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By Lauren Messman
Eugene Weekly
August 15, 2013

Nathan Rowell and Connor Davidson at Oregan Ballet Academy (photos by Todd Cooper) 2013

[Eugene, Oregon, USA] – Every Wednesday Anthony Carter, 15, suits up for practice. He throws on a T-shirt and joins the other boys as they sweat through 90 minutes of complex combinations, draining jumps and — on a hard day — upward of 200 push-ups. Afterwards, they head to the barre to decompress and leave feeling focused, energized and confident.

Carter is one of the many ballet dancers at the Oregon Ballet Academy (OBA) in Eugene. In an industry dominated by women, tutus and tights, OBA offers a tuition-free, boys-only ballet program. For eight years, director John Grensback has been offering the class for boys ages 9 to 18. The weekly class incorporates technique and strength training and provides a comfortable and competitive environment for boys to explore ballet, work hard and, most importantly, have fun.

“Girls are more focused,” Grensback says. “Boys have to have more fun.” As a young boy, Grensback studied ballet with other boys in Chicago before moving toward an illustrious 50-year career dancing professionally in the Houston Ballet, New York City Ballet and Joffrey Ballet. In many ways, the boys program allows him to give back to the community and teach the way he was taught.

The class brings together boys of all different ages and skill levels and focuses on enriching ballet technique as well as strength and coordination. While about one-third of the boys join because they have sisters at OBA, many come to enhance their other interests. Rafael Batya, 11, hopes the class will nurture his passion for musical theater. Skeptical at first, Trystan Devouassoux, 14, joined to channel his creativity and challenge his coordination. For Carter, it was his genuine curiosity to see what all his female friends were fussing about: They are in agreement that ballet is much harder than it looks.

In addition to providing extensive knowledge and skill, Grensback understands the challenges that men face in a female-dominated industry. “It’s really intimidating to walk into a room full of girls, wearing tights and not know what you’re doing,” says Nick Peregrino, 26. After being taken under Grensback’s wing at 18, Peregrino is now dancing professionally at BalletFleming in Pennsylvania. He believes that his ability to view ballet from a male perspective, a skill he learned at OBA, has given him an advantage over his fellow male performers. “A man’s job is to make the woman look good, and that’s ingrained in me,” he says. Grensback’s emphasis on being a strong partner gave Peregrino the confidence to be a “prince” to his female counterparts.

Fellow student-turned-pro Mayim Stiller, 18, agrees. “It’s always about the girl,” he says. Stiller, who landed a lead role in a performance for New York’s School of American Ballet in June, will begin professionally dancing for the Los Angeles Ballet this October. “Something that’s really great about the boys program was it showed you that ballet could still be masculine,” he says. “To get 30 to 40 guys in a ballet class is incredible. It’s a great accomplishment because it can be hard at a young age for a guy to start ballet.”

Whether dreaming of going pro or just interested in meeting people, Carter highly recommends the class. “I don’t know what I want to do with my future, but I feel like whatever it is, the work ethic and commitment will help me in the long run,” he says. As the next year of the boys program approaches, beginning Sept. 11, Carter gives a word of advice for prospective dancers: “Don’t worry about the tights. You get used to them within a couple of days.”

Related Articles:

Jefferson Baum, John Grensback and José Mateo on Teaching Boys

The Boys of Ballet (Oregon Ballet Academy)

Boys jump at dance (Oregon Ballet Academy)

Male dance students learn the art of ballet

By Randi Bjornstad
The Register-Guard
Photograph by Paul Carter
October 10, 2010

  

 

Click Here to View Slideshow

The Oregon Ballet Academy has the usual throng of girls in ballet flats and leotards practicing their pirouettes and assuming their attitudes, which in ballet doesn’t mean being impudent but standing on one leg with the other lifted at a 90-degree angle.

