Back (L-R): Andrea Rojas Ortiz, María Isabel Salgado, Chelsea Mulholland, Ambre Orfao, Yiming Cai  |  Front (L-R): Kurumi Yoshimoto, Marina Mendez  |  Missing: Lara Kennedy, Yael Zifroni

Here at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, students come from across Canada, including from First Nations, and, internationally. The School has welcomed students from Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil, China, Colombia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, England, France, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Mozambique, New Zealand, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Serbia, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, Trinidad, and the United States.

We are delighted to have nine full-time international students currently studying with us in 2018-19 – Yiming Cai (Singapore), Lara Kennedy (USA), Marina Mendez (Mexico), Chelsea Mulholland (USA), Ambre Orfao (France), Andrea Rojas Ortiz (Mexico), María Isabel Salgado (Colombia), Kurumi Yoshimoto (Japan), and Yael Zifroni (Israel).

Here is what they had to say about their lives as dancers and their time at the School:

What was your introduction to dance?

MARINA M: “My first introduction to dance was from one of my aunts, who started studying contemporary dance at our local university. I grew up with the idea of wanting to do the same.”

CHELSEA M: “My mom put me in classes when I was young but I stopped around the age of 11 and was reintroduced when I was 21. After studying French and philosophy at university for four years I decided to take some time off. I moved to Southern California where I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do next and sort of regroup. I decided to move to San Francisco where I took some classes of interest at a City College – dance was one of them. I quickly went from one class a week to 20 hours a week, not really wanting to do anything else.”

AMBRE O: “I began studying contemporary dance when I was five years old at a conservatory in my hometown of Igny, France. I tried it and became very passionate about it. I love all the improvisation and the opportunity to develop my creativity.”

MARÍA S: “In my country, it’s really common for families and gatherings to include dancing. My first introduction to dance was ballet when I was really young, but I guess I found the passion through social dance – me, my family and my friends.”

YAEL Z: “I started dancing in second grade. My introduction to dance was flamenco; that was the first thing I ever did. I did that for seven years. I never thought it was something that I would quit – I thought it was something I would do forever. And then a manager of a dance studio in my hometown saw me on stage and recommended that I try to get more education in a new field of dance, and then I fell in love with contemporary and Graham.”

Why the School of TDT/Toronto/Canada?

СHELSEA M: “One of my friends at a city college in San Francisco actually found the School’s Intensive online, and I decided to apply. I had never been to Canada before which intrigued me, and the program looked very well rounded, so I gave it a go and had a really fulfilling experience. I noticed that even though we (the summer students) were only there for a month, the teachers were all still very invested in our individual progress. They had so much knowledge, patience, and care for our growth. I thought “if they have this much care for the summer school students I can’t even imagine what kind of devotion they make for their full time students.” In the Intensive we also had demonstrators for the classes who were either currently studying or had recently graduated and I was in awe of each one of them. I returned the following year for the Intensive and to audition.”

ANDREA O: “Although I love my country and my culture and I was already dancing in Mexico,  something inside me was not satisfied; I knew that my body needed to be trained in a different way, and I needed personal, professional, and physical challenges, so I set myself the goal of studying abroad, which would make me grow in all those areas. After thorough online research, I came across the School of TDT. I loved the prestigious program, the feedback from alumni, and the feeling I had, telling me that that was the right place for me to become a professional dancer.”

KURUMI Y: “I wanted to work somewhere outside of Japan, and I also wanted to study English. I had three choices – Australia, New Zealand, or Canada, and I chose Canada. I like it here – I like Toronto, and that’s why I wanted to stay longer. I was talking about this with my friend, who then recommended the School.”

YAEL Z: “My teacher is a graduate of the School of TDT – Mor Bar-Zakai (2008). She was my Graham and contemporary teacher. I loved the approach she had; it was a really healthy approach to dance and to the body. It had a certain acceptance that I didn’t feel from my other teachers. She taught me how to work with what I have, and not to aspire to something I could never get. She told me lots about the School, and about the teachers. I actually heard of ‘Ballet Bob’ when I was 16 or 17 years old, and then I came here and he taught me. It’s insane!”

