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Time dances on

The art of dance is perfected through movement alone. You can open a book and study dance theory or the biographies of great choreographers, but that will not spin a perfect pirouette or help form an ideal arabesque. Dance is a skill for the hands-on learner.

Professional ballet dancer Keiichi Hirano recently made a drastic career change — leaving his position as first soloist at the National Ballet of Canada to join the ranks of SAIT students making their way toward graduation in 2017.  Photo (Tina Pereira and Keiichi Hirano performing in the National Ballet's Veer.  Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann, courtesy of the National ballet of Canada). 

In his 16 years with the National Ballet, Hirano learned hundreds of hours of complex choreography through action. He says making the motions would "imprint" the steps to his muscle memory.

Hirano chose the Electronics Engineering Technology program at SAIT partially because he knew applied learning would — in many ways — mirror the learning process he mastered as a dancer.

"That's what I liked about the program," says Hirano. "Lots of hands-on lab time."

His decision was also helped along by alumni — his two brothers-in-law — recommending SAIT, and by the career prospects that come with an electronics engineering diploma.

"The industry of technology is fast evolving," says Hirano. "Options and opportunities will always be there."

A dancer, born and bred

Before he could walk, Hirano was in his mother's dance studio in Japan. When they were old enough, he and his younger brother — now a dancer in England's Royal Ballet Company — studied dance under their mother.

At 19 Hirano was recruited to apprentice at the National Ballet after sending in an audition tape. He could not speak English when he arrived to Canada, and relied on ballet to be his translator.

"The language of ballet is universal — it's gestural," he says, explaining his early days in a new country, depending on movement to do the work of a thousand words.

Brothers Ryoichi and Keiichi Hirano dancing together when they were boys. Brothers Ryoichi and Keiichi Hirano dancing together when they were boys.

The fast tempo toward retirement

Perfecting an art form can take a lifetime, but dancers do not have the luxury of a long career to make a name for themselves — explosive passion and intense commitment elevates a dancer to professional heights but the physical toll of the job is too much for a body past its brief peak.

As a male dancer over 30, Hirano's professional success neared the end of its lifecycle. The probability of injury or sudden change to casting in the company increases with a dancer's age, so with his young children in mind, Hirano retired from dance while it was still his choice.

"My career was going to end abruptly, without notice. I didn't want anyone to make that decision for me," he says. "It was time for me to open up opportunities for my family — to keep dancing would narrow opportunities for them."

With his roots in Japan, and his wife's in High River, Hirano and his family looked at their options.

"Our desire was to get close to family," says Hirano, who struggled to see himself fitting into the buttoned-up business world of Japan. "Here (in Canada), it's very normal to go back to school and change your career path."

On June 30, 2015, Hirano left the National Ballet of Canada. He and his family prepared to leave Toronto and start a new life in High River.

All the world's a stage

The fond memories Hirano has of his time performing in Toronto are fresh in his mind.

"Dancing at that level is more interesting and rewarding than anything," he says. "Every day you work towards one show to make it perfect. Once in a while, you captivate an audience — you feel excitement rushing through your body and take in every moment."

Hirano has danced many times at the Jubilee auditorium while touring with the National Ballet, and he worked very hard to get there. For the next two years he will work to get there again — only the next time Hirano crosses that stage it will not be for his grande allegro — it will be as a SAIT graduate accepting his diploma and moving onto yet another phase of life.

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