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By Kylie Stevens
St.Mary-Mt. Druitt Star
July 28, 2014


Cameron Holmes, 15, hopes to dance professionally on the world stage and dreams of one day appearing in Westside Story (photo by Helen Nezdropa) 2014[Sydney, Australia] – Anything the girls can do Cameron Holmes can do better. The Minchinbury ballet dancer, 15, made all the right move to win the silver category at the prestigious Lucie Saranova Memorial Awards.

Cameron was selected to represent NSW [New South Wales] at the national ballet competition where he impressed adjudicators Steven Heathcote and wife Katherine, former Australian Ballet Company principal artists.

The competition consisted of an open class with nine other dancers and two solo performances. “I thought I had a chance but I couldn’t believe I won,” Cameron said.

He’s been part of the Australian Ballet School’s interstate training program since 2011. He trained at the school in Melbourne earlier this month during “boys week” with younger brother Leyton, who’s also now an interstate student.

“It was an amazing experience to dance with other boys and be taught by male teachers,” Cameron said. “It was really different to my normal lessons and it was good to have my brother there too.”

Cameron has danced since he was three and has previously appeared in musicals Billy Elliott as Small Boy and as Michael Banks in Mary Poppins.

Older sister Monique starred alongside her brother in Billy Elliott.

“My mum’s a dance teacher so it all started from there,” Cameron said. “It’s fun, challenging and I like doing all the jumps and turns.”

Mum Donna has taught dance for 30 years and runs Donna Jeans Danceforce in Minchinbury.

She taught Plumpton-raised Steven McRae, who is now a principal dancer with London’s Royal Ballet.

“I’m extremely proud of Cameron,” Mrs Holmes said.”He’ll eventually move to Melbourne to train full-time.”

Cameron insisted he doesn’t get a hard time from friends.

“I go to a performing arts high school, so dance is normal for a lot of boys there,” he said.

“It’s stupid for people think ballet is only for girls. The boys have to be really strong and athletic to lift the girls.”

Copyright © 2014. Fairfax Media


Read more about Cameron:

On stage with Mary Poppins

Minchinbury’s own Billy Elliot

World at his feet

Madison (14)and Ethan (10) Bailey will both be attending Royal Ballet School from September (Kent and Sussex Courier) 2014


By Kent and Sussex Courier
July 21, 2014


[Kent, England] – Talented siblings from Paddock Wood are attending the prestigious Royal Ballet School together. Madison Bailey, 14, successfully auditioned two years ago and has been at the school since 2012. Her younger brother, Ethan, 10, is now following in her footsteps and will be joining her at the school in September.

The Royal Ballet School is one of the top ballet schools in the world, accepting only 12 girls and 12 boys each year, and children from all over the world audition to gain a coveted place.

The two children, who honed their skills at 360 Dance Amberside, a dance school based in Pembury and Tunbridge Wells, look set to have bright futures. Their mother, Paula Bailey, said she could not be more proud of her children’s achievement. “This is an opportunityHYPERLINK \l “” that hopefully opens up doors for them, something that we as parents cannot give them,” she said. “They are both passionate about dancing and we do all we can to help them achieve their goals.”

Madison (14)and Ethan (10) Bailey will both be attending Royal Ballet School from September (Kent and Sussex Courier) 2014-02Tuition fees for the school are means tested and there are added costs such as travel and uniform, all of which have to be externally funded. The Baileys are hoping to find sponsorship to help cover the costs of Madison and Ethan’s training. “Madison recently went through 10 pairs of pointe shoes in a 12-week period so these expenses can mount up quickly,” said Paula.

Madison and Ethan have been offered the opportunity to dance onstage together for the first time, in 360 Dance Amberside’s summer show, ‘Pure Imagination’, at the EM Forster Theatre, Tonbridge School, in a bid to attract sponsorship and donations.

Principal of 360 Dance, Sadie van der Spuy, said the children were deserving of their success. “It’s exceptional that two children from the same family are offered a place at the Royal Ballet School,” she said. “We are extremely proud; they are both very hard working and dedicated children who are deserving of their success.

“Our summer show is a chance for the whole school to come together and it gives all of our students the opportunity to perform and celebrate their achievements and hard work. I hope that any interested sponsors will take the opportunity to see Madison and Ethan perform together.”

Tickets for 360 Dance’s summer production ‘Pure Imagination’ on July 27 are on sale now.

Copyright 2014 Local World, Ltd.

Oscar,11, Arlie, 6, and Marlo, 8, Kempsey-Flagg (The Independent) 2014

With three sons, the Kempsey-Faggs might not have imagined that dance would feature in their family life. But all of them have been talent-spotted and selected for elite training. And there’s nothing girly about it.


By Jenny Hudson
The Independent
July 14, 2014


[London, England] – It started with a letter that Oscar Kempsey-Fagg brought home from school. He had been spotted during a school workshop run by Birmingham Royal Ballet and was invited to attend an audition. His parents were intrigued. “Ballet wasn’t on our radar,” recalls Oscar’s father, Joe. “Although we wouldn’t have been consciously against it, we wouldn’t have really thought of taking the boys to ballet lessons.”

Each year, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) runs workshops in schools across the city with more than 1,500 children aged five and six. Approximately 200 are invited to audition, with around 60 being offered free, professional ballet tuition on a programme called Dance Track, which aims to identify children with potential to become dancers. At least half of those chosen will be boys. Oscar was selected and subsequently so, too, were his two younger brothers. Now, despite having no previous links with ballet, Jane and Joe Kempsey-Fagg have a whole family of ballet-dancing sons and dance has a central place in family life, opening up new possibilities for the boys.

While ballet classes are a routine part of childhood for many girls, boys can find the classes off-putting. “Often, in ballet classes for that age group, the class will be full of girls and the activities geared around them, such as running around being fairies,” says Rachel Hester, a Dance Track teacher. “The boys don’t want that and you’ll lose them. We made a conscious decision to have white shoes and blue tops on Dance Track. There is no pink.

“At first, I don’t use the word ‘ballet’ – I talk about dance and movement and challenge them to see who can jump the highest and furthest. I give out gold medals because boys like that competitive element.”

After his first year with Dance Track, Oscar was selected to join a smaller group for another year then, at the age of eight, won a place on the prestigious Royal Ballet Junior Associate scheme, a three year elite training programme for eight- to 11-year-olds with the potential to become professional dancers. At the same time, it was the turn of Oscar’s younger brother Marlo to take part in a workshop at Colmore Junior and Infant Schools, which the boys attend. He, too, was selected for Dance Track.

“It isn’t unusual for siblings to be selected,” says Rachel. “When we see children at the age of five and six, a lot of what we are looking for in children is the physical facility for dancing. We are looking for natural ankle flexibility, the ability to turn the hips out naturally, very straight legs, co-ordination and, particularly in boys, the ability to jump. The Kempsey-Fagg boys have ‘magic feet’ – they are physically perfect for dance, as well as having great musicality.”

As well as the rounds of lessons, the boys would regularly see performances by BRB and the Royal Ballet, being given free tickets as part of their training schemes. They talk knowledgeably and enthusiastically about whether they prefer classical or modern styles of ballet. If some people express surprise at the place of ballet in a family of boys, their parents feel it all fits perfectly.

Arlie, 6, Oscar,11,  and Marlo, 8, Kempsey-Flagg with their parents (The Independent) 2014

“The boys race BMX bikes competitively,” says Joe, an architect, who is 42. “I suppose that might seem to be on the opposite end of the spectrum to ballet, but you can see that their ballet helps them in terms of their balance, strength and stamina. They do all the ‘boys stuff’ – they are out in the garden, making ramps for their bikes and climbing, then they will go on the trampoline and practice their ballet. It’s all part of the mix.”

Not surprisingly, many of the boys who are selected for Dance Track also excel at sport. Several on the ballet programme have also been selected for academies run by professional football clubs. “You imagine that if ballet is up against football on a boy’s schedule, it might seem inevitable which one they will choose,” says Rachel. “But it’s not always the case. When classes clashed for one boy recently, his mum told me he was desperate to keep up ballet, so his coach allowed him to come to football training late.”

The way that boys see ballet does seem to be changing, fuelling a new interest in participation. In March 2014, the London Boys Ballet School was established by James Anthony. “It was clear that more boys wanted to try ballet, but there was nothing for them,” says James.

“They would be lucky to find a ballet class with just one other boy taking part and the image would be very pink and fairy-like.” Creating boys-only classes, focusing on strength, jumping and athleticism, the number of participants at the new school quickly grew to more than 30 with ages ranging from four to 14.

“Many of the boys want to try ballet after watching a performance – not only Billy Elliot but other musicals featuring dancing, or seeing dance shows on TV,” says James. “There is certainly less stigma around ballet – it is recognised as a foundation for all dance forms and for its athleticism.”

The footballer Rio Ferdinand, who trained in ballet, and the street dance crew Diversity, are influential figures who have praised the benefit of the discipline for boys. And at the highest performance level, Balletboyz, the company formed by former Royal Ballet lead dancers, is shaping the re-branding of ballet from a male perspective.

Equally now, if boys do express an interest in ballet, they are more likely to be supported by their parents. “This generation is different,” says James. “Dads are proud to bring their sons to our ballet classes; there is no sense that ballet is ‘girly’.”

If the Kempsey-Fagg brothers do ever hear occasional comments that ballet is “not something for boys”, it is not off-putting. When considering this, Marlo quickly fires back, saying: “Ballet is awesome.” Beaming with pride, he adds: “I’m the only one in my class who is in it.” Like his older brother, Marlo, now aged nine, won a place on the Royal Ballet’s Junior Associate programme and has just completed his first year. His younger brother Arlie, six, has recently also been selected for Dance Track.

Oscar has just taken a major new step with his ballet, having been awarded a scholarship to attend Elmhurst School for Dance, the internationally renowned associate school for Birmingham Royal Ballet. “I am so proud of them,” says Rachel.

© 2014


Related Articles:

London Boys Ballet School attracts budding Billy Elliots

Birmingham Royal Ballet brings the joy of ballet to city children


Sarasota Cuban Ballet School


Francisco Serrano (Richard Calmes, Sarasota Cuban Ballet School


Best school banner #1

Boys at the London Boys Ballet School (London Boys Ballet School) 2014


By Andy Dangerfield
BBC News,London
July 12, 2014


[London, England] – Youngsters gather in a room in north London for a ballet lesson. But here there are no tutus, pirouettes – or even any traces of pink.

Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rio Ferdinand and Christian Bale may not sound like your typical pink tutu-wearing ballerinas. But all three have taken ballet classes in the past and are role models for pupils at the London Boys Ballet School, the first of its kind in the UK dedicated entirely to boys, according to its founder James Anthony.

The 33-year-old says he hopes to remove the stigma surrounding boys doing ballet. “Many boys are taking up ballet for the first time and loving it,” he says. “I’ve been inundated with inquiries from boys and young men who want to dance.”

The popularity of the school may be part of a trend that is seeing more boys take up ballet and other forms of dance.
Boys at the barre (London Boys Ballet School) 2014


Role models

Royal Ballet School figures show the number of boys who applied for full-time training with it increased by 30% in the past two years. “There are many more male dancers as role models on stage and on our TV screens which helps to counter some of the perceived negativity around boys taking up ballet,” says Annalise Cunild from the Royal Ballet School.

Elsewhere, probably Britain’s best-known choreographer Matthew Bourne recently recruited more than 300 novice dancers for his Lord of the Flies tour, in an attempt to get more young men dancing.

Mr Anthony says he started the London Boys’ Ballet School, which offers weekend and evening classes, partly because he was too embarrassed to take up ballet when he was growing up in Swansea. “I really wanted to take up ballet when I was at school but I thought I would get bullied,” says the former teacher and sports coach.

He said he hoped to stop other boys being put off by creating an environment where they do not feel like the odd ones out. “Boys don’t want to go in a class with girls where they end up being the only boy in the ballet class,” he says. “It’s all about changing the image,” he adds. “There’s nothing girly about it.”

He says boys who are good at ballet need “huge amounts of strength, confidence, flexibility and athletic ability”.

‘Focus on strength’

Ellis Jones, nine, says he might like to pursue a career in dance one day (Claire Jones) 2014One of the school’s star pupils, nine-year-old Ellis Jones, says he was inspired to try out ballet after seeing a dance show and “wanting to do what the dancers could do”.

He says he prefers the boys’ school to mixed classes he attends elsewhere because “you get to focus on strength. It’s very friendly and I feel like I’ve made lots of progress,” Ellis adds. “In one day you will learn the equivalent of what you learn in two weeks elsewhere.”

Ellis’ mother Claire Jones accompanies him from Rustington, in West Sussex, to attend the school in Islington, every Saturday. “There are only one or two boys in the local mixed dance class, but here, they are able to focus more on boys’ dance,” she says. “It’s not too strict or regimented and the progress he has made has been amazing.”

Ellis, who was en route to an audition for the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical in the West End that afternoon, says he hopes he might pursue a career in dance one day. “I’d like to go into acting and dancing and to perform on a stage,” he says. “But if you’re going to be a good actor you have to dance.”

Meanwhile, the school has started running extra classes, including jazz dance, tap dance and musical theatre. “But it’s not just about the classes,” Mr Anthony says. “We do regular theatre trips and recently saw Billy Elliot backstage.”

And the school has appeared to be receiving recognition from far afield, ever since it opened in March. “We get emails from all over the world praising us for what we do,” he adds. “I had one from a woman out in the sticks in Australia saying her son likes to dance but gets bullied and she wishes there was a ballet school out there.”

So could international interest from budding Billy Elliots mean the London Boys Ballet School might put its best foot forward elsewhere? “It’s early days, but you never know,” Mr Anthony says.

© Copyright BBC 2014

Related Article: All-boys ballet school to be first in UK

Originally posted on Metro:

Pictured: Harvey Woodward, now aged 9, was born with kidney problems and had to have operations to remove part of one of his kidneys when he was a very young baby. See News Team copy NTIBILLY. A real life Billy Elliot is celebrating after he battled back from cancer and near kidney failure to become a ballet dancer.Young Harvey Woodward was diagnosed with kidney disease before he was even born - and was whisked into major surgery when he was just hours old. After a series of grueling operations doctors thought they had cured his problems, only for his parents to notice a lump on Harveyís neck.

Harvey has landed a part in the famed production of The Nutcracker (Picture: SWNS)

A young boy who has been battling disease since the day he was born has achieved his dream of becoming part of the part of the National Youth Ballet.

Nine-year-old Harvey Woodward was diagnosed with kidney disease before he was even born, and had to have major surgery on the day of his birth.

At age four, just as doctors thought they had cured his kidney problems, Harvey was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, a potentially fatal blood cancer, and had to begin a course of chemotherapy.

Pictured: Harvey Woodward, now aged 9, during his time in The Queens medical centre in Nottingham hospital having chemotherapy. See News Team copy NTIBILLY. A real life Billy Elliot is celebrating after he battled back from cancer and near kidney failure to become a ballet dancer.Young Harvey Woodward was diagnosed with kidney disease before he was even born - and was whisked into major surgery when he was just hours old. After a series of grueling operations doctors thought they had cured his problems, only for his parents to notice a lump on Harveyís neck.

Harvey was diagnosed with kidney disease before he was even born (Picture: SWNS)

Despite his health complications Harvey has never given up on his lifelong dream of becoming a dancer, even asking his mother for new ballet shoes moments before going into one of his many operations.

Harvey recently auditioned for a part in the tradition Christmas…

View original 146 more words

Medical Xpress
June 24, 2014

Sports Medicine Australia
June 17, 2014



Ballet dancers are exposed to a high risk of injury compared to other adolescent athletes, a study shows. The study, co-authored by Christina Ekegren from Monash University, involved more than 260 [112 male] elite ballet students [aged 15-19 years old] from three pre-professional ballet schools in London. The aim of the study was to evaluate the rates and risks of injuries, the amount of time students spent dancing, and the consequence of injuries for the dancers.

Ms Ekegren, from the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, said the study found that 76 per cent of the dancers were injured over a one-year period.

“Seventy-two per cent of injuries were because of overuse, with the remaining injuries caused by a traumatic incident,” Ms Ekegren said. “Overuse injuries often result from a high amount of training or underestimating the amount of time needed to recover.”

“During our surveillance, we found that the majority of the dancers monitored danced six days per week with each participant dancing an average of 30 hours per week – this was on top of their normal school work. There was very little variation in the type of training undertaken, with the majority of time spent in ballet classes.”

Ms Ekegren said ankles were the most commonly injured part of the body.

“Dance is one of the most physically demanding activities undertaken by young people. In comparison to other adolescent athletes, ballet dancers have a high risk of injury.”

“Given that injuries sustained by young dancers during their training often recur in their professional careers and are a leading cause of early retirement, if young dancers could avoid injury they could potentially extend their professional longevity. We recommend that dancers are educated on the importance of recovery time, and clinicians and teachers carefully monitor training loads,” Ms Ekegren said.

The information from the study will help provide information to students and their parents about the risks associated with choosing to pursue full-time dance training. It will also help to direct future research in the area.

More information: “Injuries in pre-professional ballet dancers: Incidence, characteristics and consequences,” Christina L. Ekegren, Rachele Quested, Anna Brodrick. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport – May 2014 (Vol. 17, Issue 3, Pages 271-275, DOI: 10.1016/j.jsams.2013.07.013) [subscription required]


© 2014 Medical Xpress

© 2014 Sports Medicine Australia


Additional Resources:

See Training and Education links in Library

See Physiology links in Library



Francisco Serrano on stage at the XII Concurso Internacional para Jóvenes Estudiantes de Ballet (Elaine Litherland,Sarasota Herald-Tribune) 2014


By Carrie Seidman
Halifax Media Services
July 6, 2014


About this story

Editor’s note: Writer Carrie Seidman and photographer Elaine Litherland accompanied Ariel Serrano and Wilmian Hernandez, two former dancers who defected from Cuba in 1993, as they returned to the land of their birth and the ballet school where they both trained as children. With them were students from the ballet school they founded and their children, including their 17-year-old son, Francisco, a late-bloomer poised on the brink of a promising professional career. This is an excerpt from “Home to Havana,” a story of remembrances, reunions and hopes for building a ballet bridge for the future. To read their story, see a video documentary and an extensive photo gallery from Cuba, go to


[Havana, Cuba] — From the darkened wings of Havana’s national theater, Ariel Serrano stares toward the brightly lit stage where the finalists in an international ballet competition for aspiring student dancers are awaiting the announcement of the medal winners.

Seated among them is his 17-year-old son, Francisco, the only American ever to participate in the competition.

With a long and lean ballet body, a conversational grasp of Spanish and the curly, black hair and cafe con leche coloring of his heritage, Francisco seamlessly blends in with the other dancers, who are all from Cuba or Mexico.

At the front of the theater is Serrano’s wife, Wilmian Hernandez. A week of escorting a half-dozen students from the ballet school she and her husband founded, of waiting in endless lines to renew her Cuban passport, and of dealing with Havana’s traffic, pollution and chaos has left fatigue etched on her eternally cheerful face.

Gabriella Stilo and Francisco Serrano as Diana and Acteon,  Sarasota Cuban Ballet School  (Andres Acevedo)bShe is thinking back to that day, four years earlier, when her son asked if he could take up ballet, the art that propelled his parents from this Caribbean island to the United States more than two decades ago.

Francisco was 13 then; she had started her own training at 8. Her husband, watching his son try in vain to touch his toes, told her firmly: “No, Wilmian. It is no good. He doesn’t have it.”

She believed otherwise.

Now, seated on a folding chair in the back row of Cuba’s Teatro Nacional, behind dozens of his dancing peers, Francisco wonders why he is here — in this strange moment, on this foreign stage, in this country that is both his and not his.

Why is he sitting alongside all of these dancers who are more experienced, more at ease, more “into it,” in a way he can’t begin to put into words?

Why did they ask him to dance tonight, at this final gala? Could this mean he has won something? That can’t be, he tells himself, tamping down a quiver of expectation, hoping he is mistaken. Because much as he doesn’t like competitions, he does love performing.

And maybe …

Just maybe, when I do my variation tonight, I will throw in that step at the end, a step no one, not even my father, is anticipating, he thinks. Maybe they will clap for me as they did last night — that thunderous rhythmic, unison pounding that Cuban audiences reserve for their favorites.

He’d felt like running back on stage for a second bow when it happened, wishing he could scoop up the accolades in his upturned palms.


In April, Ariel Serrano and Wilmian Hernandez returned to Cuba with their children, 14-year-old Camilla (“Cami”) and 17-year-old Francisco (“Panchi”) — and five students from the ballet school the couple founded three years ago in Sarasota.

They are here for a workshop and competition at the Cuban National Ballet School, the very place where Serrano and Hernandez received their own ballet training before defecting to the United States in 1993.“I tell my kids, this is where we come from,” Serrano says. “This is the source. You need to see this. You need to understand why we did what we did.”

But for Serrano, the trip is more than a homecoming. More even than just the next step in Francisco’s budding career, recently boosted by a full scholarship to the Royal Ballet in London. It is the beginning of what Serrano hopes will become a permanent ballet bridge between his own school in America and the school of his youth.

“I do not look back,” says the 42-year-old, who once had the long, lean look of his son, but whose waist has expanded along with his worldview. “I take my life how it came to be. I am happy I was born here and studied here because it gave me my work and my discipline. But I’m also glad I left.”

That departure happened in 1993, while he and Hernandez, then dancers with Cuba’s secondary company, the Ballet de Camaguey, were performing in Mexico. They bought one-way tickets to the U.S. after Cuban officials came knocking on their door, demanding garnishment of their wages. When they arrived in Miami, they knew no one, spoke no English, had no prospects for work. They made their way north, where they signed contracts with the Sarasota Ballet.

Hernandez stopped performing when she became pregnant with Francisco, who was born in 1996. Serrano, hampered by injury, quit dance in 1999, after the death of his mother.

Even as Hernandez continued to teach and Camilla, born in 2000, started taking classes with her, Serrano refused to set foot in a studio. But at 13, Francisco, who had earlier rejected ballet in favor of baseball, had a change of heart. He asked his mother if he could begin training and she agreed.

Seeing his son could barely touch his toes, Serrano told his wife: “No, Wilmian. It is no good. He doesn’t have it.” For almost two years, he held firm, refusing to look at his son’s progress.

“I was afraid a 13-year-old boy will change his mind,” he said. “And I could not have handled that. It was way too close to my sentiment and my emotions to mess around.”

But when at last Serrano took a look, he realized his son had caught “the ballet worm.” He agreed to coach Francisco and to consider creating a studio with his wife to fast track his son’s course.

“Once I told him, ‘I will help you,’ it meant I was completely in,” Serrano says.

Francisco Serrano (16), Sarasota Cuban Ballet School 2013-02In 2011, Hernandez and Serrano opened the Sarasota Cuban Ballet School; a year after that, the studio won “Best School” at the Atlanta regionals of an international scholarship competition and Francisco was awarded the “Grand Prix,” the top overall award. When the scholarship to the Royal followed, guiding Francisco to a professional career seemed just the beginning.

This trip to Havana is a first small step toward an impossible dream they hope to make possible. And it begins by reuniting with the teachers who trained them in their youth, including Ramona de Sáa, the director of the Cuban National Ballet School then and now.

Francisco is the only Cuban Ballet student competing; no American has ever before entered the XII Concurso Internacional para Jóvenes Estudiantes de Ballet.

It is time for Round 1 of the Concurso’s variations category for advanced students. That means the first public appearance on the Cuban stage for Francisco. Earlier, Francisco confessed he felt insufficiently prepared for the two additional variations he will have to perform if he makes it through this first round. He’s had nearly a week in class with his fellow competitors, enough time to appreciate the caliber of the dancers he’s up against.

“I’m glad I came,” he says, “but I guess I’m really doing this for my dad. I’d like to come back here sometime though, and not worry about ballet.”

Earlier, he asked his mother why people’s expectations are so high for him here; it doesn’t seem quite fair. After all, he’s only been dancing four years and at nowhere near the level of intensity of most of these dancers, whose lives are ruled by a strictly defined schedule of daily classes.

On the third and final day of competition, Francisco, wearing down booties over his ballet slippers and the feathered headdress of his slave costume, slides into the splits in the wings.

He performs to perfection, perhaps as well as he has ever danced. “Eso es!” (“That’s it!”) Serrano shouts, pumping his fist, as he jumps up. “He did it!”

Sustained applause morphs into that rhythmic, unison beat that Cuban audiences reserve for the very best performances. Dashing into the wings, Francisco leaps into his father’s waiting arms, wrapping his long legs around Serrano’s thick waist like a young child eager for a ride from Dad.

As quickly as it has occurred, Francisco disengages and rushes off toward the dressing room, as if slightly embarrassed by the wave of emotion that has erased his maturity and sophistication. But later he insists: “I didn’t care what anybody thought. I was so happy.”


On the day of the final performance, when the bronze, silver and gold medals will be bestowed, Ariel Serrano collects congratulations from all sides, as if he had danced himself: “Felicidades!” “Maravilloso! “Preciosa!”

Each compliment serves as a benediction, a confirmation. “It’s been like, oh such a dream,” Serrano says. “Just to have him here. Just that alone. And then, this is so much more.”

Already he is looking forward to the Cuban students’ visit and to planning a return trip, with new students. He has already created a nonprofit, DanzAmerica, to facilitate the exchanges and the future programs he hopes to build. “I feel like an ambassador. I never knew I had it in me to do this. And to think I almost quit.”

On the night of the final gala, as the backstage area quiets and an announcer steps before the audience in Havana’s Teatro Nacional, Serrano looks with silent pride at his son, seated on the stage among boys who look just like the boys he grew up with.

The house lights dim.

The voices fall silent.

The awards begin.

Bronce, plata, oro.

Bronce, plata, oro.

Bronce, plata…

“Oro … Francisco Serrano Heranandez, Estados Unidos!”

Serrano sits in stunned silence for a pregnant, disbelieving moment. Then he shouts.

“Get out! The gold medal? No way!”

The little dance he performs in the wings could not exactly be called ballet.“Oh my God,” he gasps, beaming. “I am so glad we came here! Just imagine … A little American boy — among los Cubanos!”


Copyright © 2014


Read more about Francisco: Young American dancer strikes gold in Cuba


By Sarah Crompton
The Telegraph
June 30, 2014


Xander parish joined the Mariinsky Ballet in 2010 (Alexander Neff)It is four years since he left the Royal ballet to join the renowned company in St Petersburg, becoming the first Briton to do so. Now he is back in London – dancing in three of the greatest roles in classical ballet

It only takes nine hours to get from Hull to St Petersburg, give or take a few delays – 1,222 miles as the bird flies. And an entire world away. This is the distance Xander Parish has travelled to become the first British dancer ever to join the Mariinsky Ballet, moving from ballet class in a salmon-pink-painted former church school to the gilded grandeur of the old Imperial Theatre, named after an empress and home to the most famous stars in dance.

When the Mariinsky Ballet lands in London at the end of July this unassuming 28-year-old with a wide, gentle smile will step out on stage as Siegfried in Swan Lake, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet and Apollo in George Balanchine’s crystalline ballet – among the three greatest roles in classical dance.

No wonder he has the dazed smile of a man who sometimes wonders if he is dreaming. ‘Hull is like a sanctuary,’ he says, looking around the small, bare space of his old dance school. ‘It puts everything in perspective for me. I am in Russia 11 months of the year and the Mariinsky is the office. I forget what a huge place of history it is: Nureyev and Baryshnikov grew up there. When I was dancing here, I could never, ever have imagined I would be there.’

We are sitting on a raised stage at the end of a sunlit room with a barre round three sides and a polished wood floor. It may not be the Mariinsky but the Skelton Hooper School of Dance and Theatre has its own distinguished story to tell: in its 65 years it has produced a roster of notable graduates to fill the ranks of British companies, including the Royal Ballet’s director Kevin O’Hare. Joseph Caley, now a principal with Birmingham Royal Ballet, was Parish’s classmate and friend.

Vanessa Hooper took the place over from her mother, Vera Skelton, and it is she who remembers a small eight-year-old boy arriving for his first ballet class, trailing behind his sister, Demelza. ‘He hadn’t quite grown into his tights, so had rather baggy knees. But he had beautiful feet. I knew he could be good, right from the beginning,’ she says.

Spool forward some 14 years and it is those feet that got Xander Parish noticed once again. By this time he had trained at the Royal Ballet School and entered the company, where his younger sister is still a dancer. Then Yuri Fateyev, the newly appointed deputy director of the Mariinsky Ballet, brought his company to London for a season in 2009 – and Parish went along to take class with the visitors.

‘He has the absolute perfect body shape for a lyrical male ballet dancer,’ Fateyev explains. ‘Plus, he is very hard-working. He can work until he is falling to the floor – and then ask if we can repeat it once more.’

So Fateyev, who has opened up the Mariinsky to dancers outside Russia for the first time, asked Parish if he wanted to join him at the company in St Petersburg. ‘I told him it was impossible. I thought he was nuts,’ Parish says now. ‘How could I possibly just go to Russia? Nobody had done it before. Who was I to go and join the Mariinsky Ballet?’

That fractional hesitation, that sudden fear, reveals one of the ironies of a balletic training. To become a dancer requires enormous discipline, huge courage and self-belief. Xander Parish had proved that. His love of ballet came out of the blue.

