British Columbia

Kicked out of ballet, former refugee now dances with Canadian elite

Charlie Prince fled Lebanon as a teen and landed on a dance floor in Canada with no experience — now he dances with the hottest choreographer in the country.

'I showed up barefoot in jeans ... and I got kicked out.'

Former refugee Charlie Prince did not try dance until he was 17. (Facebook)

Charlie Prince laughs recalling his first ballet class. 

"It was horrible," he said.

Pushing my body was not something that was foreign to me.- Dancer Charlie Prince

The 17-year-old had only been in Canada for three years after fleeing war in Lebanon. He ended up in Montreal. Prince had no dance background, except for the athletic discipline he'd learned in competitive swimming.

Charlie Prince wrote this duet performed in an abandoned synagogue in Lebanon. He uses his body to tell stories of trauma and rebirth, drawing from his own history as a teen refugee. (Nipple in the Sky/Facebook)

"I showed up barefoot in jeans and thought I could get away with it. I got kicked out!" he said. 

"Pushing my body was not something that was foreign to me, but I didn't know what I was getting into."

Cutting edge work

Despite the setback, Prince did not give up. He returned in pyjamas and socks and started dancing. The teacher soon noticed his talent.

B.C.'s Crystal Pite is often inspired to tell stories with dance about war and conflict. (Michael Lobodian/CBC)

Now Prince dances with Canada's most sought-after choreographer Crystal Pite. He performs in the Arts Umbrella's Season Finale this week, a long way from the teen refugee who arrived nine years ago.

"She asks a lot of questions. She's quite Socratic," said Prince. 

"It's a blessing. It's such a gift I've been given to be able to work with this woman."

Refugee beginnings

Prince left Lebanon with his sister by boat, landed in Cyprus, then on to Portugal and finally settled with a cousin in Montreal at 14. He dismisses the journey as "easy" compared to what others refugees endure.

He sums up his discovery of dance as a dare from a girlfriend to try a ballet class — turned career.

Charlie Prince's love of movement translated into a move across the world and onto a dance stage, and he's still going. (Facebook)

Before that, his only stage experience had been a childhood talent show in Lebanon, in a role choreographed by his sister. He won third prize in that competition. The prize was a dress, because only girls usually entered, he said.

"It was so ridiculous and I got really angry about winning a dress," he laughs, but adds that the experience did not put him off dance.

"I loved movement," said Prince, who was drawn to the idea during conducting courses in music classes.

"But that was limited to the upper body. I wanted more."

The Arts Umbrella Dance Company's show Season Finale runs May 26-28 at the Vancouver Playhouse.

Charlie Prince is featured in the finale this week.