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By Nina Amir
March 31, 2016


This past November 2015, my son, Julian Amir Lacey, premiered in the lead role of the three-part ballet, Manon, produced by SemperOper Ballett in Dresden, Germany. This famous ballet was choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan, and the MacMillan Foundation chose Julian to perform the principle part in two of six performances.

Julian danced the role of Des Grieux, and partnered Sarah Hay, who played Manon. Hay recently starred in the Starz limited-series Flesh and Bone, was nominated for a Golden Globe and won a Satellite Award for Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film.

Manon was Julian’s largest and hardest role to date. However, it was not just technically difficult but artistically and dramatically challenging as well. Many male dancers wait their whole career to perform this particular role, and he did it to rave reviews at the age of 21.

I asked Julian to share what dancing this role was like for him. I hope parents and aspiring young male dancers will find his experience useful.


  • How did you feel and what did you think or feel when the MacMillan Foundation selected you to dance the role of Des Grieux?
  • Why is the role of Des Grieux difficult—not just technically but emotionally and dramatically or artistically?
  • Did you struggle with self doubt at any point, and how did you overcome it?
  • What did it feel like to perform in your first three-part ballet?
  • Do you have any tips for boys who have to get through similar stressful situations when they find themselves in a difficult role?
  • What did you learn from the experience that you can use going forward—or that others can learn from as well?



Read Julian’s response here:


Copyright 2016 Nina Amir

Posts tagged  Nina Amir / My Son Can Dance


Harrison Ball performs in “Interplay,” which was choreographed by Jerome Robbins for the New York City Ballet (Paul Kolnik )


By Adam Parker
The Post and Courier
March 5, 2016


[Charleston, South Carolina, USA] – He was born in Houston, Texas, and lived in Clodine nearby during his earliest years. His dad ran a stucco factory, helping to make interiors look a little like the exteriors of Texas.

At 4, he came to Sullivan’s Island and spent much of his childhood in the Lowcountry, attending public schools (Sullivan’s Island Elementary and School of the Arts) and taking dance lessons.

At 13, he moved to New York City and began to embrace the likelihood that he would become a professional ballet dancer.

As a member of the New York City Ballet, Ball stays on his toes, performing regularly at Lincoln Center and joining tours that take him to the far reaches of the globe.

He will be in Charleston with the company for two performances of “Moves,” 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday [March 8th and 9th] at the Gaillard Center.

Ball will dance in two of the four pieces on tap: “Hallelujah Junction,” choreographed by New York City Ballet’s Artistic Director Peter Martins, and “In Creases,” choreographed by the company’s Resident Choreographer Justin Peck.

The show also includes “Bitter Earth,” choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon (also associated with the New York City Ballet) and “Pictures at an Exhibition” choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky.

As soon as he moved to the Charleston area, Ball started dancing. His mother was fueling an artistic fire.

“Harrison was not an easy baby,” Vera Ball explained in an email. “However, as I had NPR in the background all day long, he heard a lot of classical music. Whenever it was playing, he was happy. When the music stopped, he was not.”

While other kids a year old were watching cartoons, Harrison, blanket and ducky in hand, stared at Metropolitan Opera productions aired on public television, Vera Ball wrote.

“(Husband) Kevin and I knew he was different from the get-go. The task was to get him from point A (Houston, Texas, and then Sullivan’s Island) to point B, realizing his gift and passion, in one piece both mentally and physically.”

Harrison Ball signed up with the Charleston Ballet Theatre, run by Patricia and Don Cantwell and Jill Eathorne Bahr. “I took him to all the studios in Charleston,” Vera Ball wrote. “He loved CBT because of the costumes hanging from the ceiling, the real theater atmosphere. He was not into the shiny, clean pretty studios — he was there to work.”

It wasn’t always easy, Harrison Ball said. At Sullivan’s Island Elementary, the other kids were into sports and didn’t sympathize with the interests of a young male dancer. At School of the Arts, he was absent enough because of his burgeoning career that, normally, the school would have expelled him. Instead, administrators cooperated with Ball and his family and bent the attendance rules, he said.


First position

Early on, Ball was showing immense promise.

“When he walked in the door at age 5, I asked him to stand in first position,” Patricia Cantwell recalled. The young Ball imitated Cantwell with enthusiasm, and it became quickly apparent that he was “exceptionally well-coordinated,” she said. He had the right body type for ballet: long legs, arched feet, tall and lean build, good extension. “From that moment on I knew for sure he was going to be dancer.”

By age 7, he jumps were magnificent, Cantwell said. He was catching on fast.

