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By Sarah Weiser
The Daily Herald
March 11, 2013

Stefan Arriscorreta, 13, does barre exercises during one of his ballet classes at the Academy of Ballet 2013-01[Linden, Utah, USA] – Stefan Arriscorreta is used to getting funny looks. He is used to the questions, the skepticism and the laughter. At 13, Arriscorreta is a dedicated ballet dancer — or “danceur,” as he is quick to point out, the correct term for a male ballet dancer.

Arriscorreta was 9 when he took his first ballet class. His mother, Kendy Arriscorreta, said she was concerned about his posture. When a flier appeared on the Arriscorretas’ front door advertising a dance technique class at a new studio near their Pleasant Grove home, Kendy jumped at it.

“I told him it would be good for body conditioning, and body strengthening,” she said.

As she dropped Stefan off at the first class — which turned out to be a ballet class, due to scheduling — she said he spent the first half just standing at the bar, not doing much. “At the beginning, I was glaring at my mom,” Stefan said. He was the only boy in the class and kept asking himself, “why am I doing it?” But by the end of the class, Kendy said, Stefan was already saying he wanted to try ballet again.

Stefan continued with ballet and starting exploring jazz, hip hop, ballroom dance, and clogging. He hit a turning point last year when he auditioned to take classes at the Academy of Ballet, which has four locations in the Utah County area. There, Stefan danced for Lynne Thompson, the academy’s director, and he said her teaching and her hands-on technique made a huge impact on him.

“She’s changed our life,” Kendy said. “She took a boy who liked ballet and turned him into a boy that loves it.”

Stefan was offered a scholarship to the Academy of Ballet, which encouraged him to pursue ballet whole-heartedly. Although he still takes other dance classes, he enjoys ballet the most. “Ballet is the best because I like the structure of it,” Stefan explained. “I like expressing myself through it, like through the movements — whether it’s the story or the music of what I’m dancing.”

“I see life in some of the movements,” he continued. The fluidness or choppiness of the different ballet moves, he said, “reflects different moments in life.”

Stefan Arriscorreta, 13, practices a lift during one of his ballet classes at the Academy of Ballet 2013After meeting fellow dancer Lindsey Larsen, 12, at an intensive ballet class last summer, Stefan has begun partnering with her regularly. He loves the fact that they push each other to be better. And when they’re dancing together, he said, “it feels like we have one mind. We know what’s coming next. It feels synchronized.”

Stefan and Lindsey have developed a friendship over the months that they have spent working together, and that closeness has improved their dancing. In a lesson together last week at the Academy of Ballet’s Lindon location, they giggle as Phyllis Whitaker, the senior company director, adjusts their body positioning, moving his arm there, her hand here. As Stefan holds Lindsey in the fish dive position, he asks if it’s comfortable for her. Or is it better if he holds her like this?

They work off of each other, and by the end of the lesson they’ve mastered another move together. “It’s easier when we know each other, and when we’re friends,” Lindsey explains, “because we can communicate.”

Following the lesson, they both join the group class that’s held afterwards at the studio. Stefan is the one boy out of 20 girls. “I have gotten a bit of grief about my passions,” he admits. But he doesn’t let it phase him. “I love being original. I kind of like being the odd man out. It’s fun.”

And, more than that, ballet gives him confidence. “It sets me apart from other people.” It allows him, he said, to “feel unique and special.”

“People know me as the dude that does ballet. That makes you feel important.”

Stefan Arriscorreta, 13, receives instruction  during one of his ballet classes at the Academy of Ballet 2013“You have to admire him,” said Whitaker, who works with him one-on-one and with him and Larsen together. “In ballet world here, he takes classes with all girls.” But “he’s loaded with self-confidence, yet really humble, teachable. He’s respectful of the girls around him. A little heartthrob too, I’m sure, for all the girls here. He’s just a great kid.”

Stefan has little patience for the stigma associated with boys who do ballet. He has no doubt about his athleticism or strength. “Everybody just sees pink fluffy tutus. But it’s not that,” he said. “You have to be really strong. It requires in some cases even more strength than sports.”

Stefan remembers when he and a football player competed in a strength competition during a Boy Scout event. Stefan won.

When Stefan said the boy should join his dance class, the boy declined. “So you don’t want dancer muscles?” he asked. “No, I want football muscles,” the boy said. “Well, my dancer muscles just beat your football muscles,” Stefan replied.

Arriscorreta giggles as he tells the story, and it’s clear he doesn’t care how people respond to his love of ballet. His parents don’t either. His father, Luis Arriscorreta, remembers a fellow parent asking how he felt about having a son who did ballet; Luis responded, “Well, how do you feel about your daughter doing ballet?”

Luis said knowing his son is following his passion and “enjoying what he’s doing” is what matters most to him. “I couldn’t be prouder of him,” Kendy said. “I’m just really glad that he’s found this niche that he really enjoys.”

Stefan hopes he gets a scholarship to college through ballet, and possibly, one day, to join a professional company.

And in the meantime, he might change some peoples’ minds about boys who do ballet.

Sitting cross-legged in his living room at home, with a T-shirt on that reads “Real men do ballet,” Stefan recalls somebody asking him why he chose ballet over a more traditional sport like football. He replied, “Well, I’m the only boy in a roomful of 20 girls. Mama didn’t raise no fool.”

© Copyright 2013, Daily Herald

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