There’s a common misconception that medical school students are too overrun with exams and residencies to enjoy the arts — never mind pursue additional careers as professional artists. But Citie Ballet’s lone male dancer, Jason Vaz, has managed to pursue medicine and dancing with equal intensity for three years straight.
At 17, the Medicine Hat native got a late start in ballet, but quickly picked up the form. It was easy, he says, due to his childhood pursuits of figure skating and breakdancing.
After starting his bachelor of health sciences in Calgary, the 24-year-old continued his studies at the University of Alberta. He was accepted into its medical program and joined Citie Ballet, one of Edmonton’s premier dance companies, shortly thereafter.
“The one thing about dance is that it’s a shorter career,” says Vaz, who is breaking from med school to dance full-time. One day, when he’s ready, he’ll trade in his leggings for a white coat, but until then he’s happy to focus on dance and, occasionally, his clothing.
Citing his own Type-A perfectionism, he says he tends toward fashions that keep him looking his best.
Life took a big turn after you entered the School of Alberta Ballet. How did you see your future back then?
That summer, my eyes were blown wide open. The directors in the school saw that I was really into it, and I was learning things quickly. I was in there with kids that were five years younger than me and, at the end of the summer, I was dancing at the highest level in the school.
What about ballet intrigued you?
You know when you see a male ballet dancer that has good technique, and you see them jump and turn? I don’t think any other artform can really captivate someone that quickly. There’s this raw humanness to ballet. Even when someone knows nothing about it, there’s still that fascination because dancing is very basic, in some sense, to everyone.
Had you always planned to go into medicine?
My family is actually all in health care: My father is a pediatrician, my older sister is in her final year of medical school and my younger sister is a nurse. The same summer I went to the School of Alberta Ballet, I was accepted into the bachelor of health sciences program at U of C, so that was when my first dilemma came. I was torn because, at the end of the summer, the school offered me a chance to train there but, at the same time I knew with my family history that medical school (at the U of A) was the path I was going to go on.
When did you decide to take time off medical school?
This final show in June of last year was the biggest role I ever danced. I was the main character in Murder at the Strand. That was a great ballet because it was an Alberta-based story. It was so much responsibility to play a role like that. One thing I learned was the stamina that was required. It was a lot of preparation, and the two weeks before the show I had an elective ... That was when I thought it was just too much stress, and even though both the show and the elective went really well, I thought I had to do one or the other.
Do you find that your ballet skills transfer to your medical studies?
As a medical student or resident you’re thrown into a lot of different environments — you have to be able to make an impression and jump in and adapt. So that quick thinking on your feet is really important. As a dancer, I never thought those things transferred, but it is like a dance class, where you have to be able to pick up combinations quickly.
How about the other way around: Has your knowledge of anatomy helped you as a dancer?
With medicine you do have a background of knowing about good nutrition, cross-training and stress management, and that really helped me in my dance in steering clear of injuries. Overall I think both lended themselves very well to each other. And I think that both, in some sense, are suited to type-A personalities. Anyone who does either one really seriously always feels like there’s some unattainable level of knowledge, and they’re always striving to be better.
Does your style reflect more of your dancer side or the doctor?
It’s a bit of both, it’s simple and more practical from the medical side of me, but I also like clothes that show your physique, because as a dancer that’s one of the focuses. I like clothes that fit really well: Shirts that are not skin tight, but that show the shape of your torso; and pants that are not skinny jeans, but essentially show the length of your leg.
Are there any people you admire for their style?
Aziz Ansari looks really good in suits, and I model what I buy after that kind of style.
Where do you like to shop?
Being both on an artist budget and a student budget, I can’t afford to go crazy — not yet. I have pieces from Banana Republic, Mexx, Club Monaco and H&M, but a lot of my wardrobe actually comes from the Bay. They have really good finds there. I own a lot of Kenneth Cole — and the Bay is one of the best places to find that.
How would you dress up for a Friday or Saturday night out?
I have a leather jacket from Zara. Initially I was on the fence about buying it, but as soon as I did, it was my “going out” jacket — you know, the splurge item. Typically I’ll wear jeans. I like Guess Jeans, I think they fit really well. Usually I’ll wear a long-sleeved shirt or dress shirt. I like to keep it simple, most of my stuff is pretty neutral coloured.
Ballet Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort
Dancer Desmond Richardson
Musician to dance to Robin Thicke
Film The Pursuit of Happyness
TV show The Office
Place to shop The Bay
Hang Out Remedy Cafe
Dancewear Wear Moi
Restaurant Culina Mill Creek