Any highlights from your time here so far?

YIMING C: “There have been many highlights… dancing with my class, for sure. Each semester there’s a show, and with each show there are lots of memorable moments. Sometimes those moments are when we have to pull through difficult rehearsal processes, to come together and do things that are memorable. Aside from dancing, there are also other things that I really cherish. Sometimes it’s the heart-to-heart talks I have with friends and faculty. I know when I first came here, I wasn’t yet adjusted to the city, being so far away from home. The people at the School were very welcoming, and warm, and would invite me for festival holidays so I wouldn’t feel so lonely. So those are things I really remember.”

LARA K: “I like all the people; everybody is really nice. It’s a different way of thinking about movement than we have in the U.S., where it’s very technical; and here it’s still technical, but the muscles are very important and the ideas and the feelings behind dance are things I had never thought about before. It’s exciting!”

AMBRE O: “Working with the experienced faculty and my classmates – they are very supportive, and have great energy. We try things and really go for it.”

ANDREA O: “Everything has been lovely: my classmates, teachers, all the classes, performances, the opportunity to choreograph, perform, and co-produce for the student-run productions, Coffee House, etc. There have been tough days and struggles, but that is life, and I am just thankful that I am in a safe and creative space to go through my path, fully supported. A funny happened in first year: due to my poor English, I had no idea “Rep” meant repertory and I realized we were actually preparing a piece for performance, about three weeks after we started rehearsals.”

What challenges or surprises have you faced?

YIMING C: “Dance is an art form that takes a lot of time to develop, I think… practising it yourself, you really get to understand that you can’t change your body overnight, or in a month, or six months. It’s just trying to do the best you can and then hoping the development comes through the process, and having the patience for that. That is the challenge: being focused while being patient at the same time.”

MARINA M: “Well… it’s been quite a trip! This is my first time living by myself, and in another country. It was very hard in the beginning and I didn’t want to stay. But I guess it’s part of growing up, facing challenging situations. I’m honoured, and glad, and want to be here. I followed through, and I will keep reaching for my career as a dancer.”

CHELSEA M: “The biggest challenge for me has been the weather. The snow and I do not agree for long periods of time. It’s beautiful to look at and has something very calming about it, but actually going outside and getting around in the city can be pretty uncomfortable. Although, on the other hand, I have found that during the winter months there is a different sense of camaraderie. People aren’t very mean to each other because Mother Nature’s sort of got that base covered. There’s a ‘we’re all in it together’ kind of feel. Maybe that’s why Canadians are so nice.”

MARÍA S: “In Canada, I think there’s a lot of knowledge of modern dance techniques, but I didn’t know any of them. I didn’t even know that kind of movement existed in history. Coming here, and everybody knowing a specific language of movement, was totally new for me, so that was a big challenge: to get all that information in my body. But it is a nice challenge.”

Anything you would like to say to other prospective international students?

LARA K: “They should do it!”

ANDREA O: “It is not a rumour – Canadians are super nice! You will feel welcome and supported during your journey, and if dancing is what you love, the School is a great place to realistically and professionally reinforce your training.”

MARÍA S: “Canada is a really friendly country, and it’s also a friendly environment to grow. Everybody is betting on you to be the best dancer, and the best person. So there’s no pulling you down, or competition; there’s only growth. It’s such a beautiful environment – I really recommend it.”

KURUMI Y: “I think I’m the oldest in my class, and I also struggle with the English language the most. But everyone here (students and teachers) are very nice, and always try to explain things to me. Try new things; don’t be afraid! There are lots of international students here at the School; everyone is open and helpful and they are always willing to talk.”

YAEL Z: “Don’t be afraid of the big change, because it’s worth it. The School, the teachers, the tools you’re getting: everything. You have to be like a sponge when you’re here. Just absorb everything you can – the vibes, the teachers, the people, the corrections. You won’t get it anywhere else! So don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone, and going to a new place. Maybe there’s a language barrier, maybe it won’t be as comfortable as home, but it’s worth it.”