His older brothers took karate lessons, and so Vera Ball signed up Harrison, lest he be the odd one out. A few weeks later he came to ballet class to tell Cantwell about a karate dilemma. His teacher, he told her, asked him to kick through a piece of wood!

“I’m very sorry, but Mrs. Cantwell would not allow me to do that,” he told his sensei. His feet were otherwise committed.

Harrison Ball, 12, in Charleston Ballet Theatre’s 2007 World Premiere of Camelot

CBT choreographer Jill Eathorne Bahr created several roles for him. He was cast as Michael in “Peter Pan,” as the changeling child in “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” as the young Arthur in “Camelot.” He appeared in “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty.”

“When you had someone so brilliantly talented at such a young age, he could do far more than the average bear,” Bahr said.


Early success

At 12, he attended a summer program at the School of American Ballet, affiliated with New York City Ballet. The next year he enrolled again and settled in New York.

“I wasn’t sure about (ballet) as a career initially,” he said. “It didn’t occur to be that it could be something that would occupy your life.”

He was adjusting to the competition, the intensity of the workday, the sheer numbers of talented people, Ball said.

“We made sure to keep his life as balanced as possible,” Vera Ball wrote. “When it was clear there was no other path (which actually happened when he was 2, but was evident to all at 12), he was off to New York City and SAB. It was flat out scary as a parent. Kevin always said Harrison had street sense, and he was right. So many bumps and tears (mine), but never a doubt he should or could be anywhere else.”

By 15, Harrison Ball was ensconced in a small apartment in Brooklyn Heights, his parents helping to pay the rent. He was exploring what the city had to offer, enjoying himself, discovering himself.

“At 16, they started talking about contracts,” Ball said. New York City Ballet only accepts a few young apprentice dancers each year, and there’s no guarantee that they will perform with the company, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Ball was among the lucky ones.

Then he won a Mae L. Wien Award from the School of American Ballet, which came with a $10,000 prize and some good roles.

During this period, Ball was attending the Professional Children’s School near Lincoln Center, which provides academic training to young artists, and he was making lots of non-dancer friends and discovering his bohemian side, he said. His best buddy was a competitive figure skater. Other friends included musicians, actors, even an equestrian, “interesting kids,” he said.

At 17, he was broadening his artistic horizons, especially developing an interest in opera. “I was always hungry for more than just dance,” Ball said. “It’s a great way to meet people and see other worlds.”

Ball continued to succeed, and soon he was part of New York City Ballet’s ensemble of dancers, leaping across the stage in a variety of roles.

“I don’t mean this to sound arrogant, but when I saw him dance on the State Theater stage (at Lincoln Center), I would not say it was anti-climactic, it was more like, “Yes! Finally!” — what a long flipping hike!” his mother wrote.


Long hours

Ball said it’s a lot of constant hard work, long hours nearly every day. The company has about 430 different ballets in its repertoire and a longstanding reputation for innovation and collaboration. It’s always working on new stuff, Ball said.

He can spend 12 hours a day dancing, beginning at 10:30 with simple moves, then a rehearsal at 11:30 a.m. that can last until early evening, then a performance. So he must pace himself and minimize the chance of injury.

He’s danced in 14 principal roles so far, and at 22, he’s peeking physically. But a dancer’s career is measured in dog years. Often by 30, a professional ballet dancer has transitioned from the stage to the studio or classroom — or somewhere else entirely.

And Ball is already thinking about next steps. He’s involved in the “Happyokay” arts collective, which began as an “art happening” that combined ballet, deconstructed classical music, soundscapes and interactive video. Ball was one of the four dancers.

The first performance, which ran three hours and was filmed before a live audience, resulted in an intriguing video and determination among collaborators to do more. Since then, Ball signed on as an advisory board member and has worked on securing more performances, he said.

He hasn’t performed in Charleston since he left town, he said. He’s got some mixed feeling about his homecoming. “I’m expecting a full-circle feeling,” which will be humbling, he said. “Part of me is feeling spiteful — Ha! I did it. Another part of me is, like, this is great. I can help bring quality, large-scale dance to my home town, show Charleston that there’s this really rich world of art, so much material, so much to know.”


© 2016, The Post and Courier




By Nina Amir
February 29, 2016


Young men who choose to dance have many opportunities and reasons to audition. They audition for summer intensives, for positions in companies, and for specific roles. When the time comes to audition for companies, hopefully, they’ve gotten some experience so they can put their best foot forward.

