Two young ballet dancers in Christchurch have become the first New Zealanders to be selected for a prestigious scholarship to the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in New York.
It's an incredible opportunity for any student, but this one is truly special as those two girls happen to be sisters.
Sonia Woods, 14, and Ashley Woods, 12, were selected for the ABT National Training Scholarship after attending the company’s ‘summer intensive’ programme.
The honour is designed to “encourage young ballet students with astounding potential who, for whatever reason, cannot move to New York”.
The sisters are currently preparing for their end-of-year production at Canterbury Ballet in Christchurch and said the scholarship had left them “shocked”.
Both now hope to go on to join the company as professional dancers, describing the honour as an “incredible opportunity”.
Their teachers, Lily and Alexis Cartwright, are delighted and say the scholarship will help to pay for some tuition and fund another summer intensive programme in New York.
The pair run Canterbury Ballet and know just how powerful a shared love of dance can be – they’re sisters too.
“The easiest way to explain it is that it's a way for the American Ballet Theatre company to keep an eye on students who they want to be in the company eventually,” Alexis Cartwright says.
“Obviously they're too young to just move to New York, right now, so they're just saying we like you, we want to have you in our company if you keep working hard, so we're going to help you get there.”
There will be plenty of hard work ahead for Sonia and Ashley, who split their time between school and their dance classes, training almost every day. They have spent the last decade practicing together at home and now have a very close bond.
Twelve-year-old Ashley says she loves ballet because, “it just lets me be myself”.
“You just listen to the music, and it's just nice,” she says.
Sonia agrees, describes the artform as “another way of expressing yourself, without having to use words”.
For now the girls will keep working toward becoming the first New Zealand dancers to join the company and their teachers can’t wait.
“Five years they should hopefully both be there, and we'll be over there watching them,” says Lily Cartwright.
That means these two might end up standing hand in hand, as the curtain drops on the Metropolitan in New York.