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By Arlene Harris
The Irish Examiner
May 24, 2012

Ambitious and pragmatic, 15-year-old Aidan Walsh is a budding Billy Elliot, says Arlene Harris

Training at the Corrib Dance Academy in Galway, his love of dance has fuelled his determination to succeed in this female-orientated world. “I have liked dancing since I was about six or seven, when I used to watch music videos and my mom signed me up for classes at a local hip-hop school called Sparks and this is where I was introduced to dance,” he says.

“I also tried out all the sports going, including football, hurling and rugby, but I was never very good at them and didn’t really have any interest. There was nothing I had experienced that compared to dancing. It was the first thing I was really interested in and I knew from the beginning that I loved it.”

But ballet wasn’t something he considered until he attended a summer camp. “I didn’t know I liked ballet at all until I was 11 or 12,” says Aidan (who has a 12-year-old sister, Rebecca). “I was a hip-hop dancer and I realised that if I was to go anywhere with hip-hop professionally, I would need ballet training. So, although I was less than impressed, I decided to do a ballet summer school in Ennis. It was a Ballet Ireland course being run by Stephen Brennan and I actually ended up liking it just as much as hip-hop. After that course, Stephen recommended that I go to Corrib Dance Academy in Galway. So I did. But I was a late starter in the ballet world and I had to work very hard to catch up. My teachers really encouraged me and gave me the opportunity to develop further by joining Youth Ballet West.”

Being a young, male ballet dancer, Aidan had to be confident enough to ignore jibes.
“Most boys who dance have people that tease and make comments, but it’s up to the dancer to decide whether to ignore those people and keep going or to give up on it,” he says. “I just kept saying that it would be worth it. I was never teased by my friends, who have always been really supportive of me and come to see my dance shows.”

“Sometimes, now, when I meet new people, they don’t fully understand why I do it, but they accept it pretty quickly. I think, with more and more boys now seeking careers in dance, it’s becoming less unusual, so people aren’t as judgmental as they might have been in the past.”

When not studying for his exams, the teenager spends every moment perfecting his steps and pushing himself closer towards his dream of being a professional dancer. “I dance most days of the week: I do hip-hop and contemporary dancing at Breakthrough Dance Company in Ennis twice a week; ballet at Corrib Dance academy in Galway twice a week, where I am working towards exams and learning the RAD (Royal Academy of Dance) syllabus; and then Youth Ballet West twice a week,” he says.

“So, my week is pretty much full of dancing, I do find it difficult to balance school work and dance — sometimes, there just isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done, and now that I’m in an exam year it has now become even more difficult to juggle dance, auditions, school work, study and exams.

“But being a member of Youth Ballet West has given me more chances to dance at a semi-professional level and my teacher, Judith Sibley, gave me loads of help with my training and when it came to audition time. Without the help of the team in Galway, I wouldn’t have been at the level I needed to be accepted to a vocational school in the UK.”

Although his parents (Caroline, a financial controller, and Philip, a sound technician) need to raise €20,000 to pay for Aidan’s fees in the English school, he is determined to succeed.

“With Judith’s help, my parents and I researched schools in the UK and I applied for St Bede’s Legat in East Sussex,” he says. “One of the reasons we chose this school was because my parents were adamant that I went somewhere where my academic work wasn’t compromised — so I could continue to study and pursue my dance career at the same time.

“I got an audition and was successful in getting a place — I will start this September and I am very excited. I can’t wait for the experience of dancing everyday and being with people who share my passion.

“But all the dance schools in the UK, especially at secondary level, are very expensive and raising funds is proving to be very difficult. Especially because there doesn’t seem to be any state funds available for dancers of my age. “We’re trying to access private funds, scholarships, grants and sponsors, but they are few and they are hard to come by”.

However the funds are raised, this young man looks set to fly the nest a lot younger than his classmates. “Some people think I’m mad to be leaving home so young, while others think it’s a great opportunity and that I am very lucky,” he says. “I know I will miss home for a while, but everyone leaves home at some point and I’m sure it will get easier as time goes on.

“So, I’m just going to do my best, complete my A levels, finish in Legat and go on to a college of dance in London — after that, I hope to pursue a career in dance.”

© Examiner Publications (Cork) Limited

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