But the academy also has something different than most: It has a bunch of boys just as dedicated to turnout, battement and jeté as their female counterparts. The main difference is that the studio offers a weekly class just for boys, and it’s free.

In the two years since they began their boys-only program, husband-and-wife OBA owners John Grensback and Megan (pronounced MEE gun) Murphy have seen their male enrollment grow from a handful to several dozen, ranging in age from 9 years to college age.

“We really wanted to do a program for boys, but we knew it would be hard to get them to come because ballet isn’t something most boys think about doing,” Murphy said. “But we were able to get some grants, and John does the teaching. It’s great to see what these boys have accomplished.”

Boys who want more than one class a week enroll in coed classes, and the sexes also mix during rehearsals, performances and special academy-wide social events.

The boys’ class regularly has upwards of 30 students enrolled, and sometimes it swells to at least 40. “It’s their own class, different from the girls’ classes,” Murphy said. “They do pushups, leaps, turns, big jumps — and they love it.”

Not only that, but some of the students, including Mayim Stiller, have excelled to the point that they can set their sights on a professional career.

“I’ve loved dance ever since I was a really little kid,” said Stiller, who turns 16 in December. “I did salsa dancing and hip-hop lessons first, and that was fun, but it was the year after I started ballet that I started thinking of dance as a career. I absolutely love all kinds of dance, but I really see ballet as my future.”

He started dancing with Grensback at OBA four years ago, back when there might be at most two or three boys in a class. Now, he hopes that in a year — two at the most — he will be dancing in an apprenticeship program with a major dance company.

“I work pretty hard,” Stiller said. “Dancing as much as I do now is like having a part-time job. My social life is mostly my ballet friends, and then I have school. That’s what I do.”

Grensback’s teaching “is really excellent,” he said. “He challenges you to go as far as you can and then a little further. Even if you can’t do something completely at first, eventually you get to the point where you can do it. It’s one of his strengths.”

But ballet, Grensback-style, is not for sissies. “You have to be really strong — you have to learn how to hold your arms, jump high and hold your leg out straight, and that takes a lot of strength,” Stiller said. “It’s not simple to lift a girl above your head, and we have to be able to do that. I do at least 200 pushups a day.”

Both Grensback and Murphy had professional dancing careers. She grew up dancing in Guam, then went on to the Atlanta and Houston ballets, “but I was not a principal dancer — I was lucky to be in the corps,” she said.

The pair met at the Houston Ballet, where he was a principal dancer, following stints with the Joffrey and New York City ballets. Murphy stopped dancing when they married, she went back to school and she had their first child. Grensback stopped dancing professionally at 34, because “I think it’s a good thing to go out when you’re still on top,” he said. “I’ve seen too many people wait too long to stop.”

His decision to retire “was a defining moment,” he said. “I was lifting a ballerina over my head, and she was mad about something and wasn’t helping, so it was really difficult. It was the mid-lift at the beginning of the snow scene in ‘The Nutcracker,’ and in my head I said, ‘I’m going to retire at the end of this season.’ ”

Teaching ballet was a natural next step. The couple relocated from Texas to Guam in 1990 to be nearer Murphy’s family and started a ballet studio, where they had 350 students within 18 months. After 13 years there, they wanted to return to the United States, so they started looking for the right place.

“I had performed in ‘Cinderella’ in the Hult Center’s first season, and I loved Eugene,” Grensback said. “Megan liked the size of the town, the University of Oregon and the fact that there were thousands of kids around, so we decided to come here. Now we have our footprint on the ground here — we are home.”

He teaches and she manages the studio and also works full time as a New York Life Insurance agent.  Their partnership dates back to the beginning of their 24-year marriage and the raising of three children who range in age from 21 to 12.

For Grensback, teaching ballet to boys is a matter of both looking back and paying forward. “I learned from Ed Parish in Chicago — he was kind of like the Father Flanagan (founder of Boys Town) of ballet,” he said. “He took eight kids at a time from the state foster care system, got them off medications and threw them into ballet every day. He lived next door to my family, and he ‘fostered’ me, too, and then shipped me off to New York — with my parents approval — when I was 15.”

