By Andy Dangerfield
July 12, 2014
[London, England] – Youngsters gather in a room in north London for a ballet lesson. But here there are no tutus, pirouettes – or even any traces of pink.
Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rio Ferdinand and Christian Bale may not sound like your typical pink tutu-wearing ballerinas. But all three have taken ballet classes in the past and are role models for pupils at the London Boys Ballet School, the first of its kind in the UK dedicated entirely to boys, according to its founder James Anthony.
The 33-year-old says he hopes to remove the stigma surrounding boys doing ballet. “Many boys are taking up ballet for the first time and loving it,” he says. “I’ve been inundated with inquiries from boys and young men who want to dance.”
Royal Ballet School figures show the number of boys who applied for full-time training with it increased by 30% in the past two years. “There are many more male dancers as role models on stage and on our TV screens which helps to counter some of the perceived negativity around boys taking up ballet,” says Annalise Cunild from the Royal Ballet School.
Elsewhere, probably Britain’s best-known choreographer Matthew Bourne recently recruited more than 300 novice dancers for his Lord of the Flies tour, in an attempt to get more young men dancing.
Mr Anthony says he started the London Boys’ Ballet School, which offers weekend and evening classes, partly because he was too embarrassed to take up ballet when he was growing up in Swansea. “I really wanted to take up ballet when I was at school but I thought I would get bullied,” says the former teacher and sports coach.
He said he hoped to stop other boys being put off by creating an environment where they do not feel like the odd ones out. “Boys don’t want to go in a class with girls where they end up being the only boy in the ballet class,” he says. “It’s all about changing the image,” he adds. “There’s nothing girly about it.”
He says boys who are good at ballet need “huge amounts of strength, confidence, flexibility and athletic ability”.
‘Focus on strength’
He says he prefers the boys’ school to mixed classes he attends elsewhere because “you get to focus on strength. It’s very friendly and I feel like I’ve made lots of progress,” Ellis adds. “In one day you will learn the equivalent of what you learn in two weeks elsewhere.”
Ellis’ mother Claire Jones accompanies him from Rustington, in West Sussex, to attend the school in Islington, every Saturday. “There are only one or two boys in the local mixed dance class, but here, they are able to focus more on boys’ dance,” she says. “It’s not too strict or regimented and the progress he has made has been amazing.”
Ellis, who was en route to an audition for the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical in the West End that afternoon, says he hopes he might pursue a career in dance one day. “I’d like to go into acting and dancing and to perform on a stage,” he says. “But if you’re going to be a good actor you have to dance.”
Meanwhile, the school has started running extra classes, including jazz dance, tap dance and musical theatre. “But it’s not just about the classes,” Mr Anthony says. “We do regular theatre trips and recently saw Billy Elliot backstage.”
And the school has appeared to be receiving recognition from far afield, ever since it opened in March. “We get emails from all over the world praising us for what we do,” he adds. “I had one from a woman out in the sticks in Australia saying her son likes to dance but gets bullied and she wishes there was a ballet school out there.”
So could international interest from budding Billy Elliots mean the London Boys Ballet School might put its best foot forward elsewhere? “It’s early days, but you never know,” Mr Anthony says.
© Copyright BBC 2014
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