IT’S show-and-tell time at the primary school in Whitfield and 10-year-old Catherine D’Ornay has something magical inside her schoolbag.
In front of the class, she holds a letter from Paris.
It contains some incredible news.
Catherine has been accepted into the summer intensive course at the Paris Opera Ballet School.
It’s a place where thousands of students from around the world would love to study but few are called.
To be accepted, they must audition by video, showing specific steps in a classroom setting.
Catherine and her mother, Linda, will fly to Paris later this month.
Students will be coached by former principal dancers of the Paris Opera Ballet.
They will train for eight hours a day in the school founded 300 years ago and now based at suburban Nanterre.
Great news, but the cost of tuition, travel and accommodation for Catherine would amount to $10,000 — far beyond the salary of her father, Sen-Constable Ben D’Ornay.
The King Valley officer thought he might have to “max out the credit cards” to cover the costs.
But the day after the letter arrived, word spread around Whitfield and nearby Cheshunt.
Locals rallied, booking out the Cheshunt Community Hall for a $50-a-head “night in Paris” dinner that raised almost $3000 to help send Catherine to France.
More came from a crowdfunding website.
Mrs D’Ornay said: “We’ve got lots of support from friends and even people we don’t already know.
“We’ve now raised just over $5000.”
The D’Ornays have no idea why Catherine, the eldest of four children, first wanted to learn dancing when she was only three.
The family then lived in Speed (population 50) in the Mallee.
Seven years later, after Catherine trained at the Mildura Ballet Guild School and the Gay Whiteman School of Ballet in Melbourne, the family moved to Whitfield.
The D’Ornays now take turns to drive her four times a week on the 230 kilometre round trip to her new school, Tim Podestra’s Regional Academy of Performing Arts in Wodonga.
Mr Podesta, a coach and choreographer, is familiar with the three essentials for success as a dancer — physical attributes, true dedication and musicality.
He’s seen each of the qualities in many dancers, but he believes Catherine has an unusual combination of all three.
For the D’Ornays, there’s more good news — but maybe not such great news on the financial horizon. Catherine’s brother, Remy, 8, says he is going to follow in his sister’s footsteps.