By Nina Garin
San Diego Union-Tribune
September 5, 2014
[San Diego, California, USA] – Fernando Martín-Gullans, is one of San Diego’s best young dancers. But he won’t be here for much longer. As a student of San Diego School of Ballet, he’s performed in a variety of shows over the years — from “The Nutcracker” to “Giselle.” He’s even appeared on “So You Think You Can Dance,” where he did a ballroom routine on live TV.
But on Sunday [September 7th ] Martín-Gullans is leaving his South Park home for the next three years to study at the Royal Ballet School in London. The 16-year-old, who trains for two to three hours each day with former Bolshoi dancer Maxim Tchernychev, tells us about a life on his toes.
Q: Do you go to traditional high school?
A: I do independent study through Mt. Everest Academy. I went to San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts briefly last year, but found it was just too difficult with my intense dance schedule. For someone dancing every day for several hours, home school seems to work best. Sometimes I miss hanging out with other students, which is one of the things that attracts me to the Royal Ballet School; there kids study and dance together.
Q: How did you first get into dance?
A: I started ballroom dancing with my older sister when I was nine. My mom’s family all dance, and she thought it would be good for me. I was doing gymnastics and rugby at the time but ended up switching to ballroom. My ballroom partner later introduced me to my ballet teacher, and eventually I chose to do ballet full-time.
Q: When did ballet become more than just a hobby?
A: When I was 11, my ballet teacher told me about an audition for the Broadway musical, “Billy Elliot.” One of his former students was an original Billy in the show in New York. The casting director liked me, but thought I needed more ballet experience. So I started training more intensely. The process took a long time and by the time I was actually asked to do the role, I was hooked on ballet and had decided to become a professional ballet dancer. I ended up turning down the role so I wouldn’t have to take time away from my ballet training. Ironically, I am now going to the Royal Ballet, which is where Billy ends up in the story.
Q: Please tell us about what you’ll be doing in London.
A: I will be studying at the Royal Ballet School in London for the next three years. This July I went to their summer intensive and decided to audition for the year-round program. I was the only student accepted in my age group, which was pretty exciting.
The school is mostly made up of British students, but there are some international students like myself. We will be training about four hours a day doing classical and contemporary ballet, pas de deux, conditioning, character dancing, etc.
Q: What is it like to be a teen boy interested in ballet?
A: Once you learn to survive the teasing and odd looks when someone learns you’re a ballet dancer, it’s great. I meet kids from all over who are passionate about dancing just like I am, and we automatically have a lot in common. Plus, when it comes to meeting girls, the odds are definitely in our favor.
Q: How is a male dancer’s training different from a female’s?
A: Men are expected to jump higher, turn more and be more powerful overall. Girls focus more on grace, elegance, speed and extensions. Boys have more rigorous jump combinations in which they are forced to jump higher than girls. Girls tend to stay closer to the ground, but maintain a faster speed than the men.
Q: Do male dancers have the same issues — like with their feet and weight — as females?
A: I’d say we do, just not in such an extreme way. As athletes, all dancers have to eat a healthy diet so that our bodies can do what is required of them on a daily basis. All dancers get injured, so we all experience pain. Our feet aren’t cut up as badly as the girls’ feet because we don’t wear pointe shoes, but we make up for it with back injuries due to partnering.
Q: What besides dancing do you like to do?
A: I enjoy reading, playing Ping-Pong with my family, swimming, hanging out with my friends, and watching rugby with my dad. (Martín-Gullans’ father is José Martín, an assistant editor for U-T San Diego’s Spanish language publications.)
Q: What is the best advice you ever received?
A: I have received a lot of good advice, all of which is just basic, stereotypical advice. But what makes this advice so great isn’t necessarily the actual advice, but the energy in which it is presented to you. Two of my coaches over the year have really pushed me, and told me to never give up. They told me that I can do anything. I can do it! They told me that life is too short to waste time doubting myself. These men gave me the confidence to dance.
Q: What is one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?
A: I listen to the most classic 60s, 70s, and 80s music!
Q: Please describe your ideal San Diego weekend.
A: Sleep in until 9 a.m. and then straight to the beach. I love the beach! Stay there all day and into the night, and then have a bonfire. The next day I’d wake up at the same time and probably ride my bike down Mission Beach. It’s so nice down there.
© Copyright 2014 The San Diego Union-Tribune, LLC
Related Article: Fernando Martín-Gullans, age 13, Solo from Le Corsaire