Octavia Francis, dancer extraordinaire

Octavia Francis of the Glebe, 13, is a dancer with the National Ballet of Canada.

By Merna Emara

With her first footsteps as a toddler, Octavia Francis, 13, was on her way to becoming a ballet dancer. Francis has been dancing from the time she was fully able to move her body.

Deshayne Fell, Francis’s mother and a professor at the University of Ottawa, said her daughter started dancing when she was three years old at the Glebe Community Centre.

“She always really loved it more than any other activity,” said Fell, who was very supportive of her daughter’s passion for dancing. “It was good that she liked ballet dancing more than any other sports.” But at one point they had to drop other things because she was involved in different types of dancing, musical theatre and piano. When she was 10, she started dropping the other activities and focused more on dancing.

“Balancing Octavia’s school life and her dancing classes was not a problem because her dance classes were all in the evening,” Fell said. “There wasn’t too much homework and the locations of her dance classes were so convenient. She was either taking her classes at the Glebe Community Centre or across the street from where we live.”

Francis is currently living in Toronto where she dances in The Nutcracker with the National Ballet of Canada. In 2018, Francis had 11 performances and six performances in 2017. Her favourite Nutcracker performance is her latest one in 2018.

“It was really cool to dance with professional dancers and experience that,” Francis said. “I feel like I’m in my own world where I can do whatever I want and still follow rules. It just makes me feel happy and I can express what I’m feeling through dancing.”

Fell said she did not expect Francis to get a callback after she auditioned, saying, “I took her for the audition just so that she can experience auditioning.”

Francis also did not have high expectations. “I went to multiple auditions just for the experience. I felt good going through theses auditions because I wasn’t expecting to get accepted,” she said.

Francis said they don’t have to do exercise until they are asked to do that after class because they need to get sufficient rest. They do two hours of ballet and stretching every class.

The theatre in Toronto where the Nutcracker is performed seats almost 2,000 people and is almost sold out every show.

“When you go on the stage and look up, it’s kind of scary. But I don’t really think about people being there,” Francis said. “When I go out there, I go with the flow. The professional dancers make it more fun. They make it seem easy and not stressful.”

Some unavoidable accidents happen during performances but these accidents get taken care of so that the performance is not interrupted.

“Dancing expresses how I’m feeling,” Francis said. “Dancing helps me feel better. Ballet is hard when you’re young. When you’re older, it pays off.”

Fell said she Facetimes her daughter almost three times a day. It is like she is living with her. “She goes to school in the morning, finishes her homework and practises at night, so her life is arranged,” Fell said.

Merna Emara is a third-year journalism student at Carleton.

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