By THERESA WALKER
THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Photographs by ROSE PALMISANO
December 14, 2009
The moms crowd the doorway to peer at the dancers running and skipping around in the baby ballet class. The girls in their pink leotards look like butterflies.There’s not a boy in sight – except for the little guy with the big dark eyes, on the floor by his mother’s feet. He wants to do what the girls are doing. He’s too young for the class, but, at 2, he doesn’t know that. He runs inside the room.
He’s better at it than the girls, but he can’t stay. Not this time, nor all the other times afterward when he bolts away from his dad or his mom to join in the dance.
The next year, Patrick Frenette gets to join his sister Emma in the ballet class. They continue together in their training year after year. For much of that time, Patrick was the only boy in ballet. Kids at his elementary school made fun of him, ostracized him, attacked him.
But he kept dancing.
Emma, 18 months older than her brother, started ballet on the recommendation of an orthopedic surgeon. She was pigeon toed, and ballet is all about turning your feet out.
They lived in Vancouver, where their dad, Matt Frenette, grew up. He is the drummer for Loverboy, a successful Canadian rock band from the ’80s that continues to perform. Their mom, Kimber Frenette, was a self-described military brat who moved all over the U.S. and Europe.
His parents say Patrick loved music and art at an early age. Before he learned to stand and walk, he’d sit on the floor, moving his head in rhythm to whatever music was playing – classical, country, rock. Matt would say to Kimber, “He’s going to be a great drummer.”
But ballet was Patrick’s greatest love. When other kids on the playground practiced drop kicks, Patrick practiced pirouettes.
The other boys played hockey or soccer. And the bullying began almost from his first day at school, and continued, unrelenting, for years. “There was a bunch of boys who really picked on him,” says Jennifer Anderson, his former principal at the French-immersion school. “They just couldn’t understand why a boy would choose to do ballet.”
They called Patrick “Tutu Boy” and other names that he hesitates to repeat. “I don’t know if you can print this,” he says, recalling the slurs one afternoon as he sits with arms and legs crossed on the couch at his home in Tustin, where the family moved last year.
…Patrick and Emma changed schools. Patrick was still the only male ballet dancer on campus, but with other kids involved in various arts, the atmosphere was more tolerant. As part of his school day, he left early in the afternoon for ballet training.
In 2006, when he was 11, Patrick won a scholarship for a two-week summer workshop at American Ballet Theatre in New York City. He returned the next two summers for six-week workshops. Patrick was no longer the only boy in ballet.
“I saw boys exactly like me, my age,” he says, looking up from a huge book about famed danseur George Balanchine that he studies intently just about every day. “There were some who had technique I never even dreamed of having.”
It made him love ballet even more. “Ballet,” he says, “just lets me let loose.”
The family came to Tustin so Patrick and Emma could train at the well-regarded Maple Conservatory in Irvine. Emma had met founder and director Charles Maple at an American Ballet Theatre summer program and came home raving about him.
Both get their schooling online. It frees them up for the demands of training, and they avoid the distractions – and social pressure from peers – that might disrupt it.
An untrained eye can see the potential in the long limbs that propel Patrick’s lean 5’9″ frame in graceful but powerful saute’ de chat arcing leaps across the wide dance studio at the end of a two-hour evening class on technique.
Trained eyes see the potential, too. “He has a tremendous future ahead of him,” Charles Maple says. “It’s not only his dancing, but his passion to dance, his curiosity. He designs costumes. He choreographs. He’s like a Renaissance man… I’m just thrilled to be a part of the journey for him.”
That journey will take Patrick to London next July, for two weeks at the prestigious Royal Academy of Ballet. He’ll be there on scholarship.”It’s one of the great schools in the world,” Maple says. “That’s quite a feat to get a full scholarship like that. But he deserves it.”
Part of the training for the boys at Maple Conservatory includes teaching them how to deal with negative comments from other kids, says Maple, 56, who started ballet at 12, and danced as a professional until he was 38. “It’s still tough for boys to do it. Boys need to feel comfortable. What we’re doing is trying to create a sanctuary for them.”
Patrick just turned 15. He volunteers part of his time at Maple mentoring younger boys. He’s eager to be a role model for them. “I just tell them no matter how talented you are, no matter how high you can jump, no matter how much more flexible you are than the other guys, stay humble and kind. Don’t let praise go to your head.”
He tells them to keep dancing.
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