Darcey Bussell, the ballerina, says an ‘amazing’ rise in the number of boys doing ballet has meant ‘we’re not producing enough women’
By Hannah Furness
December 9, 2015
Female ballet dancers could be at risk of being left behind thanks to the “Billy Elliot effect”, Darcey Bussell has suggested, as she claimed dance schools are now inundated with more boys than girls.
Bussell, the former ballet principal and Strictly Come Dancing judge, said she had been told the rise of ballet for boys had resulted in the “problem” of “not producing enough women”.
Saying the art form has undergone a “180 degree turn” since she was a pupil herself, she attributed its popularity to the success of Billy Elliot and the rising fame of star dancers such as Carlos Acosta and Matthew Bourne’s all-male Swan Lake.
“I was told by the director of the Royal Ballet School that they are getting more applications for boys than they are for girls – it’s amazing!” Bussell told the Christmas edition of the Radio Times.
“Apparently the problem now is that we’re not producing enough women! How is this possible?!”
The Royal Ballet School said it has taken in slightly more boys than girls in recent years thanks to the strength of their applications. While significantly higher numbers of girls still apply, there have been more boys than girls at the school since 2010. In 2013/14 there were 109 girls and 112 boys.
Bussell is due to explore the rise of male dancers in a new BBC documentary, tracking them from existing merely to show off their female partners a century ago, to taking centre stage.
|“Perhaps we just need to pay a little bit more attention now to the girls. “We have been enthusing about the boys so much, because it has been so wonderful to see them taking part, maybe we just need to start enthusing about the girls again instead of taking them for granted.”
– Samira Saidi, director of dance at the English National Ballet School
Speaking of her own training, she said: “Every dance school I went to there was only ever one little boy. “That has now taken a 180 degree turn, and suddenly we’re producing more male dancers.”
She added: “Ballerinas have always been centre stage, while the male has gone through many ups and downs. “Leading men weren’t given significant parts, the characters – mostly unnamed princes – were weak. “But suddenly male dancers have become this extraordinary talent and we can’t get enough of them!”
She argued the change came from Billy Elliot, the film, which showed boys from a working-class background could excel at ballet.
It is still essential to produce talented female dancers, she added, explaining performers are “at their best when they find their perfect partner”.
When asked about Sergei Polunin, the dancer who last month claimed ballet companies had banned him from partnering his real-life girlfriend Natalia Osipova, Bussell admitted it was a professional risk when things “get a little comfortable”. “It takes away from the edge,” she said. “It’s like if you over-rehearse. You want it to look like it’s the first time you’ve ever done it, every evening!”
Samira Saidi, director of dance at the English National Ballet School, said their intake was virtually equal between the sexes every year, following a rise in boys applications after Billy Elliot came out in cinemas.
Saying both genders showed equal talent, she joked:” It really depends on who comes through the door [to auditions]. It depends on the year, like a fine wine.”
She said she did not foresee any problem in maintaining the number talented female ballet dancers, adding: “Perhaps we just need to pay a little bit more attention now to the girls. “We have been enthusing about the boys so much, because it has been so wonderful to see them taking part, maybe we just need to start enthusing about the girls again instead of taking them for granted.”
© 2015 Telegraph Media Group Limited