When you’re class president, in your last year of high school, graduation is usually a much-anticipated finale.
This is not the case for Gabriele Gillespie, who will be competing with Team Canada as a contemporary dancer in the Dance World Cup in Portugal while her classmates attend graduation from École secondaire Le Caron this June.
“I’ll be missing my grad for the competition,” says Gillespie — her love of dance, performing and competition a clear commitment.
Gillespie started dancing at the age of three, and after performing and competing as a dancer, she fell in love with the feeling of accomplishment that comes from the hard work paying off with a flawless performance.
“The feeling of going on stage with the lights on you. This is your moment, and it’s what you’ve worked so hard for,” says Gillespie, noting that coming off stage and feeling you “killed it” is what it’s all about.
Gillespie auditioned for the positions on the team against dancers that train for it as a full-time job.
“It was my first professional audition for dance,” says Gillespie, who was admittedly nervous dancing against her peers, and young adults up to 25-years-old who have devoted their lives to a love of body movement.
There were between 30 and 80 dancers in each audition group.
“These girls I was competing against train and dance for 30 hours a week,” says Gillespie with a nervous laugh.
She explains that there are two categories of dancers: Pre-competitive is for dancers who train for under six hour a week, and competitive is anything above that, and she knows some of her teammates train and dance for 30 hours a week.
As a straight-A student, class president, with volleyball games and practices three times a week, and work as a dance teacher twice a week, Gillespie finds time to train for her own dance career two days a week.
For the audition, Gillespie and the other dancers learned a combination, and then performed for six teachers and judges. The experience was so exciting for the teen that she’s long since forgotten the moves that won her a seat on Team Canada.
In Portugal in June, she will be competing as a contemporary dancer among a group of 29 other dancers in two age groups: 14-17 and 18-25.
“I love the adrenaline and the bonding I get to do with my team at competition,” explains Gillespie.
The 17-year-old dances in multiple styles including jazz, tap, ballet, musical theatre, and kinder dance for young dancers from the ages of two to seven at the Georgian Bay School of Dance.
Contemporary dance incorporates aspects of jazz, improvisation from modern dance, and leg work from ballet. There are some that incorporate some acro-dance, including aerials and hand springs.
“I’m not a flipper,” explains Gillespie, “but I’m very bendy.”
Her dance moves, skill, and passion have gained her a featured part during the three-minute routine Team Canada will perform at the Dance World Cup.
For Gillespie, there is a meditative aspect to dancing that comes from concentration on her technique.
“I love it. I escape reality,” says the talented performer.
Gillespie plans to take a break from auditioning to focus on her first year of university next year, but says she will always dance, and will likely always teach.
“I’ll do this for as long I can.”
If she were giving advice to anyone pursuing a passion, she says, “follow your dreams, and work hard no matter what.”
Gillespie says she experienced ups and downs as a dancer, and there were a few years when things didn’t seem to be going her way.
“I worked harder, and I started to understand things better. The harder you work, the better you’ll be, and you’ll love it. Never give up,” says Gillespie.
If you need a little inspiration, Gillespie recommends listening to some Taylor Swift to help pump you up, and get you in the zone.
Here’s to hoping we get to see Gillespie “Shake It Off” on Team Canada in Portugal at the Dance World Cup in June.