AMHERST, N.S. – Dina Leisch believes she can make a dancer out of anybody.
“The Royal Ballet might take one out of 100 dancers,” said Leisch, ballet instructor at the Atlantic Dance Academy. “I take everyone, and from this potential I’m make a dancer.”
Leish opened the dance academy in Amherst 13 years ago, and her students are currently rehearsing the 2018 production of The Nutcracker.
This is the twelfth year the academy has staged The Nutcracker.
“They get more training every year and their dancing skill get better and better. They’re dancing professionally. I think this performance is going to be the very best,” said Leisch.
Leisch has a solid background in ballet.
Originally from North Korea, she moved to Moscow at the age of 10 and attended the Bolshoi Ballet School.
“After I finished that I danced at several opera houses, and after that I studied to be a choreographer and ballet teacher at the GITIS University in Moscow, which is the Russian Academy of Theatre Arts,” said Leisch. “I then taught ballet at the Vienna state opera ballet school and I gave ballet training at the Vienna state opera house. I was also a ballet teacher in Hamburg.”
And how did she end up teaching ballet in Amherst? It started when she bought property in New Brunswick, not far from Sackville.
“I bought property here and I came to look at the property and I loved it. I saw the cozy, small town and the people were nice and, somehow, I fell in love with it,” she said. “Everybody asks me ‘what are you doing here?’ The reality is that I like it here alot.”
She says it’s not easy running a ballet school but gets easier with time.
“It’s established and is running better and better every year, so I’m happy working here.”
She takes her job very serious, and says she has to teach her students both physically and psychologically.
“Ballet is an art. We are talking through our body, our conversation is through the body, you express your soul through your body, you have to bring body and soul together.”
She says her students are doing really well.
“The class is very intelligent and they’re focused almost 100 per cent, but they’re kids so it’s not 100 per cent.”
Hector Bligh, is the Prince in this year’s production of the Nutcracker.
He’s been training at the academy for five years and says Leisch is very demanding.
“Sometimes I mind it but most of the time I deal with it. It speeds up the progress,” said the 14-year-old, Grade 9 student at Amherst Regional High School.
Bligh is originally from Somerset, England.
“I’m not very good at basketball and not very good at football or anything like that, so dancing keeps me active,” said Bligh. “I’ve always been very expressive and very musical, so it’s right for me in that aspect.”
He trains in ballet up to five or six days a week.
“I think most people don’t realize how much hard work it is. It’s very strenuous, both physically and mentally, but it’s worth it,” he said. “It helps with the determination to get things done, and helps with will power and strength in all aspects. It’s very beneficial.”
This is the first year he’s played the Prince, and says it requires upper body strength.
“I need more upper body strength for lifts, so I’ve been going to the gym for about three months now to strengthen my body. It’s coming a long really well.”
The girl he will be lifting is Olivia Patriquin. She’s also been at the academy for about five years.
Leisch says she’s doing really well.
“She’s doing very beautifully. She’s showing a lot of emotion and her acting is wonderful.”
Patriquin has been at the academy and this is her first year playing the main character of Clara.
“It’s a bit tougher because there’s a lot of technique to work on and I need to express a lot of emotion,” said Patriquin, a Grade 7 student at E.B. Chandler.
Her sister Sophie played the Clara last year, and says it’s nerve-wracking to take over the role from her sister.
Sophie is two years older than me and she was really amazing, so I hope to do as well.”
Can she do better than her sister?
“I think I can do as well and maybe a bit better.”
“She’s going to do better than me,” said Sophie. “I was the same age as her when I did Clara but she’s more developed than I was at that age.”
The ballet is staged Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. at Convocation Hall in Sackville.
The ballet is two hours long, with one intermission.
“I’m excited to try this great big role by myself, and I hope everyone comes out and watch the show,’ said Patriquin.