WATCH — Why I moved to Winnipeg for dance school during a pandemic

Story by CBC Kids News • 2020-10-14 07:20

Lots of things are different this year for Tiernen O’Keefe

Dramatic, mysterious masks are a big part of many great ballet performances.

But for Tiernen O’Keefe in Winnipeg, masks are also a big part of her daily dance classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 15-year-old originally from Vernon, British Columbia, is in her first year at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School.

It’s a boarding school for students who are studying dance.

Tiernen started her first year at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School in September. (Image credit: Kira Hofmann)

Tiernen wears a mask the whole time she’s in dance class, except when she steps away from others to catch her breath.

“I’ve definitely had to experiment with different masks,” she said.

She’s also had to get used to following instructions from her teachers who wear masks.

Watch Tiernen’s personal video on what going back to school has been like:

Here are some things that are different:

But she also says that the COVID-19 rules have helped her work on something new: expressing herself with her arms and upper body.

Four dancers stand in a line at a bar

Dancers have to stay two metres apart and dance within a square taped out on the floor. (Image credit: Kira Hofmann)

Life away from home is hard, but worth it, says Tiernen

Tiernen’s parents and four siblings are still at home in Vernon.

In early September, she moved into a small dorm room that she shares with a roommate.

She spends part of the day doing ballet, then school, then back to ballet.

She wasn’t sure what to expect.

“My first day of high school I was super nervous, like shaking, because I thought it was going to be way scarier than it actually is,” she said.

Living in the dorm with other dancers has helped her make new friends.

Tiernen does miss her family.

A girl and her mom hugging with a city skyline in the background.

Tiernen said she misses her mom Susan and can’t rely on her so much to help her with her homework. (Image submitted by Tiernen O’Keefe)

“I miss my cat a lot, too,” she said. “And when I Facetime my family, my cat always hears my voice and he comes running, which is really sweet.”

But for Tiernen, it’s worth braving the distance to do what she loves.

“It’s been hard but [my family is] super supportive and they know this is where I am supposed to be, and I know that too.”

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