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By  Tennessee Mansford
3 News
June 10, 2013

Joel Walsham (Photo by Joel Walsham) 2013A young man has become the first New Zealander to be awarded a scholarship to a prestigious United States dance university. Joel Walsham will be living his dream, but as a young male dancer in New Zealand, his road to success hasn’t been easy.

Last time Walsham was on the news, he was 11 years old and auditioning for the hit stage show Billy Elliot. Seven years on, he says the Billy Elliot film has helped to challenge stereotypes about men in tights. “Ballet isn’t just about guys in tights and girls in tutus,” he says. “Ballet is rugged, it’s athletic and it’s a lot of things that males are.”

Early this year Walsham flew to the US to audition for three prestigious dance schools – New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, the Ailey School and LINES Ballet in San Francisco. He was accepted into all three.

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Spoiled for choice, he picked LINES Ballet, where he’ll be the only international student dancing while studying fine arts at the Dominican University of California. The LINES ballet programme is unique in that it offers a conservatory style technical training with one of the world’s top neo-classical companies, as well as a liberal arts education. Studying there is prestigious and very expensive.

Joel Walsham (Photo by Joel Walsham) 2013-02Walsham has a $17,000 scholarship grant, but he still has to fundraise another $20,000. “As a young person who’s seeking support to go overseas to gain skills to bring back to New Zealand, there’s generally not a lot of support,” says Walsham.

Jacqui Cesan has been teaching Walsham for 11 years. She also runs a dance studio for boys in Auckland. “If we put as much money into arts as we did into sport, our dancers would be the All Blacks of the world,” she says.

“Now we have really good dance programmes at Auckland University, Unitec, there’s more coming through, there’s still not enough and so we applaud kids like Joel who go on and take another opportunity.”

And as he prepares to head overseas., Walsham says attitudes towards male dancers still have a way to go. “The world needs to move beyond Billy Elliot, we need to get to a point where Billy Elliot doesn’t symbolise every dance, and every male dancer isn’t Billy Elliot.”

He’s grown from an 11-year-old who wanted to be Billy Elliot into an 18-year-old who just wants to dance as Joel Walsham.

Copyright © 2013 MediaWorks TV

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