A young Chilliwack ballet dancer is one step closer to living her dream.
Isabella Watkins, 11, (who goes by Bella) was recently handed a full scholarship to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School’s Professional Division Summer Session program — and she never even applied for the scholarship.
It all happened last month. The ballet adjudicator at the Surrey Festival of Dance noticed Bella’s talent and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to offer her a chance to train at one of the most comprehensive dance schools in Canada.
Over her eight years of dancing, Bella has excelled quickly and has impressed many people, says mom Andrea Watkins.
“She was always, from the beginning, a level or two ahead of her age group,” Andrea adds.
Bella was born in Kamloops and grew up in San Diego. She began dancing when she was three, first at a recreation centre and then at a dance school, constantly outgrowing the teachings for her age. When Bella was nine, she attended the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet. She moved back to B.C. with her mom six months ago and has since been with the Fraser Valley Academy of Dance in Mission.
“I think when we really started to see a growth in her was four years ago,” her mom says.
That’s when Bella’s dad and Andrea’s husband, Larry Watkins, passed away.
“Instead of counselling, she used dance as her counselling. Instead of taking her to counsellors… it wasn’t helping her, so what I did was added more dance classes,” explains Andrea.
“That was her way of expressing herself and her way of getting her mind off of things and her way of really dealing with things. And she excelled from there.”
It was at that time that her teachers began telling her that she had a “very high level of talent” and was an “exquisite” dancer.
Bella eats, sleeps and breathes ballet, and she loves every moment of it. It all seems to come completely naturally to her. She never gets stage fright — the stage is her calm place.
“I like how it makes me feel. It makes me feel happy and it keeps my mind off of a bunch of things, like emotions,” says Bella.
|(Jenna Hauck/ The Progress)|
She has a barre at home where she practises daily, and that’s on top of the 24 hours of training she does every week, Monday to Friday in the pre-professional academy division at Fraser Valley Academy of Dance.
“She’ll hear music on a commercial and she’ll go downstairs [to her barre] and dance to it,” says Andrea.
And that’s why Bella’s ballet skills didn’t go unnoticed at the Surrey Festival of Dance. Her dedication to dance paid off that one day in April when an instructor from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet noticed her.
For a few months of the year, from October to January, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet travels across Canada holding auditions for its Professional Division Summer Session program. Dancers who get accepted to the program must then pay the tuition, or some are given scholarships. But this all happened to Bella in April, months after the auditions were finished.
The scholarship came completely out of left field. Something that other dancers have to audition for, was simply handed to her.
“That’s why we were crying. We were in shock,” says Andrea, adding she had 24 hours to accept the offer. “This is an opportunity we couldn’t give up. It’s her dream.”
In two months, Bella will be going on a road trip with her mom to the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. The three-and-a-half-week long summer program begins July 2 and she’ll be training six days a week.
“She loves being challenged, she works hard. She has a goal and a dream and she’s on a little bit of a different path,” says Bella’s mom. “She eats different, she sleeps different, she trains different. And everybody supports her in that path.”
“I can see it in her when she does dance, her heart comes out,” says Bella’s grandmother Janice Hastie. “When she does have a hard time, she dances her little heart out.”
“It’s cool that she’s found her passion so early,” adds Andrea. “It’s every mother’s dream that [her child] finds their passion and their purpose so early in life.”
Every step of Bella’s young ballet life has has gotten her closer to her lifelong goal of one day dancing at the Paris Opera House.
“There’s no doubt on anybody’s mind. Everybody who watches her dance says there’s no question she’s going to make it.”