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Monthly Archives: April 2009

by Karyn D. Collins

Dance Teacher Magazine

April 2009


One of the biggest trends in ballet during the past 15 years has been special programs for boys at major ballet academies in the United States. The programs, many of them offering boys free tuition, have popped up as directors have intensified their efforts to address a longtime challenge: how to encourage young American boys to study ballet.

Eliot Feld’s Ballet Tech School in New York City, with a unique approach to this mission, has had notable success—at least in part—by making dance a meaningful part of the regular public school day. But what really distinguishes the program is that not until the sixth grade do boys begin to take dance class with the girls.

Ballet Tech teachers say the boys-only classes are critical to retaining these students. They allow for the different learning styles and energy that often differentiate boys from girls.

“Of course I’m generalizing, but boys have got to move,” says teacher Daniel Levans. “They tend to be more rambunctious. We’re constantly having to play fly fisherman. You have to reel them in but slowly. The approach is different, too. Boys like to be confronted. It’s a more aggressive way of challenging them.”

The school currently enrolls 154 students in grades 4 through 12 and students must audition to enter. More than a quarter of the students are boys, though that percentage shifts from grade to grade (50 percent of the fifth-graders are boys, for example). Elementary and middle school students take their academic classes in classrooms located at the Ballet Tech School, housed on Broadway in the same building as studios of American Ballet Theatre. Another 700 youngsters participate in a free, beginner’s program held after school for third- through sixth-graders; almost half of these students are boys.

“We operate a New York City public school and just like other public schools, it’s tuition-free. Some schools have a principal interest in science or math. We have a principal interest in dance. It’s part of their regular curriculum,” says founder Eliot Feld.

Fourth graders begin taking technique class twice a week. By the time they reach seventh and eighth grades, students dance nine hours out of a 32.5-hour school week. High school students take academic classes at two area high schools, then go to Ballet Tech for dance class after school 12.5 to 14 hours a week.

Ballet Tech alum Jeremy Summerville says the boys-only classes pushed him to excel. “When it’s just the boys, competition is extremely important. It makes you work harder.

You’re  trying to jump higher than the boy next to you,” says Summerville, 19, who is now a freshman at Bronx Community College and a teaching assistant at Ballet Tech. “It was fun when we got with the girls, but it was a different feeling with the all-boys classes. The boys classes push you to do your best and see how good you really are.”

And the high-flying energy doesn’t mean the boys are allowed to do whatever they please in class. “We also have to get them to hit those positions,” says teacher Christine Sarry, who directs the upper grades. “You can’t just go flying around. You have to be able to articulate the body.”

The all-boys classes aren’t the only unique part of the Ballet Tech program. In many ballet academies, students who are not seen as professional dancer material are gradually weeded out. At Ballet Tech, the goal is different.

“We want to identify talented children who, without this opportunity, would probably not have a chance to discover their gifts,” Feld says. “Some of these children may never be dancers, but we want to give them that exposure and the discipline and rigor and beauty of dancing.”

Some Ballet Tech alums have gone on to professional dance careers. But teachers said whether or not their students have such aspirations, expectations in class are the same for all.

“We’re not just playing around here. They have to take what we’re doing here seriously,” Sarry says.

Adds Levans, “Will they all be professional dancers? No. Can they all benefit and learn and grow from the program and will they continue to work and progress? If the answer for that child is ‘yes,’ if the commitment from them is there, then they stay.”

Summerville, who is studying radiology at Bronx Community College, says most of the students he graduated with last year have opted not to pursue dance careers, but many are trying to continue taking classes somewhere in the city.

“I always knew I would go to college. I figured I would go to school and try to keep dance in my life somehow,” Summerville says. “I think back on my days at Ballet Tech now and I don’t know where I would be or the type of person I would be without it.”

He concludes, “It’s amazing what you get there—the discipline, the peaceful environment, the support, the focus on dance and the arts. The things I’ve learned from dance have been great for me.”


Karyn D. Collins is a New Jersey–based writer and dance teacher.

Copyright © 2009 Macfadden Performing Arts Media

Gifted dancer becomes only the third male Briton to win place at Moscow school



By Arifa Akbar, Arts correspondent

The Independent

Saturday, 25 April 2009



At the age of four, Daniel Dolan had two equally consuming passions: rugby and ballet. His father introduced him to the former and his older sister led him to the latter.

Now 16, Daniel’s abiding love of the performing arts – encouraged by his first dance teacher who foresaw a glittering career for the boy – has prevailed. He made history this week by becoming only the third British male dancer to be accepted by Russia’s prestigious Bolshoi ballet academy in its 236-year history.

The gifted dancer from Widnes in Cheshire won his place at the Moscow school – regarded by many as the most rigorous ballet training ground – after, on a whim, he sent in a DVD of a performance he had given.

Speaking about his shock at being accepted by the Bolshoi, he said: “To be honest, I didn’t believe it at first and had to keep re-reading it and then I showed it to my mum. I am very excited. I have worked hard but at the same time it doesn’t feel like hard work because I am doing something I really love. My dream is to complete my training and dance with the best companies in the world.”

Daniel’s father, Peter, said he had originally wanted his son to play only rugby. “He started off with a dual career. He was a potential rugby player and played at his local club but got fed up after about six months and got into ballet after going to his sister’s dance class.bolshoi_ballet_daniel_dolan_2009_2

“I remember after his very first dance lesson his teacher, who was a stern lady, said to me, ‘You must never let this boy stop dancing.’ He was only four years of age and she said he moved his feet beautifully and that he would go far,” he said.

[Daniel attended Holy Family RC School in Cronton and trained at Liverpool’s Elliot Clarke School of Dance until he was 11.  The dedicated teenager won a scholarship to The Hammond School in Chester, where he dances for four hours a day, while studying nine GCSEs.  “I start at 8.30am and don’t go home until 7pm, “ said Daniel. “It is tough, you have to be dedicated like an athlete. This will be one of the hardest experiences of my life but it will be worth it.” (Barbara Jordan, Runcorn & Widnes World, April 24, 2009)]

As well as being admitted to the Bolshoi academy, Daniel was accepted by elite US ballet schools in Miami and San Francisco.

[He has performed with the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the English Youth Ballet. (BBC News)]

The teenager, who is head boy at the Hammond School in Chester, hopes to raise £15,000 in funding to start at the Russian academy in September, following a three-month summer school at the prestigious Juilliard dramatic arts academy in New York.

He said: “British Airways have offered me sponsorship as part of their BA Great Britons Programme, where I can get up to 180 free flights a year. It will certainly help with the cost as it is incredibly expensive to train at the Bolshoi. I am hoping to find as sponsor as without one I can’t go.”

Daniel will follow in the footsteps of two former British dancers, Henry Perkins from Yateley in Hampshire, who joined the Bolshoi academy in 2006 and is now in his third year, and Ralf Pickering, whose entry to the school the previous year was marked by having his picture hung at the National Portrait Gallery.

He is believed to have left a few months after he began participating in the company’s gruelling daily training regime. The Bolshoi ballet academy, the oldest theatrical school in Moscow, was founded as an orphanage in 1763 and started teaching pupils a decade later. It is the affiliate school of the Bolshoi Ballet company, which has nurtured such giants of dance as Rudolf Nureyev, who later left to join the Kirov Ballet company.

Traditionally, and particularly before the fall of the Soviet Union when dance was a relatively-privileged career, the Bolshoi’s male dancers were the giants of the ballet world, known for their immense strength, power and athleticism.

Daniel has much to live up to, but his rugby background may help.


© 2009 Independent News and Media Limited




Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Tommy Batchelor’s dance teacher predicted he would be on Broadway. “But she thought I would be at least 20,” said Tommy, laughing.

Now 13, he is one of four boys playing the lead role in Billy Elliot, the hit musical on Broadway.

Tommy, whose home is in Palm Beach Gardens, was spotted by a talent scout in 2007 at a ballet competition in Orlando and joined the show in May 2008. He officially became the fourth Billy in March.

With music by Elton John, Billy Elliot is based on a 2000 British movie about a boy from a working-class family in northern England who wants to be a ballet dancer. A hit in London and Sydney, Australia, the musical opened in November to raves in New York.

It’s a classic heartwarmer: Young boy beats the odds to fulfill his dreams.

Like the character he plays, Tommy Batchelor knows what it means to be devoted to dance. When he was 3 years old, he saw a television biography about the legendary tap dancer Bill Bojangles. “I said, ‘I want to do that.’ ” said Tommy.

He started dance lessons at age 4 when his family lived in Minnesota.tommy-batchelor-13

After moving to Florida, Billy attended U.B. Kinsey/Palmview Elementary and Bak Middle, dancing at both. Jane Beck, his teacher at Kinsey, called him “a choreographer’s dream. You ask him to try something and he says, ‘OK’ and does it.”

For three years, he has taken dance classes at Palm Beach Ballet Center in Lake Park four days a week. “He was first of all in love with dance,” said ballet center owner Joan Miller.

Tommy was so eager to dance that dance coach Stacey Downs had to order him to stop some days. “He’s like a racehorse, he just goes,” said Downs. “He has a great heart, he’s very emotional, very expressive. And I’ve never met such a quick study.”

Stamina is important for the role. “The Billys carry the show,” said casting director Nora Brennan. “They are onstage almost three hours, doing ballet, tap, gymnastics, singing and acting. It’s a very demanding role.”

The other X-factor is stage presence. “You should see Tommy hold an audience,” said Downs.

Ed and Rebecca Batchelor have adapted home life around their son’s big break. Rebecca and Tommy live in a fourth-floor walk-up in upper Manhattan. They ride subways downtown to the Imperial Theatre.

Ed, a math teacher at Seminole Ridge High School in Loxahatchee, and Eddie, Tommy’s older brother, visit New York when they can.

Tommy’s week includes academic tutoring, dance, singing and acting lessons, rehearsals and physical therapy. He plays the lead twice a week and is on standby in the theater two more days.


                             tommy-batchelor-13-as-billy-elliot-2009-1        tommy-batchelor-13-as-billy-elliot-2009-2 


Casting director Brennan is continuously auditioning new Billys. As soon as one of the current stars starts to look and sound like a teenager, he has to be replaced.

Until that day, Tommy Batchelor is just enjoying the thrill of performing, the autograph seekers, the standing ovations.

He’s not even disappointed that he won’t be eligible for a Tony nomination. That honor, if it comes, would go to the three boys who opened as Billy in November. With the offhand candor that only a 13-year-old can manage, he says, “I think I’ll have other chances.”

Daphna Berman
Jewish Exponent Feature

April 09, 2009


Esteban Hernandez could have been a star on Broadway, but when he was offered the role of Billy Elliot in the eponymous hit musical, the 14-year-old ballet whiz declined. “I didn’t think I was ready yet,” the Mexican-born Jewish dancer said. “I would have been performing all the time, instead of working on my technique.”

A real-life Jewish Billy Elliot? Hernandez acknowledges some similarities. “People say that ballet is only for girls or imagine boys in tutus, and so in that way, we both have to fight stereotypes,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize that ballet is more complicated than any other sport because you don’t have to just jump — you have to make it look easy. But Billy Elliot’s father didn’t want him to dance, and in my case, my father was my teacher and is a big supporter.”

Hernandez, a student at Philadelphia’s Rock School for Dance Education who arrived in the United States two years ago to pursue his passion, is considered one of the ballet world’s most promising rising stars. He has racked up medals, scholarships and international recognition, and his teachers say a career in a top ballet company is almost certainly assured.

“To say that he is a prodigy is not an exaggeration,” said Bo Spassoff, president and co-director of the Rock School, and a former ballet master at the Pennsylvania Ballet. “His control, balance and strength are incredible, especially given his age. He does stuff that finished professionals can’t and don’t do.”

Hernandez, who started dancing at the age of 8, has a long and impressive résumé: He won gold medals at the Cuba International Dance Competition and at the Youth America Grand Prix International Finals, the largest ballet competition in the world. He also came in first place at the recent Tanzolymp festival in Berlin, Europe’s largest dance competition. And last year, he was honored with Mexico’s National Youth Award, in a ceremony attended by Mexico President Felipe Calderon.

“His career will go anywhere he wants it to go,” said Stephanie Spassoff, the co-director of the school. “I’ve seen a lot of talent, but he is truly amazing. When he dances, he is just brimming with love, joy and a desire to dance.”


Transformed Through Dance

Hernandez has the demeanor of a relaxed and well-adjusted teenager; however, he is simply transformed the moment he begins to leap and pirouette. It underscores a discipline and maturity far beyond his years.

His training is rigorous. He dances more than eight hours a day, and weekends rarely offer time off. “There’s a lot of competition in ballet, and you need to work 110 percent every day.”

Hernandez, the eighth of 11 children, hails from a dance family. Both parents were performers and his older brother, Isaac, a graduate of the Rock School, is a dancer with the San Francisco Ballet. His father performed with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Houston Ballet.

Enrolled as a ninth-grade student in a school in his native Guadalajara, Hernandez studies in the Philadelphia apartment across from the Rock School that he shares with two older sisters. He only takes tests when he returns to his hometown. Dance is his life, he says, and he admits that it’s difficult for him to connect with people outside of that tight-knit community.

Though Hernandez wasn’t raised in a religious household, Jewish traditions are personally significant, he says. Stephanie Spassoff jokes that she assumed that he and his brother Isaac were Catholic because their family was so large. “But then we were at a restaurant and Esteban said, ‘I can’t eat that because I am Jewish,’ ” she recalled. “I was so surprised. I had never met a Jewish Mexican before.”


Copyright © Jewish Publishing Group



Related articles: Esteban Hernandez wins Mexico’s National Youth Award


                          Leaping to the next level


                          Child Prodigies






by Griffin Shea

Sowetan – News

April 3, 2009



Teenage footballers [soccer players] who dream of becoming star South African professionals are taking up ballet to give them the edge on the field, in a training regime inspired by Argentine great Diego Maradona.

The youngsters at one of South Africa’s elite football academies spend 30 hours a week practising on the pitch.

And now they are also putting in the hours in the ballet studio where they leap and plie in their football kit – to learn skills their trainers say will make them better footballers.

“It started off (when) some person went and compared Maradona’s game to typical ballet movements, and that’s where they started developing their ballet curriculum for football,” said Kobus Maree, a physiotherapist at the Sport and Art Exchange Academy.



The programme began a year ago when the sparkling new campus opened in a suburb between Johannesburg and Pretoria, and the gains are already showing, said Dirk Badenhorst, who heads the school’s ballet programme.

“There’s a basic move that they do called a rond de jambe en l’air, where they lift the leg in the air, and that in particular helps them with kicking the ball in the air,” he said.

“And if they have the control of the body, and learn how to bend the bottom leg while they do it, they have much more strength and power in the kick.”

With the 2010 World Cup nearing, linking football and ballet is also a way to draw attention to South African arts, he added.

“We are trying to create respect between our sports people and our arts people,” Badenhorst said.

Maree said ballet training has already improved the players jumps and kicks, improvements that helped them overcome any initial reluctance about taking up dance.

“They were worried they would have to put on tights and all that funny stuff,” he said. “If they see the performance benefits, and it gets related back to their sports, then I think kids will do quite a bit to perform better and be competitive.”



The boys here were recruited from across South Africa, with scouts also venturing out into Botswana, Zambia and Kenya.

Full tuition for boarders costs 140,000 rand (14,600 dollars) a year.

To make it more accessible, some students are given assistance, like Botshelo Madumo, a 14-year-old from Pretoria who has had all his fees covered.

“I almost went into tears. My mum was in tears though, so I was really happy. She was jumping for glory,” Botshelo said, remembering when he found out about his scholarship.

He grew up in a poor township, but was scouted at his first tryout with a local club in Pretoria.

In January he left his school that had 38 students crammed into a class for the top facilities here, where he shares classrooms with just eight other pupils.

“Here, with only nine of us, the teacher can really see, you know what, Botshelo is not concentrating,” he said. “The education here is really hard, but the teachers here, they make you understand stuff a lot easier.”



To find other young players like Botshelo, both the sports and the ballet programmes head into some of the poorest neighbourhoods, hoping to spot young talent.

Ballet teachers run classes at the nearby Madibotle primary school, where headmistress Patricia “Busi” Lumwila said she has only 26 teachers for more than 850 students, including about 100 orphans.

“They are from the poorest of the poor,” she said. “Some of them don’t even know where town is.”

During their dance lessons, students who can’t focus in the classroom become disciplined and attentive as they practise their movements, she said.

“Most of their parents did not get this opportunity,” she said.

“If they are exposed for some time, some of them will be at the academy one day,” she added.



All material copyright Sowetan

By Josh Skapin, Echo Editor

The Airdrie Echo

March 18, 2009



One evening, Quinton Velcic was watching television and took notice of a commercial advertising auditions for the famed performing arts group, the Young Canadians.

It made him remember a grandstand show from a few years ago where he saw the group perform live. “I remember thinking ‘that is so cool, I really want to do that.’” Quinton said.

He approached his music teacher at school, and asked for help.

The audition for Young Canadians was a bit of a nerve-racking experience for the now 12-year-old student at Our Lady Queen of Peace. “There were a lot of kids there,” he said, adding that prior to that experience he had only sang publicly infront of the comfortable company of friends and family. But things went well.

“When I first went in, I did pretty good and was really excited.”

He received a call-back to perform once again. After a short wait, he was told that he made the cut, and was handed a booklet on club rules.

Aside from honing his on-stage skill set, Quinton has taken a lot from his experience with the group. “It has given me lots of discipline,” he said, adding that meeting new friends with similar interests has also been a perk.

A regular week for Quinton includes three days of rehearsals, meaning he needs to be in Calgary Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. “I have to make sure at school that I get my homework done and am all clear for that night, so I don’t need to worry about getting stuff done the next day,” he said

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Rehearsals include three classes, vocal, ballet, and jazz.

While Quinton looks forward to many fond memories with the Young Canadians, the moment that stands out in his mind so far is the first time he hit the grandstand stage.

“With all the parents and getting on my makeup and finally being infront of a huge audience, that was great,” he said. “I was nervous until I got on stage, but after I did my first number I was like, ‘this is pretty cool,’ and I was good for the rest of the show.”

Presently, the Young Canadians are hard at work on their Spring show, set to debut at the University of Calgary’s MacEwan Hall March20. “We’re in long rehearsals to get it done,” Quinton said, of the show entitled Heartbeat, which he describes as being, “a show about love.”

Quinton belongs to the Young Canadians apprentices, which indicates the experience of the performer. The apprentices will be featured in a couple of numbers based on the movie Grease, in addition to a show inspired by Tarzan.

For more information on the Young Canadians, visit


© 2009 , Sun Media


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