Discovering ballet changed my life
FIFTEEN-year-old Suncoast Christian College student CORMAC McDONALD combined his love of music and movement to embark on a journey into the world of classical ballet.
Now it's taking him all the way to Monte Carlo to train at the prestigious Princess Grace Academy.
This is his story.
FROM an early age I loved to move.
I could never sit still and would climb everything in sight. My parents would find me up the tallest tree or on the other side of a pool fence.
It was this need to swing off things that gave them the idea of putting me into gymnastics when I was five years old, probably thinking I was safer with mats under me.
I completely loved it and was hooked on flying through the air and swinging from the bars.
I was lucky enough to do quite well, reaching state level, but as I grew taller it became apparent that I had the wrong build to go very far so when I was 10 we started looking for something else for me to do.
At the same time I was also into music and was learning to play both the flute and piano. I would constantly dance around the house practising my gym moves with the iPod blaring flipping from sofa to sofa.
It wasn't long after that that a family friend suggested I try ballet.
I was told about this amazing teacher in Buderim and it was suggested I should go along to a class.
I remember being the only boy in the room and very nervous. It was an amazing experience and I decided to give it a go.
That was five years ago and the teacher was Miss Anne Fraser, who has been an amazing instructor and mentor ever since.
When I was 12 and had been training with Miss Fraser for two years, I was accepted into the Queensland Ballet Academy's extension program for young dancers in Brisbane and have been attending a ballet class in its West End studios once a week for the last three years.
I was also lucky enough to be selected that year to perform with the Queensland Ballet in its season of La Sylphide at QPAC.
This was a life-changing experience and being backstage with the cast and dancing to a full orchestra in front of thousands of people just blew me away.
I think it was then that I realised this was something I would love to do when I grew up.
From then I began to get more serious and started extra training with Miss Fraser and when I was 14 I auditioned for a place at the Australian Ballet School in Melbourne as part of its interstate training program.
I was amazed when I was accepted into the program and now travel to Melbourne regularly for additional ballet studies with its full-time students.
I find this training invaluable as I learn so much from the different teachers who each train in different styles and methods. I also get to hang out in the city which is so different to the Sunshine Coast.
Also that year I joined the cast of the Ballet Theatre of Queensland in Brisbane and was a company dancer in the QPAC productions of Cinderella, 80th Anniversary Gala and The Little Mermaid.
I am so grateful to be part of this company which provides world class productions for junior dancers like me to gain experience performing in front of large audiences.
The set design and costumes are unbelievably good and although it is hard work it is a lot of fun hanging out with the other dancers backstage between performances and watching the other shows at QPAC on the big screens.
I often get asked why I dance and what I love about it.
Some people think that dancers just love being on stage and the centre of attention and I guess there is an element of that, but for me it is more about connection.
I love connecting with the music and the person or people I am dancing with.
I especially love the feeling I get when I am performing a pas de deux and can feel the music and the emotion between myself and the other dancer.
I particularly like slow contemporary dance duos for this reason.
Also the connection with the audience is so rewarding.
A dance partner and I recently had a few people come up to us all teary after a particularly emotional contemporary performance and that was such a moving experience knowing our performance made them feel something.
Equally amazing is the excitement on the little kids faces when they come up to you after a classical ballet performance. They are thrilled to see the dancers in full stage makeup and costume and some even want your autograph!
You feel like a super hero to them.
Apart from this feeling of connection, I think I also dance because I have always had a need to not only hear music but to feel it.
I think everyone likes to move to music but for me it is such a strong desire that it is often involuntary and that is why I continue to push through the pain and long hours of training just to give my body what it craves.
This passion helps me during times when I feel tired and don't want to go to class, I fear failure, worry about getting an injury or when I am injured and am stressing over the time it will take to recover.
All these doubts and worries are suspended the moment the music starts and I place my hands on the barre.
Ballet has taught me a lot about myself and what makes me happy. It has also taught me how to persevere, stay strong, try harder and always keep my eye on the prize.
Next up for me is a trip later this month to the Princess Grace Academy in Monte Carlo, Monaco to take up a short-term training scholarship I was awarded last year at the YAGP ballet competition in Brisbane.
I have been watching the dancers from this academy for over a year on Instagram and set a goal of one day going there to train.
The instructors' are some of the best in the world and I feel so lucky and grateful to everyone for working extra hard to get me there, especially my Mum, Dad and Miss Fraser for all their support and encouragement.