Kolton Ruyter, a 13-year-old student at Orillia, Ont.’s Notre Dame Catholic School, is spending this month at the National Ballet of Canada’s summer program. Photo courtesy Ruyter family

Passion for dance drives ballet protege

  • July 22, 2022

When Kolton Ruyter started ballet at age seven, it was more out of necessity than out of love for the dance form.

After starting in hip hop, jazz and other styles, the now 13-year-old from Notre Dame Catholic School in Orillia, Ont., had dreams of becoming a competitive dancer but soon learned that attaining that without ballet would not be possible. Though he hated it at first, he pushed through a difficult first year as his muscles adjusted to the challenging new movements.

Passionate about dance, Ruyter continues to hone his skills and recently earned a highly coveted spot with the National Ballet of Canada summer program where he’s training under the tutelage of its instructors this month. What he hopes to get out of this opportunity is improved technique, flexibility and maybe even the chance to eventually audition to be a part of the company, which would “mean the world” to him.

His rigorous training and audition process to get into the summer program has shown him that nothing is impossible when you set your sights on a goal.

“This is the one thing I’ve been trying to get towards,” said Ruyter about making the summer program roster. “Being able to achieve this on its own is amazing. Being able to achieve even further would set me higher than ever.”

The audition process had him competing for spots with other young dancers from around the world. Ruyter is staying in residence during his time at the National Ballet in Toronto where he and other dancers in the four-week program are in classes for much of the day. During his regular dance season, Ruyter normally trains two to three hours per day while managing his school work as an honour role student, chores and supporting his two siblings in their extra curriculars.

Ruyter credits his teachers at Tapps Performing Arts Studio, many of whom are competitive dancers themselves, for their support in helping him reach this stage. Andrea Marcucci, affectionately known as Miss Andrea, has been with him from his beginnings in ballet and is a key reason he has grown so much, and why he loves the dance form.

“She’s absolutely amazing,” said Ruyter. “I would not have been able to continue that second year of ballet without her. She is one of the main reasons why I actually enjoy going to ballet class. She’s also one of the reasons I was so confident, and I had the ability to try out for the National Ballet. I have private classes with her and she’s helping me to go above and beyond to learn partners and different (skills) in ballet that I might need to know in the National Ballet.”

Marcucci says Ruyter has been a joy for her and the other teachers. Going from their small town north of Toronto to working with the National Ballet, she believes, will only help to accelerate his growth.

“He’s a very fast learner and asks really smart questions,” said Marcucci. “He’s not the kind of dancer who will just be quiet through the whole class. If he has something he wants to figure out, he will ask it. I think that’s really what takes him far. He makes sure he understands.”

She also expects the National Ballet “will give him exposure to very talented teachers who can see what he’s capable of doing and help him get to that next level.”

Considered fundamental on the journey of developing as a dancer, ballet provides the basic arm and leg movements needed in jazz, modern, tap and ballroom. It helps dancers to find their centre of balance, gain strength, agility and move gracefully. Professional athletes are known to engage in ballet as part of their sport-specific development. 

Ruyter’s experience adjusting to the difficult discipline has helped him to be an encouragement to other boys challenged by the dance form. His teachers and parents say, more than his talent, what sets him apart is his character.

“I remember in his second year in ballet, there was another boy that had to take it and was upset he had to go into a room full of girls,” recalled Ruyter’s mother, Tara Pope-Ruyter. “Kolton went outside and sat beside him and said, ‘Look, if you want to be a competitive dancer, you need to take ballet.’ He just told him, this is what you need to do and either you want it or you don’t want it.”

“He’s such a sweet, kind and caring person,” said Marcucci. “Watching how he works with the other dancers in the room, if someone is struggling, he’ll help them. He’s just really special. He’s one of a kind I think.”

While there are many talented dancers, observers say Ruyter has the almost unteachable gift of dancing with his heart. It’s not uncommon to see people become emotional watching him dance, says Pope-Ruyter.

His message to other young boys is to be free from the opinions of others and follow their passion.

“If I were to say anything (to other young boys) it would be, it doesn’t matter what people think, it matters how you feel,” said Ruyter. “If it doesn’t come from your heart, then you shouldn’t be doing it. If you love it, keep going with it because who cares what other people think. It’s about what you love and that’s what you need to keep on doing.”

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