Grensback started at the School of American Ballet, founded in 1934 by George Balanchine and run by the New York City Ballet. “I got into the New York City Ballet when Balanchine was still around,” he said, “but it really wasn’t my style. I stayed there 2½ years, and then I went to the Joffrey Ballet for 5½ years — that was an incredible experience.”

At 25, “I had my ‘midlife’ crisis. I quit and went back to Illinois to help Ed Parish on the farm he had bought to raise the boys,” Grensback said. “We called it Dance Farm. Some of those boys were really rough — I had to lock my suitcase, and then the suitcase was missing.”

Almost immediately a friend at the Houston Ballet, artistic director Ben Stevenson, called Grensback, who returned to the stage for another 10 years. “That was a world-class ballet company — they even flew their orchestra over to Paris to perform with the ballet,” he said. “But by the time I was 34, my body started saying, ‘no,’ ” and I knew it was time to go.”

At that point, “I kind of turned into another Ed Parish,” he said. “I had a younger brother, and I had pulled him along and he had become a professional dancer, too. Ed Parish influenced us to do something with our lives.”

He tries to instill the same work ethic and enjoyment of dance in his students, both male and female, “and I’d say 85 percent live up to the challenge,” Grensback said. “But dance has to be an enrichment, not just hard work. I like to say we have serious dance, and we have serious fun.”

It obviously looked that way to 8-year-old John Toomey before he started ballet lessons a year ago, his mother, Emilie Toomey, said. “John has a twin sister, and an older sister who’s 10 and started ballet at the academy,” she said. “After her first performance, my son went up to John all by himself and said, “ ‘Can I start?’ I think he saw all the other boys and the camaraderie they had even while they were working hard. He took a class with his sister for a year, and now he does two (mixed) classes and the boys’ class. One of the reasons we encourage them is John’s expectation that you have to work hard to achieve.”

In fact, when he asks his students what his favorite word is, Grensback said, the answer comes back instantly: “Focus!”

In contrast, if she asks the same question, Murphy jokes, the kids yell back: “Chocolate!”

Copyright © 2010 — The Register-Guard

 

Related Articles:  Teaching Boys

                            Boys jump at dance

                            Male dance students learn the art of ballet

 

Mix fun, competition, and discipline to keep boys engaged and challenged
 
By Theodore Bale
Dance Studio Life
Photograph by Gary Sloan
March 16, 2010
[Edited]
 
Establishing an effective program for boys in ballet requires special considerations when it comes to motivation, progress, injury prevention, and social interaction. Three experts with demonstrated success in teaching classical technique to boys share their thoughts:

  • Jefferson Baum, former director of dance at the National Dance Institute in New Mexico and current faculty member at The School of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in Santa Fe, New Mexico;
  • John Grensback, artistic director of Oregon Ballet Academy in Eugene;
  • José Mateo, artistic director of José Mateo Ballet Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  •  

Was a boys-only ballet class part of your own early training?
 
John Grensback: My training was a bit unusual. My teacher was Ed Parish, who had studied with the great Nijinska. Ed pulled me from the streets onto the stage. He became my foster father and the one who raised me. He was known in Chicago for his well-trained boys, and his Nutcracker production was always filled with boys. There was a very athletic boys’ class.
 
He made it fun for us, and many boys were saved from a troubled environment by dance. At times it was over our head, but it kept us occupied, and some of us even went on to become professional dancers. Ed gave us little stretch boxes for our feet, if you can believe it. But he would make it fun for us and told us not to worry if we didn’t have the perfect body. My motto now is “Serious Dance, Serious Fun.”
 
