Canada’s National Ballet School is established in 1959 by Betty Oliphant and Celia Franca, forging a place for Canada on the world stage of elite ballet training. Oliphant is appointed the School’s first Principal.
The School is incorporated as a not-for-profit organization in 1963, and the following year begins its first National Audition Tour. Oliphant accepts 11 students, including five boys, from the almost 90 who audition.
Early graduates of NBS’ Professional Ballet Program are recognized for their technical skill and artistic versatility. They quickly find places among the world’s top dance institutions, and raise the profile of NBS and Canada as places that nurture elite talent.
In 1975, Oliphant retires from her position as Associate Artistic Director at the National Ballet of Canada to focus exclusively on the School.
NBS establishes the Teacher Training Program (TTP) in 1978. Although an informal program had been operating at the School since 1959, this new initiative marks a significant moment in the evolution of the School. The Program develops a global reputation for successfully training teachers, ballet masters, and leaders who contribute to significantly higher standards of teaching wherever they work.
NBS alumna Mavis Staines enrolls in NBS’ Teacher Training Program, graduates in 1982, and joins the staff of the School that same year.
In 1984, NBS celebrates its 25th
anniversary with a gala performed by students and alumni at the O’Keefe Centre (now Meridian Hall). Staines is appointed the School’s Associate Artistic Director.
In 1988, NBS opens its own performance venue, the Betty Oliphant Theatre, and the next year sees Oliphant retire from her role as co-founder and Artistic Director. Staines succeeds her as the School’s second Artistic Director.
In 1991, Staines and colleagues tour the country to consult with community members about NBS’ role as a Canadian institution. The tour affirms the need for NBS to use its position as a world-renowned organization to make dance more accessible and relevant to all Canadians.
NBS’ staff expands in 1989, when modern dance returns for the first time since 1971. The return is spearheaded by renowned dance artist Peggy Baker. In 1992, Baker is appointed the School’s first Artist-in-Residence, a move which brings students into even closer contact with the celebrated dancer and choreographer now working in their midst.
The School introduces evening and Saturday Adult Ballet classes in 1996. Led by Robert “Ballet Bob” McCollum, the classes quickly grow into one of the School’s most popular initiatives.
1998 sees expansion of a different sort for NBS when it opens its retail wing, The Shoe Room. That same year, the student choreographic workshop, named for arts journalist Stephen Godfrey, becomes an annual event.
To commemorate the School’s 40th
anniversary in 1999, Staines, NBS staff and a Dutch joint working group coordinate the Not Just Any Body
conference to advance health, wellbeing, and excellence in dance and dancers. This was a landmark event in the dance world that, through its discussions of the healthy dancer body, also opened up the need to educate dancers to take an active part in ensuring their own mental and physical well-being. NBS’ leadership in helping its students “find their voices” is recognized internationally and explains why so many of its graduates have taken on leadership roles in the profession.
Towards the end of the decade, NBS Artistic Staff members establish local outreach activities to create opportunities for kids in Toronto public schools to experience dance without barriers.
NBS kicks off the new millennium with a bang when, in 2003, it has a sod-turning ceremony to mark the beginning of Project Grand Jeté—Phase I is completed in 2005, and includes a new state-of-the-art dance training facility (the Celia Franca Centre) and restoration of two heritage buildings for academic classrooms (The Margaret McCain Academic Building) and administration offices (Lozinski House). In 2007, Phase II is completed, comprising the refurbishment of the School’s original Maitland Street buildings for expanded residence facilities.
In 2009, NBS celebrates its 50th
anniversary with two large-scale initiatives:
- Assemblée Internationale (AI) is conceived by NBS as a cross-cultural event that focuses on collaboration, partnership, and creative innovation in the ballet community. NBS hosted students, artistic directors, and artistic faculty members from 14 of the world’s top dance schools for a week of classes, rehearsals, conversations, and performances. Though intended as a one-time event, AI’s popularity led to its establishment as a quadrennial festival.
- NBS Artistic Staff members organize a large, celebratory flash-mob at Toronto’s Eaton Centre. Online teaching videos are created to help participants learn the dance, a method that quickly emerges as a valuable way of sharing dance outside the School’s walls.
2009 also saw the establishment of NBS' Drama and Expression program developed and led by the internationally esteemed dance artist, Sorella Englund.
NBS formally establishes “Sharing Dance.” Begun as an online resource that teaches an accessible piece of choreography, it expands into a full suite of programs and resources—developed and delivered in collaboration with a diversity of community partners—that make the many benefits of dance more accessible to people of all ages, abilities, and aspirations across Canada. Today, “Sharing Dance” is NBS’ tagline, representing the School’s belief that sharing the transformative power of dance can change lives for the better. It is also the ethos that drives every aspect of NBS' programming.
NBS’ community-engagement initiatives strengthen the School’s renowned Professional Ballet Program—one of the top ballet training programs in the world—by opening new doors for gifted young dancers to discover and pursue their full potential. NBS and partners establish the Pathway Project, which creates clear and accessible routes for young people to follow their passion for dance.
Fifty-nine years after the first National Audition Tour drew nearly 90 participants, the Tour now travels to twenty cities, welcoming more than 1,000 auditioning dancers and hosting free open classes and community workshops to hundreds of participants.
In its on-going commitment to ensuring students are fully prepared to address the demands of an ever evolving profession, in 2019/2020 NBS introduces classes in the internationally adopted movement vocabulary known as Gaga, created by Ohad Naharin. NBS is the first professional ballet school that has been authorized by Gaga Movement to incorporate Gaga into its full-time program.
Delaney Family Foundation; Dr. James D. Fleck, CC; Lynda C. Hamilton; Richard M. Ivey, CC;
Anna McCowan Johnson & Donald K. Johnson, OC; Joan & Jerry Lozinski;
The Honorable Margaret Norrie McCain, CC; Sandra & Jim Pitblado; An Anonymous Donor
John A. & Amanda Baker & Family; Gurney M. Kranz Charitable Foundation; Jack & Elly Petch; An Anonymous Donor