IT comes as no surprise that Kristin Haight was a track and field champion in junior high.
"I was heavily into sprinting, long jump and triple jump," says the compact, muscular dancer, whose onstage jumping and powerful physicality have been wowing audiences for a decade. "I considered being an athlete as a career."
At about age 15, the East Kildonan-raised Haight, a serious ballet "bunhead," chose performing over sports. After being rejected three times by the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School's professional division because she didn't have the right body type, she finally found an ideal home in modern dance.
Now 33 and a graduate of the joint BA program between the School of Contemporary Dancers and the University of Winnipeg, Haight is in her third season with Winnipeg's Contemporary Dancers. She dances in three of the six contrasting pieces that make up Shuffled, a WCD program of new and remounted works that opens tonight at the Rachel Browne Theatre.
Though Haight is modest about her talent, she does admit, "My athleticism has been a huge plus. I think I've been blessed with good genetics."
But for most of her life, she was mystified as to what her genetic background was. Born in Lewiston, N.Y., she moved to Winnipeg with her mother -- who had family here -- as a six-year-old, after her parents split up. She always suspected from her colouring, curly hair and bone structure that she had mixed racial heritage, but the subject was taboo.
"It was always this big family secret on my father's side," she says. "My father didn't know (the truth). My grandparents both died without me getting the gall to ask them."
Then last year, out of the blue, a "genealogy-obsessed" distant relative contacted Haight on Facebook. She eventually told the dancer that the Haights had owned a plantation in Virginia, and that in the 1890s a mulatto servant married into the family. Haight got to see photos of her ancestors and knew at last that she is part African-American.
"It was like a gift," she says. "I despised not having answers. I had a lot of trouble with it when I was a teenager. It has brought a huge sense of identity to me -- more comfort with myself."
One person who has always recognized Haight's gifts is 76-year-old WCD founder Rachel Browne. About four years ago, Browne got a grant to catalogue her massive video archives and asked Haight to assist her.
"It's something fabulous to see Rachel Browne as a young woman dancing," Haight says. "It's a great privilege."
A few seasons ago, Browne chose Haight to dance one of her most critically acclaimed works, Mouvement. It's an electrifying nine-minute solo created in 1992.
Haight performed Mouvement when WCD toured in Ontario last season. The audience reaction in Toronto was a career highlight. "This one woman came up and held my hand in both her hands and just looked at me, crying. . . . I mean, that's what I want."
Haight says she may not jump as high as she did a decade ago, but she has grown artistically by using mental imagery.
"When I was younger, I thought a good (dance) piece was about sweating your face off and killing yourself absolutely -- which is still a great satisfaction for me.
"But now, I can work with imagery a lot better. If an audience can read that, it's the most satisfying thing for me -- to get people to feel something other than, 'Wo! She's a crazy athlete!'"