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By Clare Stein
Photograph by Adam Anik
The Montclair Times
October 20, 2011

From 12:30 to 2:30 every Saturday afternoon, the class held in the “purple studio” at Sharron Miller’s Academy for the Performing Arts (SMAPA) might strike a chord of surprise. It is a room full of boys learning ballet.

On a recent Saturday, jazz, hip-hop, and classical music competed in volume. Dancers bustled through the hall, and parents peered into the studio where boys as young as 6 practiced their footwork.

This 16-week ballet program for boys is completely free. The classes are funded by The Stone Foundation, a longtime benefactor to SMAPA. “The organization identified us as an organization that they would like to see grow,” Sharron Miller told The Times.

The Stone Foundation had noticed that there was often only one male dancer in the Sharron Miller Performance Workshop Ensemble (PWE). The PWE is composed of 10 to 15 dancers ages 12 through 20 who perform throughout the community and receive full-tuition scholarships at SMAPA.

The funded ballet classes started last year with of 10 students, but the age range was too wide. This year, the students are divided into two groups: 7 to 11 (though there are two 6-year-olds in the class), and a group for older boys.

Taylor LeFevre, 10, and Paul Korfhage, 11, were the first to arrive on Saturday. Korfhage started dancing last year; LeFevre began “like, a month ago.”

LeFevre signed up because “I dance a lot in my back yard,” he said. Korfhage said that his friends from school do not dance.

Both LeFevre and Korfhage wore white T-shirts, black pants and black ballet slippers — a coincidence rather than a uniform. Eddie Burns, 6, wore a snug “Kiss” shirt adorned with flames.

“He has always seemed to be very interested in dance — always jumping, spinning. You can’t keep him sitting still,” said John Burns, Eddie’s father.

Another student, Nathaniel Brown, 6, has also always danced. “This is his first ballet class,” though, “and his first all-boy dance class,” said Nathaniel’s mother, Bridgit Brown. “For ballet, having an all-boy class takes some stigma away, although he really doesn’t care about that at his age. It gives him an opportunity to be around other boys who are creative and interested in dance,” she said.

The instructor, Sharrod Williams, 22, studies dance and communications at Montclair State University. In class, Williams emphasizes the “physical aspects that make dance masculine.” He hopes to overcome the “stigma of males being dancers,” he said.

“Their energy can be overwhelming,” and teaching is “a lot about trial and error,” he said. He embraces the energy of his lively students by encouraging an interactive atmosphere.

“Can we have a race?” someone piped up when they chasséd across the studio. As they prepared to perform solo chassés, Williams prepped them: “You are going to do the best chassé you’ve ever done in your entire life.” Some of the boys leaped nimbly across the room, while others jumped exuberantly and finished by smacking their palms against the mirror — a show of unrefined energy that elicited chuckles from parents watching from the hall.

The older boys’ class is smaller and more focused. Williams coaches them mostly in “placement and alignment,” he said.

Miller hopes the classes will generate interest in the Performance Workshop Ensemble. “But before that happens, they have to learn, ‘I can take control of my body in an arts discipline, not necessarily in the field with a ball,'” said Miller.

It is up in the air if the dancers in these funded classes will one day feed into the PWE.

Eddie Burns plans to be an actor when he grows up, but said that he will incorporate dance into his career. He loves the films “Billy Elliott” and “Singin’ in the Rain,” which he has watched “about 400 times,” said his mother.

“I don’t think I want to be a ballet person but I want to be a soccer person,” said Nathaniel Brown. He’s glad that “ballet helps me build muscles.”

© 2011 North Jersey Media Group

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