José Mateo: I started training very late, and it was exclusively with young girls. When I started modern dance, however, there were a lot of boys. Princeton had just gone [fully] co-ed [in 1969], so lots of boys were already enrolled. When I started training seriously in ballet in New York, there were always a healthy number of men in those classes, but at the Princeton Ballet Society it was exclusively young women and all of the men were guest artists.
 
 
The modern dance training at Princeton was wonderful because of its proximity to New York, so we always had teachers who were in the companies of Alwin Nikolais, José Limón, and Anna Sokolow. We got a different look at different techniques. Erick Hawkins was a big influence for me.
 
When I went to Europe for the first time in the early 1970s, I realized that men could have extension. You didn’t see that in America very much at that time. A lot of what had been considered solely women’s technique in America was not only possible but required of men in European ballet.
 
Jefferson Baum: My mom, Nancy Baum, was a teacher at Chicago Ballet. She started a boys’ class, and we did pushups and calisthenics, and then we had to go to this barre thing and kick out our legs. At the end of the year, she asked us to be in a show. We were only 14, and she said, “You’re going to be in the show with girls.” The girls came in and they were basically wearing nothing, and we all said, “OK!”

John Prince did a master class, and after that he told me that I was talented and could really do something, but I would have to leave and go to a school. I didn’t want to leave my friends, though. My mom and sister had gone to Interlochen [Center for the Arts] in Michigan. I auditioned there and the director told me that I was talented but she wasn’t going to accept me. I was crushed. She said, “One other boy here is better than you are, and you need to be the best.” She told me to go where I could get proper training and I ended up at North Carolina School of the Arts. I found her years later when I was a dancer at Metropolitan Opera Ballet and I sent her a dozen roses and thanked her for not accepting me!

I studied at NCSA with Duncan Noble, and he had a special way of doing men’s class. I learned a lot from him, and he became the “Jedi master” of my ballet world. After that I was at the School of American Ballet with Stanley Williams and he took a real interest in me and helped me a lot.

 

When I was learning ballet I had a boys’ class, and Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev were household names. All of us aspired to be like them. Who are the heroes now?
 
 John Grensback: I went to a party at the School of American Ballet when I was 14 and there was Peter Martins. He gave me great advice. I was in class with Fernando Bujones, Gelsey Kirkland, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Boys were treated a bit more special in those days because there weren’t so many of us. I never paid for class. Our American dancers are our stars now. Many of them are good at tricks, but the art form has declined slightly. Carlos Acosta and Ethan Stiefel are examples of how we have surpassed even the Russians. Today’s American male dancer is as strong as anybody.
 
José Mateo: I don’t know that we have those role models now. There are certainly a lot of dancers in the U.S. who have the technique of Baryshnikov or Nureyev, but their personalities have not been promoted in the same way. I remember doing a flyer with a picture of Baryshnikov in the center, surrounded by pictures of male athletes, when we first opened our school. Every time I return to that flyer, I think it’s the most effective tool for marketing ballet to boys. That was around 1987. Baryshnikov was in the movies then, and was still dancing and moving into his White Oak Dance Project. But Nureyev had moved to Paris and was a little out of the picture in terms of the minds of young boys.
 
On the recent Ballets Russes centennial, I was surprised by how much Nijinsky had fallen out of the public sphere. In the dance boom [of the 1960s to early 1990s], everybody knew who Nijinsky was. It’s shocking how little ballet history young dancers have. We take our students to the Harvard Theatre Collection whenever there is an exhibit on costumes and theater. There are still ballet students who don’t know about Diaghilev.
 
 
People measure achievement in ballet by the companies they join, but there is less awareness of what we are trying to accomplish here and what makes a great male ballet dancer. I feel there is a great decline in the dance community itself in awareness of what constitutes a fine male dancer. Sometimes I catch my students watching a ballet variation on a cell phone, and I’ll ask them who is dancing. Often they don’t know.
 