He comes from the solid heart of the Yorkshire middle class; his father is a specialist ink supplier, his mother stayed at home with the children. As a young boy he was good at all sports – football, swimming and particularly cricket. But then one day he saw Demelza in a performance at the Skelton Hooper school. ‘I asked, why am I sitting here on a chair when she is on stage having a good time? And with that I went to ballet class as well.’

He coped with any opposition his schoolmates might have to the idea by simply not telling them. ‘Maybe I was a bit naive,’ he says. ‘No one knew. No problem.’

Seduced by a love of performance, fuelled by spaghetti hoops and ambition, he travelled the country, ferried around by his mother, and performed in competitions to learn and hone his art. When he was offered a place at the Royal Ballet School at the age of 11 he gave up cricket (his first dream – ‘I was a good bowler’) and submitted himself to the rigours of constant scrutiny.

‘Once I arrived in London I wasn’t [there] just for the sake of it,’ he says. ‘I was going to be a ballet dancer. I was all in. I had plenty of facility but I had to learn to use it. I had to do a lot to catch up.’

All of this was propelled by a perfectionist’s desire to be the best. But at the same time he learnt to obey and to follow instructions, another ingredient in any dancer’s training. So once Parish joined the company in 2005 he languished in the corps de ballet, carrying spears, forming the backdrop, but not getting a chance to shine in solos.

He recalls, ‘When you join the Royal Ballet as a kid from the school you are very much in the corner of the studio, not noticed, out of the way, not seen and not heard. It just happens. It is the mentality of the British kids from the school, we are very quiet and timid.’

In that period he met Fateyev for the first time, when the Russian arrived in London as a guest teacher in 2007. ‘He had an energy and charisma in class like an atom bomb,’ Parish remembers. ‘He was so energetic and had so much to say and had so many corrections. He used to correct me a lot, and focus on me, whereas normally I’d be the last person they’d focus on in the company because I’d be at the bottom of the pile.

‘He was there for two weeks and one day I asked for extra coaching. He made me jump and jump until I left the studio as red as a tomato and sweating everywhere. And then I ran to my next rehearsal to hold a spear or whatever.’

Parish, keen to dance, knew that someone had seen something in him, some potential others were missing. Yet two years later when Fateyev asked him to join the Mariinsky he was assailed by doubt. ‘He said, “I can turn you into a prince. I need tall dancers who work hard and if you want to come I will teach you.”

‘Then he reeled off all these roles that for me were somewhere over the rainbow. At that particular time, I had never done a solo on stage. I had never danced a pas de deux and so the things he was mentioning were like far-fetched dreams. I was scared. So I said I would think about it.’

He told the then director of the Royal Ballet, Monica Mason, about the opportunity that had been offered to him – and asked if there was any chance of a sabbatical, to improve his technique and learn before returning to his home company.

‘I respect Monica very much as a lady and a person,’ Parish says firmly, before he explains how she discouraged him. ‘She told me not to go to Russia because she didn’t like the style and it wasn’t suitable for a British dancer who had been trained in the British way.’ She also said she would not be able, at that point, to offer him more opportunity to dance and extend his range.

So Parish thought some more. ‘I am a person of faith and I prayed about this and I thought it was a God-given opportunity,’ he says. ‘I thought, let’s do it. It is going to be fun. At least if I failed I could still say I was the first person ever to go from Britain to the Mariinsky company.’


Xander Parish as Apollo (Sergei Proskuryakov)


For a man who believes that his ability to dance is a God-given talent the Mariinsky is the place to be. Dance is indeed more than a job in a company that was founded in the 18th century, a place where classical ballet was forged and refined in the hands of the master choreographer Petipa, where Nijinsky, Pavlova and Karsavina danced. Here, ballet is a calling and a talent is something to be honed until it gleams.

This sense of inspiration sustains the performers through days long enough to reduce a healthy ox to its knees. Backstage, away from the gold and turquoise glamour of the old theatre, or the bleached-wood splendour of the new building, opened next door last year, conditions are primitive though cosy.

In a maze of corridors, dancers slouch exhausted on a row of couches that line a linoleum-floored corridor. The rehearsal room walls are queasy orange, the light dingy, the fittings battered. But the quality of dancing almost dazzles.

Parish takes his place in class alongside luminaries such asUlyana Lopatkina, Viktoria Tereshkina and Vladimir Shklyarov. They are all principals, while he is only a second soloist, but there is no hierarchy in the exhausting daily workout at the barre, where dancers stretch and strengthen their battered bodies ready for performance.

The routine is relentless. On the first day we met in St Petersburg, Parish went from class to an Apollo rehearsal to an onstage rehearsal of a new ballet called Intensio to an onstage rehearsal of Apollo to performance, with barely a break.

‘The regime here is something else. It makes the Royal Ballet look like a holiday camp,’ he says with a smile. ‘They work us seven days a week, hours and hours. Sometimes you don’t know whether you are coming or going, and Yuri will say, “Don’t be lazy,” and I know what he means, because sometimes I feel I am being lazy when I just want to go and sleep.’

You would still pick Parish as English, I think, even if you encountered him talking to his friends in easy Russian. He has a neatness, a clean-cut taste in plain rehearsal clothes that distinguishes him from the exotic Russians around him. Yet he seems entirely integrated into this bustling company.

