Shale Wagman appeared on 'Canada's Got Talent' and has been called the country's Billy Elliot. We meet up with the 16-year-old at Monaco's Princess Grace Academy, as part of our Q&A series celebrating Canada’s 150th this year
ML: You are from Thornhill, Ontario, north of Toronto. Can you tell us a little about life in your Canadian hometown?
I spent most of my time training and performing but I still got to enjoy so much. I use to go take long walks with my dogs in the beautiful Canadian forests. I always enjoyed bike riding with my brothers all over the city. In the winters my mom would take me, my brothers and our friends tobogganing down the snowy hills near our house. On the way to the dance studio I would usually stop for a Boston Cream donut at the iconic Tim Hortons.
There were many good times at our family and friends cottages in Lake Simcoe and Haliburton, Ontario. We would go waterskiing, canoeing, kayaking, swimming and have S'mores by the bonfire. I also got to enjoy sleepover camp in Haliburton. I went for five summers to Camp Timberlane, made some amazing friends, enjoyed the outdoors, water sports, performing in plays, drawing, painting and was able to explore different aspects of life.
ML: What does it feel like to be called Canada's Billy Elliot?
I am grateful. I take it as a big compliment to be recognised for my efforts in pursuing, living and having the opportunity to share my passion with the world. I hope that I can inspire people of any age to go for what they truly want in life. I want young boys to have the courage to go for whatever makes them feel alive without fearing that they will be judged by their dreams and aspirations.
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ML: When you were 11, you were on Canada’s Got Talent in 2012. What do you remember the most about that experience?
SW: The love! I genuinely felt that Canada was rooting for me. It was a great platform to bring dance to the forefront for young people to watch. I got so much support nationally. I never felt more proud to be a Canadian.
ML: How have you developed as a dancer since appearing on the show?
A year after Canada's Got Talent, I had gone in a completely different direction for my future as a dancer. I decided that I wanted to immerse myself fully in ballet. I began training under the tutelage of Tatiana Stepanova in the Vaganova method. I had to have a very open mind to learn a whole new way of dancing. I began with the basics of ballet and built up as the year went on. I wanted to learn everything I possibly could. Thankfully my teacher worked with me very precisely on every little specific detail, which made me really grow as a dancer. I was trying to grasp everything she was telling me.
That same year I competed at the prestigious international ballet competition, the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP), where I was able to present myself to the ballet world. I got to see a little bit of how the ballet world was. I was very inspired and got many opportunities from there to train abroad in some of the top schools in the world. I chose to go the Academie de Danse Princesse Grace where I now reside and train with some of the best teachers and students in the world. I have definitely matured as a dancer. I have discovered new ways of working with my body and how to control everything I do. As an artist I am always changing with time. I am inspired by so much in the world. It could be from a painting, a song, and different aspects of nature. I especially draw inspiration from human behaviour and emotions.
ML: Why did you choose to study at the Princess Grace Academy in Monaco?
I chose to study here because it is one of the most prestigious dance schools in the world where they really take care of you. There are only 43 students here, meaning that no one is just a number. Everyone is at a high level and handpicked to be here. There are also so many different nationalities, which gives me the opportunity to learn about different cultures, customs and languages. We are like a big multicultural family. I believe that this school brings out the best in me through the great teaching methods and discipline.
ML: You spend about five and a half hours a day training. Can you tell us what your daily life is like, for example, a typical day at the academy?
A typical day at the academy is waking up at 6:30 am. I eat breakfast and take a morning walk to the studios of Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. I start warming up 30 minutes before our 2-hour morning ballet class at 8. After class, we either have Pilates or French classes until lunch. Following lunch we begin with our hour and a half technique (ballet class but with more tricks and difficult movements) or variation class (a special solo dance). Later we either have contemporary, composition (creating choreography), or pas de deux classes, which normally last between 5:15 pm and 6:30 pm. After we eat dinner and have school courses. We try to fit in studying between classes. In the evening after the long day, we recuperate and relax by calling our friends and family. At 9:30 pm, we must be in our rooms and at 10 we go to sleep. Typically Sundays are a day of rest where we get to go out and enjoy Monaco.
