Why I Dance: Guillaume Côté

October 31, 2015

Principal dancer, National Ballet of Canada

Photo by Aleksandar Antonijevic, courtesy NBoC.

I don’t remember why
I started dancing. I grew up in a “hockey town” in northern Québec, Canada, where, needless to say, ballet wasn’t a usual after-school activity. Even though I’d never seen a professional dance company and had no access to live dance of any kind, for some reason my parents decided to introduce me to dance at an early age—and I ended up falling in love with it.

One of my earliest memories of dance was watching the film
White Nights
with my older sister. It changed my life; I was completely blown away! Seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov dancing Le Jeune Homme et la Mort was the moment that I decided that I wanted to be a professional dancer.

After taking lessons at a small studio in my hometown, I left home at age 11 to attend Canada’s National Ballet School, and never looked back. Dance opened up a whole new world to me; I went from a small town in rural Québec to Toronto, “the Big City.” I didn’t speak a word of English and it was quite a shock at first. But not a day goes by without being grateful that I made this choice.

To me, dance is a universal language. Dancers use their bodies as vessels for all the things in life that cannot be expressed, documented or written in words. I’ve been very fortunate in my 15-plus-year career to have partnered with so many incredible ballerinas from all over the world. Some of them didn’t speak a word of English or French, but we were able to communicate through movement. Dance can clearly and powerfully express the most intricate of human subtleties and relationships.

In this new fast-paced digital world, dance to me is a beautiful reminder of how to live in the present moment. Dance allows humans to share intimate moments in the most honest way. Whether you’re watching or taking part, dance can make you feel as if time is suspended for a little while and you feel completely free to connect with the present.

My wife, fellow principal dancer Heather Ogden, and I recently became parents to baby Emma, and it’s made me realize how dance can be a great way to learn how to communicate, to use imagination and to gain self-discipline. Whatever Emma chooses to be when she grows up, I hope I can share my love of dance with her, because I know it will open her heart to a beautiful form of self-expression.