What does a prima ballerina do when she stops dancing? In the case of Veronica Tennant, the answer is "everything."
Beloved as one of Canada's best and most versatile ballerinas for more than a quarter-century, Tennant has since proven equally skilled as a writer, lecturer, director, producer, teacher, spokesperson, administrator, and international arts ambassador. As one colleague aptly noted, no matter what the medium, she is, simply, a "great communicator."
Born in London, England, on January 15, 1946, Tennant began dancing at age four. In 1955, she immigrated to Toronto with her parents and sister. As she recalled more than four decades later in a CBC-TV Life & Times profile: "Within one week of our arrival - we didn't have furniture, we didn't have anything, I don't think I was even in school... but I was in ballet classes." Studying under the legendary Betty Oliphant, Tennant endured a torturous schedule of nine classes a week.
Such tremendous discipline, coupled with her natural grace and versatility, enabled Tennant to become, at age 18, the youngest dancer ever to enter The National Ballet of Canada. After making her debut in the principal role of Juliet in Romeo And Juliet, Tennant emerged over the next 25 years as one of the world's most illustrious prima ballerinas, dancing every major classical role, inaugurating many contemporary roles created especially for her, and performing with all of the great male dancers of her generation - including Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and Erik Bruhn.
In 1975, Tennant became the first dancer to be appointed to the Order of Canada as Officer. In 2003, she was promoted to Companion (the country's highest honour) for her contribution to the arts in Canada.
In 1989, having dazzled audiences across North and South America, throughout Europe and across Asia, Tennant decided to hang up her toe shoes. Her schedule hasn't let up since. Eager to expand her involvement with the arts, Tennant quickly demonstrated that her talents extend well beyond the stage.
Trying her hand at writing, she produced a pair of children's bestsellers - On Stage, Please, which remains a perennial favourite with tiny dancers and their parents, and Nutcracker, a charming exploration of the festive classic.
Her byline was soon appearing in major Canadian newspapers and magazines. Her quick wit and keen intelligence also made her a favourite of TV and radio hosts across the country and an increasingly popular choice for major speaking engagements. Equally articulate in both official languages, Tennant's long list of credits includes keynote speaking engagements at the University of Toronto's Convocation Hall, the Governor General's Awards, and the Canada Day Protocal Show on Parliament Hill.
As a writer and speaker, Veronica Tennant established what most retired dancers only dream of - a vibrant, vital second career. Still, it wasn't enough. Having spent decades in front of an audience, she was eager to learn what life was like behind the scenes.
She has since emerged as an award-winning screenwriter, director, and producer. In addition to crafting a moving homage to her former mentor, Betty Oliphant, Tennant has been the driving creative force behind three superb CBC-TV specials - Salute To Dancers For Life, Margie Gillis: Wild Hearts In Strange Time and Karen Kain: Dancing In The Moment, a sensational tribute to her former National Ballet colleague and close friend.
The Kain special, produced in 1999, garnered Tennant a Gemini Award, a silver medal at the New York Film and Television Festival, and an International Emmy. While maintaining a schedule that might exhaust someone half her age, Tennant has also found time to teach master classes at ballet schools across North America; to serve as honorary chair for UNICEF, for which she was presented with the coveted Danny Kaye Award; and to raise a daughter, Jessica.
In 2004, Tennant was awarded the prestigious Governor General’s Performing Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement, and was announced by the Canada Council, as the recipient of the Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts.
In 2011, Tennant was named Cultural Ambassador for the City of Hamilton.
In 2012, Tennant received the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Medal by His Excellency the Governor General, David Johnston.