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Ballet Bloch Canada bringing Cinderella to life in West Vancouver

North Vancouver's Keenan Mentzos, who will play the Prince role, earned the junior gold medal in the Youth America Grand Prix finals held recently in New York

A casual suggestion from a doctor to the mother of the three-year-old Tracy-Lea Bloch set the stage for a life filled with creative expression and choreographic exploration.

“I did ballet because I was knock-kneed and pigeon-toed as a child,” said Bloch. “My mom had taken me to many doctors and specialists, and the last one she took me to just said, ‘Send her to ballet. That’ll sort out her legs.’ And I started ballet as a very young child and just loved it.”

Today, as the artistic director of Ballet Bloch Canada, based on the North Shore, she has transformed her own life and the lives of her students.

The school has been running for 12 years, and has been particularly successful for students on an international level over the past year.

Ballet Bloch recently sent seven students to participate in the Youth America Grand Prix, an international classical ballet competition, with five students making it to the finals of the competition held in New York in April.

North Vancouver’s Keenan Mentzos, who just turned 15, was awarded the junior gold medal and was offered a full scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in London, Covent Gardens.

“This young man is destined to dance as a classical ballet dancer,” said Bloch. “He is so talented and extremely musical. He really just dances from his soul. He is an absolute pleasure to watch perform, and he’s been a pleasure to teach.”

While speaking extensively about Mentzos, Bloch’s enthusiasm extends to all of her school’s students, celebrating their unique talents.

Ballet Bloch Canada has about 40 students aged seven to 18 years.

“It’s a small school because we are really focused on classical ballet training and contemporary dance,” she said. “We don’t do many different genres, like many other dance schools. We focus on serious training for students who wish to dance professionally when they graduate high school.”

Students take classes from conditioning to pointe to strength training six days a week. They do 24 hours of training per week.

In addition to offering classes, Ballet Bloch Canada holds regular performances. Each December, the school performs Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, a traditional performance open to any dancer in Vancouver. Last year close to 100 children participated in the production, Bloch said.

The school also does an end-of-year gala each June, with productions of classics such as Swan Lake, Giselle, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, and many others.

For this year, the school has decided to perform Cinderella. The ballet adaptation will be performed on June 7 at the Kay Meek Arts Centre in West Vancouver. The performance will feature graduating student Audrey Vittes dancing in the lead role of Cinderella and Mentzos dancing in the role of Prince.

Born in South Africa, Bloch was accepted to a ballet dance school at the age of 10. Later, she performed classical ballet with one of South Africa’s top ballet companies for eight years. Then she taught classical ballet for six years before moving to the U.K. in 1998, where she trained and worked as a Pilates and gyrotonic instructor. Gyrotonic exercise is a form of rehabilitation for dancers. Bloch explained that the designer of gyrotonic developed this technique using specialized equipment to help dancers recover from injury or improve their ability to perform.

Bloch then moved to Canada has been living on the North Shore and teaching ballet for the past 18 years.

“I find myself putting every minute of every day into turning a ballet production into such a good experience for students,” she said. “It’s something they can enjoy, work hard for, and really feel rewarded at the end of the performance.”

Bloch believes people don’t need to know about classical ballet to enjoy the performance. She encourages North Shore residents to explore classical ballet, suggesting it’s worth supporting.

“Attending once or twice a year can keep children and grandchildren interested in the arts,” she said. “They might enjoy the music, costumes, or simply the theatre experience. Come and see the show, support the dancers, and bring your family.”

Fatemeh Falah is an intern reporter with the North Shore News. She can be contacted at [email protected].