ML: You’ve been described as a multi-talented dancer. Are you focussing on one area of discipline now?
I started at 6 years old in tap, jazz, open, contemporary, lyrical, modern, hip-hop and acro. I never wanted to be faced with the choice of just picking one style of dance, as I loved them all. I wanted to do everything and I appreciate every genre of dance. At age 13, I made the decision to pursue a career in ballet, as it is the most challenging and true form of dance, which speaks to me the most. My focus has been classical ballet and contemporary ever since.
ML: What do you hope to do after the Academy?
My hope is to be connected with dance for as long as I live. My dream is to dance professionally on the world stages and share my passion with the rest of the world. I want to give everything I have for the audiences in front of me. More specifically, my goal is to transmit the most emotion I can to touch people and make them feel passionate, curious, excited, and even sad. I live another life on stage while still being myself; I want people to see that and live it with me. I know that being a dancer doesn't last forever but part of my dream is becoming a choreographer after I dance. I love to choreograph. Researching for music and ideas and creating steps is a process, which I love. I love exploring the ideas in my head and putting them into steps. I want to expand my knowledge as much as I can in my life and choreographing is the perfect way to do so.
ML: How often do you get to see your parents and two brothers?
We go on vacation during Christmas time and I go home for two months in the summer. Summer is the time where I catch up on my rest, quality time with my family, two dogs, relatives and Canadian friends. My mom comes to visit me sometimes in Monaco. My family is very important to me and they keep me grounded. In my first year, surprisingly I didn’t miss them as much as you would think but as the years go on I miss my family more and more because I realise how they make me a better person. I always know in my heart they are with me and they love and support me unconditionally.
ML: Was it tough when a lot of boys your age were embracing Canada’s hockey culture?
In my community, if you are a boy, you typically started playing hockey. It was definitely difficult to not have anybody my age that could relate or understand what I was doing. It was somewhat isolating. I felt no one really identified with me. I have always felt deeply connected, passionate and dedicated to this art form and I wanted everyone to understand what it was about. I tried to spread my love for dance because I know how invigorated it makes me feel. By introducing to all those I knew and who knew me that were not exposed to dance and the arts, my hope was to evoke those feelings in them. I truly believe art can heal the world.
ML: What do you miss about Canada? Favourite Canadian food?
I miss the change of seasons and nature. I took all of that for granted when I had it and now that I don’t, I feel like something is missing. I miss putting maple syrup on my pancakes or French toast and the sweet taste of butter tarts. The kindness of Canadians is something that you won’t find anywhere else.
ML: What does it mean to you to be Canadian?
I'm very proud to be Canadian. It's been said that Canadians are known for their politeness. I would have to agree. Canadians are kind, outgoing people. We have a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities. We appreciate our differences and learn from each other. I have a lot of friends in Canada who come from different backgrounds. Growing up spending time with different friends and their families I had the opportunity to learn about their cultures through their cooking, languages spoken and certain customs. I feel that we as Canadians are very welcoming and open minded.
ML: Did you know from a young age that you had talent and going to do something big with your life?
I am fortunate to have discovered what I truly love and feel I was meant to do at a very young age. My focus has been to hone my craft, learn as much as I can and give 100 percent. The rewards have been to perform on stage and I am always so happy to give everything I have artistically and physically.
ML: Shale is an unusual name. Is this a family name?
The way my mother tells it, when she first became pregnant with me, the name Shale came to her. Coincidentally, when she was seven months, she got a phone call from someone asking to speak to Shale Wagman. Apparently there was already another Shale Wagman. It just happened to be the wrong number.
Article first published February 14, 2017.
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