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

May 25, 2016

By Yvette Brend, CBC News |

Charlie Prince laughs recalling his first ballet class.

“It was horrible,” he said.

“Pushing my body was not something that was foreign to me.”

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.”

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.

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