to end up hating it and I never wanted to resent all the time I spent doing it.
Life became difficult. I lost my way and lost my drive. Made some not-so-good choices, but I am not one to dwell on regrets. This deep-rooted love was always there in the back, just waiting for the moment to resurface. When I had my first child at age 19, my whole world changed. I knew that I could not provide for him working a minimum wage job, but what could I do? Then my dream of ballet started again. He brought me full circle to my one love. I decided that I would go back, but this time, I would be learning to teach. I found a new direction for my passion and joy. What better way to live than sharing my biggest joy with young aspiring dancers?
From that moment on, I have not been able to step away from the studio. I love what I do. I love the inspiration it brings to new generations and I hope that one day they will look back and feel the same joy as I do. It is such an honor to share this beautiful art with so many wonderful children. Life always gives you an opportunity to find your passion. I found mine at a young age and I am so blessed that I am able to experience it every day. I fill my days learning as much as I can and working to become better than I was the day before.
Thank you to all my wonderful students! You continue to challenge me to grow. I know it is cliché, but I truly feel I learn more from you than you will ever learn from me. Follow your heart! Find what inspires you and go after it! Never let anyone tell you you’re not good enough. The choice is yours!!