Black New Brunswick teen  heading to prestigious Seattle ballet school

Maya Ruheza has loved ballet for as long as she can remember.

Maya Ruheza

She took her first class at the age of three, after a bit of a rocky start. Her family still jokes about how, when her mom first asked her if she’d like to give dance a try, she had a frank one-word answer: “Nope.”

She relented because it looked “magical onstage – “they were pretty, they did fun twirls, they had pretty dresses on, you know” – and before long, dance had won her over.

Now, at 17, the Riverview teen is packing her bags and moving more than 5,000 kilometres away to attend one of the top ballet schools in the United States on a full scholarship.

In September, Ruheza, who is heading into Grade 12, will start two years of training at the school of her dreams, Pacific Northwest Ballet School in Seattle.

Maya Ruheza has always loved to dance, but didn’t realize when she was younger ‘the opportunities’ it would give her. She is moving from Riverview to Seattle in September to complete her Grade 12 year at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School.

The first step was a Zoom audition with about 100 other dancers from around the world.

The next step was to film an audition tape. Ruheza and her mom, Tina Antle, shot part of it on a cellphone in their basement, and rented a room in a community centre to film the rest.

She sent the videos off, but worried that her chances of being accepted would be hurt by the fact that she couldn’t perform in person.

The program would accept 45 people, she said.

Ruheza has been preparing for this moment since that first ballet class at age three.

She has attended the Alberta Ballet School in Calgary, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and the National Ballet School of Canada. She’s also trained with the Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada in Moncton.

But the Pacific Northwest Ballet is her favourite dance company, and being accepted to their school was a moment she won’t forget.

When school officials requested a Zoom meeting, Ruheza had no idea what was coming.

At the end of the meeting, Ruheza heard the words she had been waiting for — she was invited to join the school.

Much is about to change for the 17-year-old, who turns 18 in December. Ruheza is moving from Riverview to Seattle, and will live on her own while attending school.

Although it will be hard to leave her mother, being away for dance before has helped her prepare.

Ruheza says she’s ready, although she knows there will be some difficult times ahead.

Looking at a picture of herself in a pink tutu at her first recital, she reflects on how dance has influenced her life.

“It was something I loved to do, it was something that brought me joy. But I didn’t realize how much of an impact dance would have on my life and where it would take me — the opportunities it would bring me.”