When Julian danced at Teen Dance Company (now the Conservatory for Contemporary Dance Arts in San Jose), he had the opportunity to learn to audition. The artistic director brought in many choreographers every year. Each time a new piece a choreographer created a piece, the dancers would audition for parts. This experience came in handy when he began auditioning for summer intensives and then for ballet companies.

Whether or not you—if you are a dancin’ boy—or your son—if you are a dancin’ boy’s parent–has ever auditioned before, there are some things you need to know about auditioning for dance companies.

To get a bit more perspective on the audition process, I asked Aaron S. Watkin, artistic director at SemperOper Ballett in Dresden, Germany and Nikolai Kabaniaev, director of the boys program at City Ballet School in San Francisco, CA, to comment on the subject. Julian currently dances at SemperOper Ballett and studied at City Ballet School from age 16 to 17.

Read more:



Audition Season

Cattle-Call vs. Private Auditions

Do Your Research

Audition Tips


© 2016 · Nina Amir

From the day it opened, Paris Ballet and Dance has been the place where boys and young men go to learn to dance.


Jean-Hugues Ferey with his boys class at Paris Ballet and Dance (Joseph J. Bucheck III) 2016


By Karina Felix
Florida’s World of Dance Magazine
February 18. 2016

PDF edition of article with pictures (pages 18-20)


[Jupiter, Florida, USA] – – From the day it opened, Paris Ballet and Dance has been the place where boys and young men go to learn to dance.

Like girls who take specialized pointe classes, boys also need classes geared specifically for their needs. As a renowned former world-class dancer and superb master teacher, Director Jean-Hugues Feray has always been aware of those needs. “Though very rewarding, being a man in the world of dance can be strenuous” says Feray. “They must not only be a good dancer but they also must be strong and well trained for the stylized steps, jumps and turns that they perform. They also need to be strong enough to lift a living human body weight and effortlessly transport it across the stage and gently place it down without breaking a sweat, or so it seems.”


Paris Ballet and Dance has special classes for young men and boys to teach them the proper approach and execution of steps, turns, jumps and “tricks” required of any professional male dancer. These classes also incorporate training for strength, conditioning, endurance and stamina.

Paris Ballet and Dance 02



Partnering is a separate class. This class works on “pas de deux”’ (partnering) technique. In these classes a male dancer uses the strength, agility and balance he has acquired during his years of training to finesse the dance choreography with their partners. These young men learn how to properly lift, turn and guide their partners by working with the advanced students at the School. They also get the opportunity to implement and expand their knowledge and dance experience on stage during the schools yearly performances and Nutcracker showcase.

All classes are taught by experienced teachers whom are, or were dance professionals. These classes have given the serious dancers a huge advantage when they go off to summer intensives throughout the world. They are by far better equipped and prepared for the challenge.

As the male students grow older and stronger, the classes are adjusted to suite their immediate needs and requirements to becoming more proficient in their art form.


Serious advanced dance students (and professionals) practically train on a daily basis throughout the year, with only a few breaks. Dance training require a strong disposition, made up of talent, desire, commitment, and a willingness to work hard. With dance training comes incredible control, strength, power, stamina, agility and flexibility. These are the attributes every sport demands. In fact, many professional and college teams require their members to attend ballet classes.

With that in mind, Paris Ballet and Dance’s talented boys and young men train very hard and are encouraged in an extremely positive way. Mr. Feray and his teachers always bring out a student’s passion for dance by pushing them to be stronger and better while preparing them for the dance world. All of the boys enjoy and look forward to their special hours in the classroom created just for them!

Boys Class at Paris Ballet and Dance (Paris Ballet and Dance) 2016



Paris Ballet and Dance has so many boys and young men from ages four to seventeen mingling within the studio walls, that the other students and parents have become pretty used to seeing them interacting with the teachers and fellow dancers. “At Paris Ballet & Dance, we are excited and proud to not only have these group of young men at our studio, but that we are able to retain them because of the superb and individual based training we have created for them”: says studio director Jean- Hugues Feray.


Paris Ballet and Dance is the School where boys and young men dance!

Mr. Feray was a student at the Paris Opera Ballet School and the National Conservatory of Paris. He danced with the French National Ballet of Nancy, The National Ballet of Marseille and performed alongside Paris Opera Ballet dancers throughout his career.

He started as an instructor during his years at Ballet Florida teaching at the Academy of Ballet Florida, under guidance of Mary Hale, and Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts in West Palm Beach, FL. He has performed for such notables as: Rudolph Nureyev, Pierre Lacotte, Vladimir Vasiliev, Marie-Claude Pietragalla, Maurice Bejart, Val Caniparoli, Ben Stevenson, Vicente Nebrada, Norbert Vesak, Steve Caras, Sean Lavery, Peter Martins and Jerome Robbins.