 
Jefferson Baum: Role models? There are none. When I tell the boys that I took class alongside Baryshnikov at the School of American Ballet [taught by Stanley Williams], the boys know about him. They are clueless about Nureyev, though, who was also in that class. So, no, the boys don’t really have anybody at that level to aspire to—Fernando Bujones, Peter Schaufuss, or Peter Martins, for example. One of my best friends is [former New York City Ballet principal dancer] Jock Soto, and I had him do a workshop at National Dance Institute, and we’ve talked about him doing some classes at Aspen. There is someone who the boys can totally look up to. Another guy is Peter Boal, [artistic director of Pacific Northwest Ballet]. He brought part of his company down to Santa Fe about a year ago, and we brought the boys to see what Peter is doing.
 

What problems disappear or arise when the boys study separately from the girls?
 
 John Grensback: I remember those tough boys’ classes. I think the healthy competition is good. I’ve seen, as a dancer, the ones who think they are better. I’d rather have a good student than one with a superior attitude. They have to enjoy what they are doing and you have to make it fun for them. I disagree with making it so tough on boys mentally that they don’t want to do it. They should feel really good about themselves after doing a class, just because they finished it.
 
José Mateo: The nature of male competition becomes immediately evident. I am reminded of those National Geographic or other nature programs about male domination and territorialism! A boys’ class becomes a competition almost in the measured sense that scorekeeping accounts for in sports—seeing who can jump the highest, be best at turning, and reign in batterie. These are the hallmarks of accomplishment for boys. It becomes difficult to draw their attention to such things as port de bras, phrasing, and musicality. Certainly Baryshnikov and all the great technicians since demonstrate prowess, but that’s not only what made them great. It’s the ability to integrate all those skills with nuance and subtlety that makes great artists. But it’s hard to get men to focus on those things when they are by themselves.
 
Jefferson Baum: A big thing in my class is discipline. As a teacher, if you are not in the driver’s seat in a class of boys, forget it! This is how we end class: We do a reverence, and then the boys come shake my hand and thank me, and I will thank them if they did a good job. If they’ve got a lot of energy on a certain day, we do push-ups, but on five counts up and down, and I do the counting. I tell them they need to finish every exercise strong.
 
Often the boys are beside themselves when the girls come in; they get chatty and start flirting and then they come across the floor to dance and they don’t know what they’re doing. Every so often I single a boy out and tell him, “I know it’s difficult to focus when there are so many beautiful girls in the room.” When he’s singled out, he will calm down.
 
I tell the boys that they have to focus ten times as much as the girls, because they are often ten times behind them in terms of technique.
 

Do boys need to begin training by a certain age if they want to pursue a professional career?
 
 
John Grensback: I knew a few dancers at Houston Ballet who started as late as 17 and became professional dancers, but they were swimmers or had a significant sports backgrounds. I usually see the boys around age 7 or 8, and I give them much encouragement and tell everyone to keep an eye on the new boy. The boys live for Nutcracker. When they see other boys dancing onstage, that helps, and I suppose that the fact that I am a male teacher also helps. I might tell the father of a female student who also has a boy, “In a couple of years I will have him here in class.” Half of them don’t succeed past six months, but the other half usually make enormous progress.
 
José Mateo: I look at this in two parts. My first argument is always to convince the parents that the benefit the boy draws from studying ballet outweighs the benefits of having a career in ballet. Answers about career are impossible to predict since the student could be injured the next day and be out of the running, or he could make incredibly fast progress. I always remind parents that it is all relative to the options they have. If the boy has a burning passion for something else, it’s more likely the other passion will result in a career. And that career might have better benefits and less stress. But if ballet is his primary passion, then I encourage him to pursue it.
 
Several years ago I read somewhere that dancers, on the average, end their careers seven years earlier than they expected to go. So “How long can I go?” is almost a moot question. Make your decisions based on your passion, not predictions that are impossible to make or to rely on.
 
