From the first time a young Jessie Marshall saw Ballet Jörgen's The Nutcracker at the River Run Centre with her father in 2015, she has wanted to be a ballet dancer.
"She came home and I asked her how it went, and she looked at me, and I guess she would have only been seven, and she's like, 'mom, I need to do ballet,'" said Michelle Marshall, Jessie's mom.
"She started halfway through that year, in 2016, a ballet class and auditioned that fall for The Nutcracker."
Today, Jessie is one of a group of young dancers selected to tour with the professional group of dancers at the Ballet Jörgen Dance Company, performing in 11 shows across Ontario and in Saskatoon.
Founded in 1987, a news release said The Ballet Jörgen Dance Company, has grown into the fifth largest dance organization in Canada and is the only major Canadian ballet company with a repertoire of exclusively new works, having produced a total of 229 original creations by 92 choreographers, including eight full-length ballets and five works created especially for children.
Having been involved in the local production of The Nutcracker for many years, Jessie said the experience has been 'amazing' to work with the older dancers and learn how a dance company operates. One of her role models at the dance company was Hannah Mae Cruddas.
"I have never enjoyed something in dance so much in my life, " said Jessie. "The company dancers that we worked with are so dedicated, and they're all such a big family, and they're so kind and they're always great mentors. They give the best advice, whether about dance or about life."
A Canadian spin on the classic story, Jessie will play the role of 'farmer girl' and has rehearsed roles for a number of others parts, like rat and white-tail deer. The show kicked off its tour last week in Saskatoon, which was the first time Jessie ever travelled to the area.
"It was so much fun, we got to perform for just over 2,200 people," said Jessie. "We got a standing ovation and it was so cool."
After Boxing Day, a show will be held every night until New Year's Eve. In Guelph, the Nutcracker will be at the River Run Centre on Dec. 22 and Dec. 23.
Michelle adds there is a program called 'Spread The Magic' in which residents can sponsor tickets for families to go see the show for free at the River Run.
"It changed Jessie's whole direction by going to one show, it just ignited this thing in her, and I love that this program helps people and attend because you never know what it will ignite in some other child," Michelle said about the show.
To prepare for the show, Jessie and other girls commuted by train to Toronto five times a week to train between three to seven hours a day. Rehearsal days were even longer, with sessions not ending until 10 p.m.
While dance sessions were tough, Jessie said the most challenging part of preparing for the show was learning how to act and working with acting coaches hired by the dance company.
"We're telling a story without words," said Jessie. "It's a really cool thing to learn how to do."
Besides The Nutcracker, Jessie continues to be an active member within Holly Hughes Dance Academy, located along Edinburgh Rd. She currently teaches an intro class to ballet for young girls.
"Balancing that with my other dance life and my studio, is challenging, but that's what makes it so cool is that I can do both, " said Jessie, who attends Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute (GCVI) and does her homework on the train with the other girls.
With a background in jazz and lyrical dance, Jessie said she initially felt nervous auditioning to join the tour with other girls who had been doing ballet a lot longer than she had. Jessie had only been in ballet for six months before landing her first role as a chipmunk.
"I wasn't as confident in my ballet as everyone else because they all started earlier than me," said Jessie, who had many roles in the production, including being a frog, beaver, squirrel and a dragonfly.
"But then, I realized it's more just about challenging yourself, having fun, other people and being around and learning as you go, it's sort of learning more to be a character rather than being a dancer."
Michelle adds the experience has been a 'game changer' for Jessie training with the Ballet Jörgen Dance Company and her local studio.
"To watch her really grow as a dancer, but also grow as a young woman into deciding that this is some facet, whatever her future dance career looks like," said Michelle.
Jessie agrees, adding the older dancers are all someone she wants to be and influenced the way she sees herself as a mentor.
"I for sure (do) see dance in my future."