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BY Mike Mclaughlin
New York Daily News
July 21st 2010


They’re the Billy Elliots of Brooklyn.

Years of dedication have paid off for identical twin boys from East Flatbush who recently won full scholarships to a world-famous ballet school. “I didn’t think I was going to make it,” said Shaakir Muhammad, 12, who survived a grueling audition with his brother, Naazir, to get into American Ballet Theatre’s school in Manhattan. “Some of the boys in there could really dance.”

“I was ecstatic,” said Naazir, the younger – by a minute – of the fleet-footed prodigies. “I like ballet because it’s a way to express myself.”

But like the story of the Broadway character whose father favored sports over ballet for his son, the brothers had to overcome parental opposition. “My mom said, ‘No, you’re not doing it,’ and my dad was even worse than my mother,” said Shaakir.

Naazir forged his mother’s signature on a permission slip for them to enroll in a program with the Brooklyn Ballet after seeing a performance at school in the second grade. But they didn’t get in trouble for disobeying their mother, a security guard, and father, an MTA bus driver.

“It proved to me it was something they really wanted to do,” said proud mom, Belinda Berry, who marveled at their success. “I never thought they would take it to this level.” In a show of support, their parents have removed the living room furniture to create a mini-ballet studio.

The twins are blessed with lean dancer’s physiques and passion for performing, said teachers at Brooklyn Ballet, where they’ve trained for five years.

“They have talent and they want to be in the studio,” said Brooklyn Ballet Conservatory Director Caridad Martinez. “If they keep working like that, they could have a great future.”

Their final performance with Brooklyn Ballet is a free show tomorrow at St. Francis College.

During those rare moments when the siblings are not at rehearsal or watching ballet videos online, they play football and basketball.

Through it all, the brothers are at each other’s side day and night, which comes with pros and cons. “Sometimes [in class] it hurts us because we talk too much,” said Naazir, “but if someone doesn’t help me, I know that he’ll help me.”


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