Why ballerina Melissa will be dancing for joy at Grand Opera House
World-class ballerina Melissa Hamilton will make her professional debut in Northern Ireland tonight as she takes to the stage of the Grand Opera House stage.
The 31-year-old Co Down woman will be a guest soloist with Birmingham Royal Ballet this evening and tomorrow as she perform excerpts from classic ballets including The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.
Now a leading light in the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden, the ballerina from Dromore last performed at the Opera House when she was 11.
She said: "I can't recall what exactly my performance back then was a part of, but I just remember being a young student and Westlife were taking part when they were still known as Westside!"
Melissa attended the Jennifer Bullick School of Ballet in Lisburn at the age of four.
She was considered a late starter when she won a scholarship to the Elmhurst School of Dance in Birmingham, where aged 17 she was told she had no future in ballet.
However, her teacher in second year at Elmhurst, Masha Mukhamedov, thought she had a promising career.
In 2007 she entered Melissa into the Youth American Grand Prix, which she won.
Melissa went on to train in Athens under former stars of the Bolshoi Ballet, before gaining a place in the lower ranks of the prestigious Royal Ballet.
This weekend's visit back home will be fleeting, sandwiched between rehearsals for The Sleeping Beauty, which opens in Covent Garden this week.
While in Belfast Melissa will be performing a duet, The Dream by Sir Frederick Ashton, with Brandon Lawrence.
It will also be a chance for some of Melissa's family to see her perform for the first time.
"Some have never seen me dance. Most of my family including aunts, uncles and cousins still live in Northern Ireland so it's going to be really special," the former Banbridge Academy student said.
"It's crazy having had audiences across the world see me on stage but my home audience have never had that opportunity, so it means a lot to me to be coming back."
It will also be a chance for Melissa to catch up with her parents Keith and Linda, and siblings Victoria (33) and David (29). She has previously hinted that she hopes to one day lead workshops in Northern Ireland to share her expertise. She has recently started teaching ballet masterclasses in London and is looking towards home for 2020.
"I have been really encouraged by the feedback and number of students attending so far and I'm hoping that I'll be able to bring this to Northern Ireland next year," she added.
"I feel that since there aren't any other professional ballerinas from Northern Ireland it's in my hands to inspire future generations and show them that it is possible to really make it in the ballet world."
Melissa, a former top gymnast, lives with her fiance Michael Christou (31), an interior designerthe director of interior design for an upmarket housing development company.
The couple got engaged in May during a trip to Majorca but have yet to set the date.
"I thought it was just going to be a surprise weekend escape but when we arrived he got down on one knee and asked me the big question," she said.
"With both of our work schedules, it has been incredibly busy in the household so we haven't had time to think about wedding dates just yet."
An Evening Of Music And Dance takes place today and tomorrow at the Grand Opera House in Belfast.
For more information and to buy tickets visit www.goh.co.uk.