It is a far cry from January 9, 2010 when he first arrived, landing to find the snow piled so high that he couldn’t see the river. ‘It was about 3pm and there was an orange glow over the city. I thought it looked horrible.’ He spoke not a word of Russian and knew nobody except Fateyev.


Xander Parish at the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg (Xander Parish)


Standing in front of the theatre – ‘a mint-green gem among all the snow and ice’ – he thought, ‘Who on earth am I and what am I doing here? They are going to find out that I am an absolute nobody. That was my biggest fear. Being found out.’

His isolation was severe. Only the dancers who wanted to practise their English spoke to him; he wasn’t even told there were canteens in the building so he had to run to a nearby cafe to point at the food he wanted to eat. ‘For the majority of dancers it was like I wasn’t there,’ he says. ‘They looked straight through me. I was very busy, I had no time to get homesick or regret what I had done. But I didn’t unpack my suitcase for the first month, just in case.’

He says the other dancers simply did not see him as their problem; he was just the guy from England. It is also possible that in the intricate politics of an organisation where everybody is always striving for success some of the dancers regarded him as a threat.

But in fact Fateyev’s hopes for his young protégé were not immediately realised. Parish’s own assessment of his ability at that point was closer to the truth than his director’s hopes.

‘When Yuri saw how hungry I was to learn, he thought he could turn me into something,’ he says. ‘But I needed a lot longer than he realised. I was a slow cooker not a fast one and he has been very wise to let me grow at my own rate. I was always a slow developer. As a kid I was like Bambi until I was 19. I am still getting stronger, still learning.’

In the autumn of 2011 he had another setback. He snapped a ligament in his foot – ‘my leg was black to the knee and my foot was swollen like a rugby ball’ – and returned to London for five months, where he stayed with his sister and used the Royal Ballet’s physio facilities.


Xander Parish is coached in Swan Lake by Igor Petrov at the Mariinsky Theatre (Olya Ivanova)


It was on his return to Russia, and on tour, that things began to change. He was given a new coach, Igor Petrov, and began to make up the ground he had lost. ‘We spent hours and hours together and he took me through the basic jumps to get my legs strong, to get my power back.’

Watching them together – rehearsing for Parish’s debut as Prince Siegfried – you see how this experienced Russian ballet master has radically altered Parish’s technique, urging him to bend his knees deeper so he will jump higher, shouting encouragement across the room, pushing a shoulder or a knee into perfect line.

Slowly, the solos turned into leading roles as, simultaneously, Parish began to grow in confidence and make friends within the company. ‘They got to know me and realised I wasn’t someone who was there for five seconds of glory and then was going to leave,’ he says.

Last year he made his debut as Albrecht, Romeo, Apollo and finally – in March – Siegfried. ‘I found it difficult,’ he says. ‘In Russia there is such a sense of history and you feel the weight of it on your shoulders. To be cast as Prince Siegfried in the Mariinsky Theatre where Petipa created it, with all your colleagues crowding the wings to watch, it is your test, your exam.’

His Odette, Yulia Stepanova, was also making her debut. ‘It was a furnace. It refined us, made us stronger and we learnt a lot,’ he says, grinning. After his debut he was officially promoted to soloist.

Xander Parish as Apollo (Valentin Baronovsky, Mariinsky Ballet)Watching him dance Apollo, a role that he says was ‘one of my heart’s desires’, you understand how Russia has transformed Xander Parish. He is more polished and more confident. He jumps sharply and tilts his chin, like a god. But every now and then something of the timid young Englishman sneaks into his portrayal; there’s a shy, boyish charm under the Russian veneer.

His personality works beautifully in the part of a fledgling immortal finding his feet and Fateyev values that sense of drama in Parish, part of the British tradition of dramatic dance. ‘He acts very well,’ he says. ‘He is not doing it like every dancer, but finding his own line and explaining to the audience his way of thinking.’

Seeing his sister perform, realising that it was fun to impersonate different people, was what made Parish want to be a dancer in the first place. ‘When I am on stage, I don’t want to be me, I want to be Siegfried or Albrecht. I love to be lost in the story.’ That, most of all, is what he has learnt in Russia.

‘I feel I was trained to dance in a studio,’ he says. ‘Here I have learnt how to dance on stage. When you have an audience of 2,000 in front of you everything feels different.’

Standing on the Mariinsky stage, with the warm glow of the auditorium lights on his face and the audience close to him in the overhanging boxes, Xander Parish became a new man and a different dancer. That’s not to say he has become the best dancer in the world, or even yet a great one. He is just the best dancer he can possibly be.

‘I think I am good enough to be at the place where Yuri wanted to put me when he first invited me out here,’ he says. ‘He took a great risk bringing me to Russia as an unknown British guy with no experience. He has taken years to break me down, reteach me, grow me.

‘It is a great privilege to be a Russian prince. And, by God’s grace, here I am doing it.’

The Mariinsky Ballet’s three-week season at the Royal Opera House begins on July 28 (


© Copyright 2014 Telegraph Media Group Limited




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