 
Jefferson Baum: I started when I was 14. A couple of my great friends started at 18 or 19. But if you ask me the same question about a girl, I would say they should start at age 8 or 9. When the boys start late, they really put the nose to the grindstone because they know that they are behind. Those boys have to get really serious in order to catch up with the women.
 
 

What sorts of injuries and other problems need to be looked at from a preventive stance for boys?
 
 
John Grensback: We haven’t had many injuries, but I don’t usually have many things where they land on one leg, such as a saut de basque. I keep the boys on two feet. My boys are doing double pirouettes and double tours and they are doing fine. Their backs are fine because they do push-ups and pull-ups. I don’t really stress turnout, because I’ve been through that kind of pressure.
 
 
José Mateo: The young body has a certain amount of resiliency, and [the students] are also training their proprioceptive facilities. The most important thing is assessing the boy’s ability to manage turnout. Everyone looks at the range of turnout. But range is less critical than the way the boy manages that turnout, which could be detrimental to the development of the back. Boys generally don’t have the same range or ease of turnout as girls, and boys will force it more. Failing to manage it properly, combined with big jumps where you have the biggest impact on the spine, could result in serious injuries.
 
Maintaining the alignment of all those parts is critical, and I think is taken a lot less seriously by men. You can’t predict where the problems will turn up, but it’s likely in the ankles, knees, or spine. I always remind men of the level of virtuosity that exists out there. Are we working to exceed that? Because, let’s be realistic—let’s think instead about something that is theatrically engaging. I always encourage them to go to Cirque du Soleil, to see the extremes of what the human body can do. You’ll see those things that are at almost unimaginable levels. But those same people could not do even one phrase in classical ballet.
 
 
Jefferson Baum: A lot of boys get injured because they are not prepared to lift a girl, and they try to “brute force” it and injure their backs. I am trying to prevent that by doing heavy-duty physical conditioning in my classes. Lifting weights is injury prevention. The first half-hour of every class we lift weights and do push-ups.
In my case, I was thrown into advanced partnering without preparation. I was 6-foot-1 and weighed about 140 pounds. Of course, they put me with the tall girls. Within the first six months I had a major back injury. Probably knees are the second concern, and I think we can work with turnout not coming from the knees.
 

Despite many social advances, some people still think ballet is an unbecoming pursuit for a boy. What do you do to help boys and their parents overcome such stereotypes?
 
 

John Grensback: You can educate the uneducated very easily. Sometimes the fathers are nervous, and I explain that it just doesn’t make any sense. Ballet can be very supportive of sports and other things the boys like to do. Nutcracker can also change a dad’s attitude. When I was a student in Chicago, I told the boys who called me a sissy, “I am going to do something with my life.” They didn’t know what to say to that!
 
As a teacher, you get all kinds of boys, in different shapes, sizes, sexual preferences, and whatever else. I have never had any boys tease each other. When they come together, they forget everything else. I have had some feminine boys over the years and I have never had that problem of teasing. It’s a different world we live in now.
 
José Mateo:  However, if boys choose to go into ballet, there is a tradition that puts men into stereotypical roles that are hard to break. There are lifts and partnering that would be difficult to accomplish without those traditional roles. As unimportant as their own orientation may be in terms of pursuing a career or not, boys should know that they will have to be able to “do it all.”
 
 
In Europe they enlist boys in ballet before they have any real sexual awareness and just as many boys are brought in to class as girls. Our enrollment here in Cambridge is now 16 percent boys, and that is actually huge, and we have healthy boys’ classes. At a certain level, though, they still have to move in with the girls if they want to get on a serious level.
 
Jefferson Baum: I quote a newspaper article I read some years ago, which stated that if ballet were considered a sport, it would be second only to football in degree of difficulty and injuries sustained.
 

