Mackenzie Hebein doesn’t have much free time these days. Every spare minute the 17-year-old Sands Secondary senior has she spends training for the prestigious Genée International Ballet Competition.
With just two weeks to go before she jets off to Lisbon, Portugal for the 10-day event, Hebein is trying to get as much practice in as she can.
“[I’m] basically living here,” she said, gesturing to the Surrey dance studio where she’s spent countless hours over the past decade. “During the summer we usually get a little bit of a break, but not too much because right now I’m doing like eight hours a day.
“It’s a really intense schedule. Like, usually five or six days a week I’ll be here.”
The Newton resident began dancing when she was three or four years old, taking lessons at a local rec centre. There she met Tyra Sergeant, owner and artistic director of Flora Pigeau Dance Academy, who invited the young ballerina to study at her studio.
Since then, Hebein has worked diligently to learn all she can, and she recently completed her Advanced 2 examination with the Royal Academy of Dance, earning distinction (the highest mark possible) for her impeccable performance.
That cleared the way for her to compete in this year’s Genée alongside 53 of the top young dancers in the world.
“It’s really exciting but it’s also nerve-wracking because it’ll be just such a new experience for me,” Hebein said. “I’ve never travelled across the sea, I’ve never been to Europe or anything, so it’s going to be pretty new for me.”
Although she’ll be travelling to Lisbon with her parents and twin sister Mallory (her 13-year-old brother Carter will be staying behind with family), Hebein won’t have much time to spend with them or to relish her first visit to one of the world’s oldest cities.
“We pretty much are going to drop her off, because we don’t really have access to her for the week,” her mother, Michelle, said.
Instead, Hebein will spend her time living in residence with the other dancers and attending day-long clinics and choreography sessions.
“It’s pretty much just the dance. I wish I could go see the sights.”
Thanks to her performance during her Advanced 2 examination, Hebein is one of only 11 dancers this year to be awarded a bursary from the Royal Academy of Dance in order to attend the competition.
“I think it’s just over $3,000,” she said. “It’ll help cover the cost of a lot of the expenses that go with it.”
In addition to travel expenses, the bursary will also help offset the cost of her pointe shoes, which usually run about $120 a pair.
“I’m bringing at least five pairs…They usually only last me a month or two,” she said. “That’s why the bursary helps a lot.”
When she’s not training for the Genée, Hebein works as an assistant teacher at Flora Pigeau, helping younger dancers who are just starting out to learn their first steps.
“It’s just really nice to watch them learn from you and stuff,” she said. “It’s really cool cause they always look up to us and it’s a good feeling being able to pass something on to them…It kind of brings back memories [of starting out].”
In 2015, Hebein joined Ballet BC and the Alberta Ballet Company at Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Theatre for their production of the Nutcracker, giving her a glimpse of a possible future as a professional ballerina.
But Hebein isn’t in a rush. She’s prepared to take the time to develop technique even further and pay her dues.
“I was talking to my teacher, looking into some programs that are a bit more intense just for some extra training and stuff, and then from there I guess auditioning [for ballet companies] if all goes well,” she said. “I definitely want to keep dancing and I probably would like to try and pursue it after I graduate high school.”
“[I don’t have a] particular company in mind, I’d love to just be a professional ballet dancer.”