Balancing dance and medicine

(Edmonton) Jason Vaz has always excelled academically, which is why he landed in medical school at the University of Alberta. The problem is, Vaz is also a top student at another discipline—ballet—needless to say, the demanding schedules for both don’t mix.

That’s why Vaz, 24, approached the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry to find out if there was any way to make both his dreams come true. With the help of Melanie Lewis, associate dean of learner advocacy and wellness, they worked out his schedule so that he could pursue both passions.

“Something just didn’t sit right,” said Vaz, who approached the faculty after his third year of medical school. “We came up with a two- to three-year plan for my fourth year. I have an elective block of eight months right now... then based on a few things, like if I don’t get injured or my visas work out, or if the right contract comes along, I’ll take a whole year off next year [to dance].”

“It was one of those now-or-never scenarios, and he was very torn,” said Lewis. “He’s one of those people driven by worry that he would have regrets if he hadn’t pursued this and would’ve wondered where his dance career could have taken him.

“You meet Jason once and you get completely drawn in to him, and so I said I would support him and do whatever we could to help him.”

Vaz is currently dancing with Citie Ballet in Edmonton. He’s just returned from New York where he auditioned for numerous dance companies and says he hopes to be offered a contract. He was also recently asked to be a guest in the Ballet Jörgen in Toronto.

Interestingly enough, unlike most ballet dancers, Vaz didn’t start in his early years. He was in his late teens before he took up the art. The summer after Grade 12, he applied and was accepted to the School of Alberta Ballet summer program.

“I went to the summer school for three weeks, and they asked me to stay an additional two weeks,” said Vaz. “Basically in five weeks I was able to go from a kid who had no ballet gear and didn’t know the name of anything, to dancing with kids my own age who have been doing it their whole lives.”

While Vaz is enjoying the pursuit of his dancing dream, there is no doubt in his mind what comes after.

“I really do want to be a doctor,” he said. “Now that I’m not in medicine, I’ve taken a step back, and I look at it and I say, ‘it’s a really great career.’

“I think the way I have it planned out is the way I want it—to experience my dancing at a high level and then a full-time level. Then when I come back to medicine, I have that experience and can really move forward.”

“It usually works out in medicine that you have incredibly gifted individuals, and they’re not just gifted academically,” said Lewis. “I think exploring those parts of yourself really makes you a better physician. I think you grow in ways that we can’t even estimate at this point. I think it’s only going to make Jason a better doctor.”