For more information:
Oregon Ballet Academy: oregonballetacademy.com/boys_program.php
José Mateo’s school: ballettheatre.org/school_ydp.
Jefferson Baum: aspensantafeballet.com/school/faculty_santafe.php; ndi-nm.org/teacherfeature.html
National Dance Institute: ndi-nm.org/our_programs.html

 

Copyright © 2009 Dance Studio Life.

By Teri Albert, Columnist
The World, Oregon
June 19, 2009 

 

Art WorldConnor Hammond, 10, Pacific School of Dance 2009-2

Connor Hammond is riding the wave, and I don’t mean one of those Pacific rollers crashing on Bastendorff Beach. Hammond, 10, is studying ballet at Pacific School of Dance, at a time when boys who dance are getting a lot of attention.

The Broadway production of “Billy Elliott” scooped up 10 Tonys this month, promising retail success for a play about a small community fighting for its economic survival. The dancing is pivotal to the plot: Billy’s village is embroiled in a miners strike, and he staunchly prefers ballet to boxing.

Fighting the current is common practice for young male dancers. A YouTube interview with the three boys who shared the role that won them a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actor finds them confessing that they lied to friends and teachers about their commitment to dance. After-school disappearances were attributed to homework or baseball practice.

Connor Hammond also enjoys baseball, but he prefers ballet. The Blossom Gulch fourth-grader has been a part of the dance program at PSD since he was 4 years old. After watching friends during a beginning dance elements class, he wanted to know why he was excluded from the fun. “How come I can’t take dance?” he asked his mother, Shelly Hammond.

She agreed there was no reason not to, and Connor has now worked his way through the curriculum to a placement in first-year intermediate ballet. He has three performances with the Eugene Ballet Company under his belt, admitting that last spring’s “Swan Lake” role found him a bit nervous.

“I was nervous ’cause I didn’t do it before,” Hammond said. Walking across the stage with arms outstretched, he presented the Prince with a birthday gift — the crossbow used to kill the sorcerer and break the magic spell.Connor Hammond, 10, Pacific School of Dance 2009

“They wanted me to walk like a dancer, but there was no dancing,” says Hammond. “We went over it two times on the day of the performance … They (EBC dancers) didn’t really talk that much.” Hammond’s mother plans to expand his horizons this summer with a family camping trip to the Rogue River. Before and after camping, however, he is scheduled for more classes.

“Connor spends the majority of his time dancing,” she says with a smile. “He dances all around the house; he practices. He watches all the videos he can. We just got ‘Don Quixote.’”

Dance classes for boys are a growing phenomenon. The Oregon Ballet Academy in Eugene established a boys program in 2008, acquiring outside funding for the tuition-free, boys-only class. For more than an hour every Wednesday, boys ages 9 through 21 are put through their paces by OBA director John Grensback, himself a professional dancer formerly with New York City Ballet, Houston Ballet and the Joffrey.

They do push-ups. They do pull-ups. They learn the big jumps (single and double cabrioles, split sissonnes, tour en l’air), and they learn a little French in the process. They practice lifting, catching and carrying a partner.

PSD Curriculum Director Connie Hogge says having boys at her school brings a different element to the classroom. “They bring a different strength and power,” she said. “It always amazes me that the very same training turns out so differently on guys than on the girls … I remember when I was 8 years old, I was watching an upper level class. One of the guys did the solo from “Don Quixote” and it impacted me so much. I was overwhelmed by the control — so harnessed and powerful.”

This summer, PSD is offering Pirate Camp for Boys. It’s for ages 8 and up and while Hammond may be invited to attend as a “helper,” his focus now is on developing more and better skills in ballet, partnering and tap. He loves dance, and he’d like to do it in New York.

As a beaming Kiril Kulish said when he took the stage and hoisted the Tony, “To all the kids out there who might want to dance, I just want to say, never give up!”

 

Copyright 2009 © The World Link

It’s not just girls learning their moves for the ‘Nutcracker’

Nov 29, 2008

 

 oregon-ballet-academy-nutcracker-2008

The “Nutcracker” ballet may be a holiday tradition, but one thing is different at the Oregon Ballet Academy’s production this year.

