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Rich Copley
Photographs by Rich Copley
The Lexington Herald-Leader
March 20, 2011


Since 2000, boys in ballet have had an obvious icon: Billy Elliot, the English coal-miner’s son who chooses ballet over boxing in the hit 2000 film that bears his name. Boys in dance could easily dream of being Billy. For one Lexington dancer, that could be an attainable goal.

Tanner Bleck, 13, of Lexington, who studies ballet at the School for Creative and Performing Arts and the Bluegrass Youth Ballet, is in New York this weekend competing in the Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition and auditioning for the national tour of the musical version of Billy Elliot. (Because of child labor laws, his mother, Lori Bleck, says the tour is casting four or five Billys.)

“He would be perfect for the role,” said Jill Hall Rose, mother of Alexa Rose, Tanner’s partner in the pas de deux portion of the Grand Prix competition, which awards scholarships for ballet schools and summer intensives.

Alexa and Tanner were fresh off a private brush-up rehearsal with Bluegrass Youth Ballet founder and director Adalhi Aranda Corn on Tuesday night, just a few hours before they departed for the competition. As they went through each of the selections for the competition, which will run through Monday at New York City Center, Corn was relaxed, reminding Tanner and Alexa to be mindful of the basics.

“I know you can do the big stuff,” Corn said. “It’s the little things you need to remember.”

Since he discovered ballet, getting Tanner to concentrate on perfecting his technique has not been a problem. His father, Russ Bleck, said, “Sometimes school gets the short end, but he is always practicing.”

“It feels like I’m a whole new person when I dance,” Tanner said when asked about the attraction to dance. “Billy says it makes him feel like he’s flying, and it does feel like that.”

Like Billy Elliot, Tanner says he experienced some confrontations and bullying for being a dancer, before he went to SCAPA, where there is a more like-minded student body.

It’s an art form most closely associated with girls, even though it requires peak fitness and strength and is often compared to basketball in terms of its athleticism. Corn says the ratio of boys to girls in her school is about one to nine.

This will be Tanner’s second time going to the Grand Prix in New York, where, unlike in Lexington, there is a larger population of male dancers. “He wasn’t the big fish in a small pond anymore,” Lori Bleck says.

And Tanner, who also studies jazz and tap with Broadway veterans Lyndy Franklin Smith and Jeromy Smith at Town and Village School of Dance in Paris, enjoyed getting to know other boys from around the world who danced.  The first page of the list of participating schools includes institutions from Brazil, Italy, Canada, South Korea and the United States.

Tanner says he enjoyed getting to know kids from other countries, despite language barriers, and he liked the camaraderie with other guys. “They’ll try out each other’s moves,” Lori Bleck says. “You’ll see one boy do something, and then the others will try it and they’ll cheer each other on.”

It’s a different dynamic than with girls, said Alexa, 13. With girls, she says, things can be a little bit more, um, competitive. Think Black Swan. “They won’t talk to you,” says Alexa, a student at the Sayre School and the daughter of former state Senate President Pro Tempore John “Eck” Rose. “They’ll just look at you and walk out and do their thing.”

Corn admits that she is not big on dance contests because of the sometimes ultra-competitive environments, dancers who emphasize dazzling tricks over basics and the subjective nature of judging. But the experience, she says, is valuable, and that is what she hopes Tanner and Alexa take from it.

And if the auditions go well, Tanner might be the next Billy Elliot.


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