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By Richard Bammer
The Reporter
Photograph from Facebook
June 26, 2011

Khori Carter seems shy, polite and articulate, perhaps not too unusual for a 15-year-old American boy, but he quickly abandons courteous bearing and bashful ways when he shows off some ballet steps, turns and positions, smiling and clearly high-spirited as he moves.

You want to see a triple pirouette? OK, easy.

Clad in khaki pants and polo shirt, Khori, standing just off the kitchen in his parents’ Longwood Place home in Vacaville, spins three times in place — his hands locked and raised to chest level, his arms in an oval shape — and stops smartly as his raised leg comes down.

How about an arabesque? OK, that’s easy, too.

Grinning and happy, he extends one leg straight back, a common ballet move but one he does precisely.

It is evidence of his training that started in several Vacaville and Fairfield dance classrooms, an education that, in the past few years, has taken a more serious path at Stage One Dance Center in Benicia and the Oakland School for the Arts in Oakland.

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At the latter, he just completed his sophomore year under the watchful eye of Reginald Savage, leader of the college-preparatory school’s dance program, who oversees the teaching of 15 boys besides Khori, cultivating the talent of American ballet’s most endangered species: the promising male dancer.

While there may be lots of social pressure for boys not to dance, Khori is already past the age, 11 or 12, when dance groups and companies start to lose them to other adolescent activities and pursuits.

Bucking the odds, Khori has decided to continue to mine his potential for dance even though, while a freshman last year at Vacaville High School, he thought long and hard about trying out for the Bulldogs’ varsity football and track teams before transferring to the Oakland school last fall.

“It was either dance or sports,” he says, while, nearby, a kitchen tabletop brims to overflowing with dozens of trophies, citations, medals and ribbons not only for dance performances but also for athletic accomplishments in soccer, basketball and flag football.

The mind-changer came last summer, when Khori was selected to attend a University of California, Berkeley, workshop sponsored by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, a top U.S. dance company based in New York City.

Performing in Zellerbach Hall, including some roles in Ailey’s iconic work, “Revelations,” he met and talked with some adult male dancers who are making a living in the professional dance world. “That made the difference,” says Khori in a manner as succinct as petit tours, those short fast turns in which a dancer moves in a straight line or circle.

The appeal of dance, in all its forms, he says, is “the movement, the excitement, just the way the music makes you move, the people you meet. I’ve met a lot of different, interesting people.”

Dance, especially the challenge of difficult or complicated moves, brings on “peaceful and exciting” feelings, says Khori, who also plays saxophone, still enjoys the occasional pick-up games of basketball and football with friends and, like many boys, expresses a liking for sports video games such as “Madden 2011.”

“You feel like you’re flying,” he added, smiling, his dark eyes widening. “When you land softly, without a wobble, it feels like you’ve accomplished something.”

Dance, of course, also makes its practitioners agile, supple, flexible and strong, physical qualities not only a dancer but also any good athlete wants. During the school year, Khori does push-ups and sit-ups every day to maintain his physical conditioning.

“You have to be strong to lift girls over your head,” says his mother, Robina Carter, seated in the spacious living room in the two-story home she shares with husband Dennis, a deputy sheriff with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. “Stronger than a football player.”

On any given day, September through June, rising before 6 a.m., she shuttles her son to and from classes at school and more dance instruction after school in Benicia, logging 110 miles round-trip, before her day ends at 11 p.m.

While growing up and attending area middle schools and, later, Vaca High, Khori says he did not hear taunts and teases about ballet being only for girls in pink tutus, that ballet is “gay” or “stupid.” His classmates, he recalls, were “cool about it” and sometimes “shocked.”

But Julie Sevier, his teacher at Stage One Dance in Benicia for the past three years, believes Khori — “He’s always a bit shy,” she says — had been struggling with peer pressure about his love for the performing arts and being a teenage boy in a predominantly female world.

However, once Khori began attending Oakland School for the Arts last fall, she began to see a complete change in his attitude and sense of self-esteem. “He is so much more self-confident,” says Sevier, who teaches Khori in the arts of classical and contemporary ballet, theater, jazz and tap dance. “He has a smile on his face all the time, always says ‘Hello’ and has conversations. He’s just a happy teenager now. He’s in his element. He’s built like a football player but he’s chosen dance. All the kids who attend the (Oakland) school are involved in the arts.”

Savage, the artistic director of the Savage Dance Company in Oakland, agrees Khori is shy but that dance has proven to be a creative outlet for the Vacaville teen, who stands 5 feet 7 inches and weighs 175 pounds. “He’s making steps toward embracing his talent,” Savage says. “That can be difficult. Most people think talent is enough and wait for something to happen.”

In the past nine months, Khori evolved from a boy exploring his passion for movement to “making up his mind to see how good he could be,” he notes. “Khori has become a much better student. Dance takes time, it’s a process. I have to convince a kid to get involved in the process to become a better dancer. He’s starting to see that, to embrace his responsibility to himself” and to the art form.

Savage believes the presence of a male teacher in the ballet classroom inspires his young male students to see possibilities and to explore their physical, emotional and psychological limits while paying close attention to their academic studies.

“The great thing about dancing is that you don’t have to worry about winning or losing — you’re just competing with yourself,” he says, adding that Khori “came to class with a great attitude,” in part due to “the instruction in Vacaville.”

“Every year, I’ll push Khori a little more,” says Savage.

Copyright © 2011 – The Reporter MediaNews Group

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