Canada’s National Ballet School | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Canada’s National Ballet School

Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS), based in Toronto, is an independent boarding and day school for students from Grades 6 through 12. Widely regarded as one of the world's leading institutes for dance education, it offers an integrated program of academic studies and dance instruction for about 150 students. Although separate institutions, the NBS has always been closely associated with its original parent organization, the National Ballet of Canada. Students have regularly appeared in National Ballet performances, and the school remains a major recruitment centre for the company. NBS graduates have provided the company with some of its finest artists, including Martine Van Hamel, Veronica Tennant, Karen Kain, Frank Augustyn, Kevin Pugh, Rex Harrington, Martine Lamy, John Alleyne and James Kudelka. The NBS remains a prestigious international training institute and an important player in Canada's arts community.


The school was founded in 1959 by the National Ballet of Canada’s then-artistic director, Celia Franca. Betty Oliphant, the school’s founding principal, was charged with running it. In 1961, the school acquired its own charter as an independent organization.

From small premises in a former Quaker meeting house in downtown Toronto, under Oliphant the school expanded impressively on two main sites to include several large studios, classrooms, a theatre, swimming pool, physiotherapy centre and modern residence block. In recognition of the unusual stresses placed on students in what amounts to an educational hothouse, the school has always placed great emphasis on providing students with professional counselling and career guidance as needed. Under Oliphant, the school developed training techniques that placed great emphasis on an unmannered purity of movement that could adapt itself to the increasingly diverse requirements of today's choreographers.

The school endeavours to be accessible to all talented children through a program of bursaries and scholarships for which it actively solicits private support to supplement its now diminished public funding base. Annual auditions for admission are held in over 22 centres across Canada. Students from abroad are also eligible for admission. Historically, the NBS has attracted a significant number of foreign students.

The curriculum is designed to provide a balanced education both for those contemplating a professional dance career and for those who may decide to pursue other careers. The NBS also offers a special intensive ballet program beyond Grade 12, a summer school that also functions as an extended audition, and an acclaimed teacher-training program. NBS students have long distinguished themselves as prizewinners in numerous international ballet competitions. Despite its function as a feeder school for the National Ballet of Canada, its graduates have often gone on to dance with leading ballet troupes around the world.

Notable Figures and Events

Mavis Staines was named associate director in 1984. She succeeded Oliphant as artistic director and ballet principal in 1989. In 1988, the school opened the Betty Oliphant Theatre, a new training and performance facility on Jarvis Street, in tribute to its first artistic director. Staines then conducted a thorough review of the school's training methods, in recognition of the rapidly changing nature of the dance world and of the extreme stylistic range — from cutting-edge contemporary dance forms to traditional classical ballet — expected of graduates as they move into professional careers.

Staines slowly revamped the dance syllabus to integrate elements drawn from a number of respected ballet training systems, including the famous Russian Vaganova syllabus. She also placed greater emphasis on modern dance instruction by appointing Peggy Baker as artist-in-residence.

In November 1999, the school celebrated its 40th anniversary by hosting Not Just Any Body, an ambitious international conference on the health and welfare of dancers. It brought together, via live video link, experts in Toronto and The Hague, Holland. Staines was successful in building other productive international connections. She also served as president of the artistic committee of the respected Prix de Lausanne from 2002 to 2008.

In 2000, NBS's executive director Robert Sirman began an ambitious capital campaign, Project Grand Jeté, to build new studios and residences on Jarvis Street. The impressive Celia Franca Centre was opened in 2005. It stands as a testament to Sirman's public and private fundraising abilities.

Sirman left NBS in 2006 to direct the Canada Council for the Arts. He was replaced by Jeff Melanson, who put a greater emphasis on NBS's outreach activities. John Dalrymple took over as executive director in 2019, having worked in the school’s development department since 2010. As of early 2024, Staines continued to serve as artistic director and CEO, though it was announced that she would be replaced as artistic director by former New York City Ballet dancer Margaret Tracey on 24 June 2024.

Further Reading

External Links