Dancing through life from Markham to Moscow

Markham native and Unionville High School graduate Sydney Keir is at the beginning of living out her dream of boldly dancing her way through life, professionally.

“It was so diverse, growing up in Markham, and there were so many ways to be creative or learn how to create,” she says. “I never felt the need to escape and go to the city when I was younger.”

She might not have wanted to escape but, more recently, Keir has certainly been drawn to larger spotlights. In the past year, she has graduated from the prestigious Alvin Ailey dance school with Fordham University in New York City, helped originate a new work by renown choreographer Vladimir Varnava, danced on world stages in California and Russia, and maintained a dizzying pace of auditioning as much as she possibly can. 

As much as this may sound like pure joy for a young dancer, it comes from a lifelong commitment to hard work, ruthless self-reflection and passion.  

Keir recalls being singled out for her bad habits as a young dancer on her first day of class at the Karpov Ballet Academy in Richmond Hill. Every time she began to move, the teacher, who had a long professional career with Russia’s Keurig Ballet, would yell and stop the music and reconstruct her form and posture while the other dancers watched. Most 14 year-olds would be humiliated, but Keir was downright flattered; even honoured.

“I just thought that she must have seen something in me if she was taking her time to come and work with me individually,” Keir remembers. “I felt like I had to live up to that potential and do it better.”

It’s this slightly unusual and enlightened perspective that seems to have served Keir well as a young artist.

Her initial inspiration to perform came via her older sister, and now professional actor, Courtney’s dance recitals. She vaguely recalls her sister being forced to take dance classes to correct clumsiness but her life changed when she saw her sister’s class performance up on a professional stage.

“I just wanted to be up there,” says Keir. “I just knew I wanted to do it too.”

Soon, she was enrolled in classes of her own. As it turns out, wanting to do it too was an understatement. Keir took well to the competition circuit for young dancers in Ontario and even got a chance to perform at halftime at the Grey Cup. Instead of feeling accomplishment, however, it was wondering what else might be possible. 

“I liked the risk and the seriousness of the competitions but I guess I just wanted something even more,” explains Keir. “I liked ballet because I understood it and it was a foundation. In order to be better, I’d have to get better at that … and I also like the storytelling element.”

More formal training followed at the National Ballet School in Toronto and her enrolment in the Arts York Dance program. Soon, at age 13, she found herself on stage performing in the National Ballet of Canada’s Nutcracker Suite, in front of thousands of people at a time. If there was any hesitation about her chosen passion, it was gone after that.

“I got to meet professionals, people that got to do this as their job,” says Keir. “That’s when I went for it. That’s when it became a career option.”

Knowing that a life in the arts was possible led Keir to pursue creation and leadership alongside learning her chosen craft of ballet. After performing in local theatre productions with Unionville Theatre Company, Keir took on the responsibility of helping to run Markham Youth Theatre (MYT), an all-youth production company with a two-decade history. She became their primary choreographer and, eventually, company vice-president.

“At MYT, I went from being a performer to helping to run the company,” she says. “I realized that there was so much more than one thing involved. More than acting or choreography or even costumes and set … and we had to get it done ourselves.”

Her training and experiences like those while growing up have taught Keir many things, including the resilience to develop the extraordinary skills necessary to become a world-class dancer. She almost shrugs it off though. From her perspective, she still sees it as an honour to get better at what she loves.

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