She’s worn out 44 pairs of pointe shoes dancing but Tiffany Bilodeau will never wear out her welcome on the stage or with old friends. Bilodeau and Stephanie Basi were huddled in a corner at Earl’s on Thursday for lunch, chatting and catching up on the news like old school chums.
Bilodeau is in her third season as a dancer with Ballet Kelowna, a small professional dance company that performed last Friday at the Prince George Playhouse. Bilodeau and Basi, now a Free Press advertising consultant, were both competitive dancers as teenagers.
“I was with Judy Russell’s [Enchainement] dance studio and Tiffany was with Noelle Jellison’s Dance Studio in Fort St. John. She is two years younger, so we never competed in the same categories. That made it easier to be friends because we were never in direct competition,” said Basi who teaches adult tap dance and occasionally jazz at Judy Russell’s.
The two first met during solo performances at the dance competition in Prince George in 1994. They got together every year during dance events until 1999 when, after the provincials, Bilodeau moved to Edmonton. Both were studying several dance disciplines including ballet, made the Honours performance in group productions and won dance scholarships.
Bilodeau had high praise for Basi’s dancing ability.
“She was very solid in technique and had good choreography.”
Stage presence can be as important as knowing the right moves.
“You have to have stage presence. You can be a good dancer and know all the right moves, but you have to have good stage presence. The adjudicators look for that,” said Basi.
Bilodeau agrees, “When you’re on stage, you can’t just put a wall up between you and the audience. Your performance is for them.”
There is friendly rivalry among dancers, they say, but mostly they’re all good friends.
For her part, Basi believes that taking ballet lessons at an early age, as she did, can provide self-assurance.
“Taking ballet definitely takes you out of your shell, especially when you’re at that gawky stage, around age 13,” she said.
Her three years with Ballet Kelowna have matured Bilodeau as a dancer and travel has broadened her horizons. The company performs all over the province and the travel combined with long hours in rehearsals can be tedious but there are big rewards, she said.
“There’s only six of us in the company so there’s no time back stage to recover. All the traveling and performing can get tiring so you have to take care of yourself. I’m in bed no later than 10:30 p.m. most nights and make sure to get eight to nine hours sleep. I also teach dance when I’m not performing – I love dancing. My only problem is finding [male] partners who are tall enough because I am five foot, seven-and-half inches but on pointe, I am six feet tall, so I need a partner who is about six feet, three inches.”
Part of what she loves about working with Ballet Kelowna is the dedication of artistic director David LaHay and his commitment to take dance to smaller communities.
“We’re small enough as a company that we can go to smaller venues but we do the same work and dance as well as the larger companies. This year the company has been getting more and more recognition.”
And more ballet shoes.
“I’m on pair number 12 for 2007.” said Bilodeau. “Last year, I went through 44 pointe shoes and they cost about $100 each, so it gets expensive for the company. The toes get soft and you can’t support yourself anymore so we have to get new ones quite often. We sign the old, used ones and sell them at our performances to make money for our expenses.”
She particularly loves Butterfly Affect which is presently touring B.C.
“Each piece is very different and I love dancing this ballet, maybe because of that.”
Basi was looking forward last week to seeing Bilodeau on stage.
“I still think of her as Tiffany at age 14,” Basi said, laughing. “I can’t wait to see her on stage at the Playhouse.”
Bilodeau studied ballet with the Edmonton School of Ballet and the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. She has received dance scholarships, the Esso Kids Award of Excellence and the Canadian Pacific Scholarship for dance excellence. She’s performed in The Nutcracker and Romeo and Juliet with The Royal Winnipeg Ballet and in live performances of The Toy Castle as China Doll. She’s performed repertoire from Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty.