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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!”


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