“There are 20 boys doing the Russian Trepak this year,” said 12-year-old dancer Simon Longnight. “There’s never been more than three before.”

Classes at Oregon Ballet Academy are coed, but tend to be dominated by female dancers.

“We always have just a handful of boys,” said John Grensback, the program’s director. To draw more young male dancers, Grensback sought funding from the Oregon Ballet Foundation and the Lane Arts Council and set up a tuition-free Wednesday class for male dancers only.

The class attracted two dozen dancers ages 9 to 22 with all levels of experience.

“It was a mixed bag of shells,” Grensback said.

As boys improve, they can start taking more advanced ballet classes, but many opt to stay in the all-boys’ lessons as well.

boys-rehearsing-for-the-oregon-ballet-academy-nutcracker-2008

Thirteen-year-old Mayim Stiller has been taking ballet for three years, and he said the all-boys’ class is different from his other lessons. “It’s like working out at the gym,” he said. “We get to do a lot of big jumps.”

The boys also practice lifting, catching and carrying a partner — important for dances such as the expressive “Nutcracker” pas de deux.

“In ballet, we say the men are there to make the women look pretty,” said Ellis Hoffmeister, 18.

To pull off that goal, the boys’ practice includes push-ups and pulls-ups. “We have to be strong to lift the girls,” Stiller said.

boys-rehearsing-the-russian-dance-for-the-oregon-ballet-academy-nutcracker-2008

Longnight said he does extra push-ups during TV commercials at home.

“Ballet is harder than any other sport,” he said. “You have to withstand pain in your feet without showing it on your face.”

Grensback also spoke to the dedication required to be a successful dancer. “It’s a real strength,” he said. “It opens doors.”

Stiller said he sometimes gets teased for taking ballet, but he had some advice for other boys interested in dance. “You should try it, and not get discouraged by people who say it’s stupid and dumb,” he said. “It’s really fun.”

For more information, go to http://www.oregonballetacademy.com

 

Copyright © 2008 — The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon, USA

By Michele Arman

Story Published: Feb 6, 2008, Eugene, Oregon

 

EUGENE – A local ballet school is looking for a few good young men to join them in learning the art of dance.The Oregon Ballet Foundation is sponsoring a free dance class for boys. The class meets once a week and the workout is anything but child’s play.
It’s one technique after another for students learning the art of ballet. The classroom is a rigorous training ground for a dance form commonly associated with girls, but what make this class different, it’s strictly for boys.
“I’ve always love to dance since I was a little boy,” said 13 year old student Mayim Stiller.
Each Wednesday you can find this group of male students dressed in black tights and a plain white T-shirt at the Oregon Ballet Academy getting a serious workout. They’re all enrolled in a tuition-free class sponsored by Oregon Ballet Foundation.
“We just wanted to increase the opportunity and awareness for boys that this isn’t just a girls thing,” said Megan Murphy of the Oregon Ballet Foundation.
By having a “boys-only” lesson, instructors say they can focus on building young men’s upper body strength and increasing their flexibility; two important skills needed to pull of some complex choreography.

“They are required to do a lot bigger jumps and leaps with their lifts and feet and just different tricks then the girls are,” said Murphy.

“The stronger these boys gets the more I can do with them,” said John Grensback, the artistic director for the Oregon Ballet Academy.

While the class may break some stereotypes of who you’d typically seen on stage, many students say isn’t about taking a stand it’s about doing what you love.

“You can be masculine and all these different types of things and still dance,” said Nicholas Peregrino, a 20 year old student.

The tuition free boys ballet class still has room for more male students ages ten to 22. If you’re interested in taking center stage, contact the Oregon Ballet Academy for more information.

A trial ballet class will be held at the Oregon Ballet Academy on Wednesday, February 13th at 6:15 pm for interested males.

 

 

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