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The Kindness of Strangers
Veritable strangers help dreams become a reality for young ballet dancers

When Patrick Foster was paired with donors Joan and Jerry Lozinski as part of the student partner program at Canada’s National Ballet School, his life irrevocably changed.

“When I first came here and saw the building, and the teachers and the other students,” said Foster, “I realized that this was something I could do with my life.”

Canada’s National Ballet School is the gold standard when it comes to dance training. The boarding school operates under the premise that talent should be the only requirement for admission. Since forming in 1959, the School has churned out stars like Karen Kain and James Kudelka. The ballet instruction includes an academic component and residence, but it isn’t cheap. The combined annual tuition and residence rates run around $28,000, with higher fees for international students.

Mammoth fundraising initiatives help to minimize costs to students. The student partner program is one such endeavor. It gives the students a financial leg up and allows sponsors to “become personally acquainted with an individual, and to see their passion and dedication as they pursue something that is so important to them; in this case, a dance career,” says Lozinski.

The school has a grueling dance schedule; dancing up to 8 hours a day at times. It also places a strong emphasis on academic achievement. Most of the students live in residence, sometimes far from home. Foster was homesick initially. He would call his parents daily, and they’d visit often. Lozinski was always impressed that kids as young as 12 would travel so far from their homes and families to immerse themselves in such rigorous training. Despite the pitfalls, the experience has been rewarding. “You get to live with your friends from a young age,” says Foster. “It’s fun. You get to learn independence from a young age so it’s really a life learning experience.”

In addition to dancing, Foster enjoys math and science, dabbles in computer programming, and plays the piano. Although he claims doing “insane” tricks is not his forté, his overall technique is strong. He enjoys learning “Vaganova, it’s a Russian style, it’s very technical. Each of them [NBS teachers] have really guided me in a slightly different path. So if I take what each of them has taught me with a grain of salt, I can really shape myself in the way I want to see myself. In a way, the school has been my mentor.”

Formerly a registered nurse, Joan Lozinski threw herself into volunteer work in the late 70’s with the AGO. Now, she focuses her involvement primarily with the Ballet School. She and her twin sister took lessons as children in Lindsay, ON, but had to quit when the teacher became ill.”There was no back up supply of ballet teachers.” She came back to it after attending some performances by the National Ballet of Canada. “There’s something wonderful and inspiring in the ability of the dancers to express true emotions; sadness, happiness, anger and love through movement and music.” She was so moved by the performances that she wanted to give back by helping the dancers in their nascent development.

“My job is to ensure that audiences watching beautiful ballet or dance, realize that this excellence they are enjoying is the result of years of training at an institution like Canada’s National Ballet School. I would say it’s like kids who dedicate themselves to an Olympic sport. If there was an artistic dance segment in the Olympics, NBS students would own a lot of golds.”

Foster is the third student the Lozinskis have personally sponsored since the program began. Since pairing with Foster six years ago, she and Jerry have hosted his family, taken him on outings and come out to nearly all of his performances. “He’s a very bright, inquisitive and accomplished young man. Very charming.” 

Since the 7th grade, these veritable strangers have become a sort of surrogate family to Foster. “They’re great. They’re funny and relatable. They’re not hard to talk to. I’ve never felt judged by them. They’re always really supportive and just awesome people to know. I really doubt that it would be possible to attend without Joan and Jerry’s help. I’m just so grateful for it, without their help, I don’t know that this school would be running. “

For more information on Canada’s National Ballet School visit here.

You can see Foster performing at the upcoming Gastby Gala fundraiser at Arcadian Court on Feb. 8

____

Tiffy Thompson is a writer and illustrator for the Toronto Standard.  Follow her on Twitter at @tiffyjthompson. 

For more, follow us on Twitter at @TorontoStandard and subscribe to our newsletter.

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