Focused, driven, down-to-earth, personable, humble, appreciative, so very talented and mature beyond their years in speaking about their accomplishments, experiences and development as dancers. There are so many qualities to describe Mara Morris of Maple Bay and Chemainus’ Brittany Millard and they’re both only in their early teens.
Morris, 15, and Millard, who’ll be 14 in October, were among Canada’s representatives at the prestigious Dance World Cup finals in Braga, Portugal. As much as they’ve achieved at this early stage of their lives, you get the impression the best is yet to come.
In fact, it’s a virtual certainty with both already accepted into the Joffrey Ballet School. Morris is heading to New York to start her next incredible journey on Sept. 7 and Millard has put off going at least for this year, with an eye toward making the big step later.
It’s been quite the summer for the girls, with the long build-up to the World Cup that included a week of rehearsals in Toronto.
At Braga, Morris competed in contemporary solo, and group routines in jazz, contemporary and ballet on the world stage.
“It was a different experience the groups compared to the solo,” she conceded.
“Overall, I wasn’t really enjoying the team aspect until we actually got there. It was more the trip to Toronto and all the rehearsals before. It was more stressful. Once we actually got there, it was really cool to have that sense of being on Team Canada, going on stage and giving it your all for your team.
“We felt very proud. My solo was really fun. It was cool to have that contrast. I like doing solos better. You work as hard as you can. I felt really confident in it. I was proud of what I worked for.”
Millard did a lyrical solo and group dances in jazz, contemporary and tap.
“It was hard getting our group together,” said Millard. “We had never met anybody from over there. We hadn’t seen how they danced.”
The week of rehearsals where the hard work was done went by very quickly.
“I think we definitely could have rehearsed more,” noted Millard. “We rehearsed a lot, but there’s always room for improvement. I’m proud of the work I did and I felt prepared.”
With time to reflect on the competition since finally returning home, it clearly made an almost indescribable impression on the girls.
“The most amazing thing was meeting people,” said Morris. “I met people from all over the world. Seeing their dances was so cool. There’s so many different cultures. I saw so many different styles.”
One of the highlights for Millard, she said, was “talking to different people from different countries and seeing what they do most.”
The ballet influences could readily be seen with dancers from the European countries like Italy, Spain and Portugal, with the African nations specializing in hip hop.
“I feel like when I come back to the studio now, I’m definitely going to practice more in my routines,” reasoned Millard. “Just practice doing a lot of it is really key to having a solid performance – remembering every correction.”
Getting out of their comfort zone, coming from small towns, is something the girls needed to become comfortable with in the process of the competition.
Morris made a stop at Joffrey on the way home for a taste of what’s ahead.
Millard spent some time at Joffrey Las Vegas to hone her skills in the jazz intensive program that she’s done four years now – twice in Vegas and twice in New York. She’ll be doing home-schooling again this fall through distributed learning in Duncan while continuing to dance at Adage Studio in Duncan up to 40 hours per week in prime time.
“While I was away in Portugal and Vegas, I felt very distant from home,” she said. “When I got home, I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I felt I’m not quite ready.”
Morris is taking the full-fledged leap into the Joffrey program.
“The whole time I was away for Portugal and New York, it was two months,” she noted. “I didn’t feel homesick for one second. I was definitely ready to stay there. I wasn’t missing anything. Obviously, I miss my parents.”
The girls are so used to keeping busy Millard admitted she actually got bored during a recent day to relax.
“I feel like keeping myself busy is a really good thing,” she indicated. “Sometimes it can get stressful with trying to fit in schoolwork.
“I like to try to get all my schoolwork done by December. When competition comes around in February, I can focus on my dance.”
“I think definitely it’s weird that this past year I felt really overwhelmed that it was way too much,” summed up Morris. “But then I went to New York. I did two times more for four weeks and didn’t feel overwhelmed at all.
“I think it’s going to work out really well when you get into that mindset of dancing. You couldn’t be any happier. You don’t feel like you’re missing out.”