Life

Young Co Down ballet dancer Hannah Hornsby is following her dreams

She might be just 15 but Co Down GCSE student Hannah Hornsby is determined to dance her way to the top of the ballet world. Ahead of appearing in Swan Lake at the Grand Opera House next week, she told Jenny Lee about her love of the art form

15-year-old Hannah Hornsby, from Carryduff, showing her ballet skills during a ballet scholarship in New York this summer

"I DON'T just dance. I perform. I breathe. I watch the world disappear. I release my feelings. I lead with my heart. I tear down walls. I stop feeling sad. I lose the pain. I let go. I smile. No I don't just dance, I do so much more."

These are the words of Carryduff girl Hannah Hornsby, a young ballet dancer with amazing potential. The 15-year-old is currently studying for her GCSE's at Strathearn Girls Schools in Belfast, but as well as her academic studies, puts in many hours in the dance studio in pursuit of her dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer.

This month she will be appearing as a soloist dancer in Swan Lake with the award-winning English Youth Ballet in Belfast's Grand Opera House. She will be joined by eight international principal dancers and 100 of the most talented young dancers in Ireland in this innovative production.

This traditional and dramatic adaptation has a particular emphasis on the rivalry between the seductive evil Black Swan Odile and the beautiful but vulnerable White Swan Odette, as they compete for the affections of the Prince.

Hannah was awarded the scholarship prize for the most talented dancer at the audition for the production. And it's not the first time her talent has been rewarded. Last December, following an audition in Dublin, she was offered a scholarship to attend their three-week Ballet Intensive Summer School in New York this summer.

"I spent three weeks there training nine hours a day, five days a week. It was extremely hard work and very challenging, both physically and emotionally. Every evening my body would ache, but I would still be so excited to see what the next day would bring," she says.

"I know, without any doubt, that this is the life I want to have continually and not just for a few weeks. It ended on the biggest high as I got to perform with the Joffrey Ballet School at The Symphony Space Theatre on Broadway."

Hannah Hornsby is one of 100 talented young dancers in Ireland who will join with the professional cast of English Youth Ballet for their production of Swan Lake in Belfast

She also spent four weeks dancing in England this summer – training with professional dancers from Birmingham Royal Ballet Company and the National Youth Ballet of Great Britain, where she performed at Saddler's Wells Theatre in London.

"When this year started I had no idea it would see me perform in both London and New York in the company of such incredibly talented ballet dancers," says Hannah, who started dancing at the age of three.

"I was always dancing around or walking on my tip-toes and mum said that I had dancer's feet," recalls Hannah, who initially did ballet, modern, tap and flamenco in Marbella, where her family lived until she was eight.

When she moved back to Belfast, Hannah as immediately enrolled in the Jacqui Philpott School of Ballet and replaced flamenco with Irish festival dancing.

Hannah trains seven days a week. She has taken all her Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) graded exams, and is now working on her RAD vocational ballet qualification with Belfast teacher Neil Towers, as well as training weekly in tap and modern jazz at Respira Dance School in Lurgan.

And for the past year, after being offered Senior Associates places with the Elmhurst School of Ballet in Birmingham and Ballet West School in Scotland, she spends her weekends attending classes in Britain.

Hannah is determined to pursue a career in dancing. I ask her what made her come to this decision and she dates it back to her first involvement with English Youth Ballet at the age of 12 when she took part in their production of Sleeping Beauty in the Grand Opera House.

"I got to perform on stage with professional ballet dancers in a real ballet and it was magical. I just find dancing so enjoyable and freeing. It's the one thing in life that helps me express my feelings without anyone judging and I want to spend every moment of every day pursuing that. This is a big year as I turn 16 and I can now begin to audition to see if I can get a place in a ballet school and begin full-time training."

Although she had to forgo other interests such as gymnastics and Irish dancing, Hannah doesn't believe she has missed out on anything in her childhood.

"I'm pursuing the love of my life and enjoying every moment of it. To be honest, it is my mum and brother who have made all the sacrifices. They are incredibly supportive and drop everything and anything to make sure I can get the training I need. I travel so much now and all of this costs so much too – flights, trains, hotels and school/training fees. I don't know the amounts but I know they go without and are always supporting me."

Hannah's ultimate ambition is to be "the principal ballerina for an amazing ballet company and perform at The Met in New York".

And while she is excited about her forthcoming performance in Swan Lake, Hannah's dream role is playing Swanhilda in Coppélia.

Her advice to budding young ballerinas?

"If you really like your dancing, keep going to your dance class. It's so important to have good training and do exams. No-one ever knows where it might lead to. Right now, I'm getting to see so much of the world and meet amazing people. It's also a great way to make friends and and keep fit and healthy."

:: English Youth Ballet's production of Swan Lake runs at Belfast's Grand Opera House from November 9-11. Goh.co.uk

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