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By Laura Kinsler
Photograph by Wally Patanow
The Tampa Tribune
June 25, 2011

It may come easily for gymnasts and cheerleaders and limber little girls. For William Dugan, it didn’t come easily. He is not what you would call naturally the most flexible kid. But he worked at it like nobody’s business.

An aspiring ballet dancer, the 14-year-old knew he never would be a professional if he couldn’t master the basic split. After all, his teacher told him so.

Peter Stark knows what it takes. He danced with the New York City Ballet, among others, and has a reputation as one of the finest instructors of “ballet wunderkinds.” And Stark, who heads the dance program at Tampa’s Patel Conservatory, never gave up on William.

“I’ve been working with him for four years. William has all the personality and desire, but he didn’t have the splits,” Stark said. “He practiced all the time, but he just couldn’t do it. Then in October he had a little growth spurt, and it was like a miracle. All of a sudden he had his first split.”

That split was the difference between a summer home in New Port Richey and one in New York City — to Broadway shows and world-class museums and weekends in Saratoga. That split helped earn him a full merit scholarship to the School of American Ballet’s summer program.  “I’m just really excited and nervous,” he said.

The teen was drawn to ballet early. “He asked to do ballet when he was 4,” his mother, Lori, said. “He was lucky, because he went to a private school for two years and it was mandatory for everyone to do ballet and ballroom dance.”

His mom thought it was a little “artsy-fartsy,” but William was in heaven. After two years, he had her driving to Tampa for ballet workshops at the Patel Conservatory.

“We’re not from a ballet world,” Lori Dugan said. “So it’s been a real learning curve for all of us.”

Once their son began studying fulltime at Patel, Lori and Tim Dugan took turns driving him from New Port Richey to the downtown Tampa campus six days a week. “The whole family has sacrificed to make this happen,” Lori Dugan said.

He had a lot of catching up to do, but William impressed his teachers. “He has an obsessive determination to succeed,” Stark said. “He has the right body type and the feet, but his strongest attribute is his work ethic.”

William is home schooled, which meant he had to squeeze in his online classes between dance class and on weekends. He spent many Friday nights doing homework.

The School of American Ballet is the official school for the New York City Ballet at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. It is one of the world’s most prestigious dance academies.

“What William has is what they’re looking for: drive and hunger — not just a body type,” Stark said.

Only 200 youngsters are accepted to the five-week program, and even fewer receive merit scholarships worth more than $5,000.

“They’re very selective, and they can afford to be,” Stark said. “Back when I was dancing, if you were a boy and you could get into a pair of tights, you could get something. These days, it’s incredibly competitive. He’s going up against dancers from all over the world.”

Five Patel students were accepted to the summer program; all but one was offered a full scholarship. Two of the students, Drew Nelson, 16, and Hannah Beach, 15, will enroll in the fall at London’s Royal Academy of Ballet, also on full scholarship.

Gabrielle Beach, 13, also will travel to New York with her older sister to participate in the summer program. Daniel Cooke, 18, a New Jersey native who moved to Tampa to study with Stark, was offered a full scholarship but instead opted to apprentice with the National Ballet of Canada this summer.

Students must audition to be admitted to the New York program. Patel hosted auditions in January, one of 21 sites nationwide that held open auditions. William already had auditioned for a summer program in Seattle and planned to audition for San Francisco, but he never got a chance.

Students usually are notified a week after the audition whether they have been accepted. In William’s case, school officials pulled him aside immediately and asked him to get his mother. “They told me to stop auditioning. They said they wanted to offer me a full scholarship,” he said. “Everything — even airfare.”

For perhaps the first time in his life, he was stunned silent. “It was mind-boggling,” he said.

His mother didn’t know what to think when she was sent for. “It was surreal — like being in a movie,” she said. “I knew something really big had happened, but I was worried that he might have hurt himself during the audition. Then I heard all these parents whispering, ‘She’s so lucky.’ “

©2011 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.

See Also: Boys Take A Crack At Ballet To Shine In Holiday Classic


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  1. By Spotlight on William Dugan « Boys and Ballet on 04 Nov 2011 at 4:02 pm

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