To say that he has the experience and expertise to guide these young men into a successful dance career is an understatement.

Mr. Feray has taken his dream and desire of guiding the new dance generation into new opportunities in the dance field by starting a dance conservatory for the very serious dancers: those willing to really dedicate their time and efforts to make it into the dance world.

This program has been created to cater to the homeschooled and virtual school student that can dedicate the amount of allotted time necessary for this type of training. There is also an after school option with Paris Ballet and Dance studio.

“Already in place on Saturday morning is an advanced boys class. We have enough 7 to 10 year old boys presently taking classes at the studio, that we are now able to start an intermediate class geared to young boys technique”, says Feray. You can reach Mr. Feray at Paris Ballet & Dance School and Conservatory at 861 Jupiter Park Drive – Unit F , Jupiter, FL   33458 561-308-8377


Copyright 2016 World of Dance Magazine

By Nichelle Suzanne
February 4, 2016


When you don’t have much experience outside your home studio, figuring out which of many summer dance programs best suits you is difficult. As a young dancer, your worst fear may be to arrive at a dance intensive only to discover that you don’t enjoy the atmosphere of the program and are going to be stuck there for several weeks of your summer.

Sixteen-year-old, Divya Rea from Wheaton, Illinois and Noah Miller, 17 years old, from Lake Forest, California faced the same fears and decisions in their hunt for the right summer dance program. They found the Houston Ballet Academy summer intensive and now attend the school’s year-round program in Texas’s largest city.

Noah began looking out of state for a summer dance program when he was fifteen after receiving a very direct signal that it was time. “I was approached at YAGP (Youth America Grand Prix) and given the offer and knew that people were beginning to look at me and I needed to be seen by more people,” he says.

It was important to Noah that a program’s teachers look at each individual student and care for them. He also took into account his future, considering the types of dancers the companies usually hired.
Noah attended two, much shorter summer intensives before eventually settling on Houston Ballet’s program.

Shelly Power, Houston Ballet Academy Director (who will begin her new role as Artistic Director and CEO of Prix de Lausanne this summer), thinks students should experience a variety of summer programs. “However,” she adds, “when they are getting close to realizing where they wish to concentrate their future training or time, they should be consistent with one program. This is usually for the older student.”

Divya has been auditioning for summer dance programs since she was 12 but didn’t feel ready to leave home for the summer until she was 13 years old. “Not only did I feel ready to take care of myself,” she remembers, “the director of my home studio told me he thought I was ready to go.”

Divya reminds younger students that it’s okay to be nervous. “Going anywhere new can be scary, especially far away from home. It is normal to worry about where you fit in and what might happen, but don’t let those worries override your excitement. Going to a summer dance intensive is an unforgettable experience. You will meet so many people from different places who all have the same passion for dance that you do. I remember before my first summer program, I would stay awake at night thinking about all the uncertainty in the coming weeks. But, by the end of the six weeks I had made so many new friends and I was reluctant to leave them and go back home.”


Read more:


So what are the important questions students should ask?

Don’t Make the Decision Alone

Narrowing It Down

The Choice Is Made


Copyright 2016 Dance Advantage



Note: Nina Amir is author of My Son can Dance. For years she has written about her son Julian’s experience as a boy dancer. Julian is now a professional dancer with the Semperoper Ballett.


Boys and Ballet posts tagged Nina Amir/Mysoncandance.  


By Nina Amir
January 1, 2016

Julian Amir LaceyLittle dancin’ boys want to do what big dancin’ boys do. They want to dance with the girls—to partner. But how much partnering should your young dancer do and at what age? Knowing the answer to this question can make the difference between a long career or one that never begins. – Nina Amir


    Topics:  Why Young Boys Shouldn’t Lift—But Should Partner

    Early Partnering Problems

    How to Avoid Partnering Problems

    Focus Your Son’s Attention on Partnering Essentials

    The Sign Your Son is Doing Too Much Too Soon


Read more:




Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, The theatre is the parent company of The Bolshoi Ballet Academy,

By Wendy Perron
Dance Magazine
May 1, 2015


Moscow is at least eight times zones away from any city in the contiguous United States. The Russian language has a different alphabet. The floors are raked. The tuition costs more than $20,000 a year. And, well, it’s cold in Moscow. But none of those obstacles stand in the way of American students hell-bent on getting pure Russian training.

In the last few years, more young Americans have enrolled at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy (also known as the Moscow State Academy of Choreography) than ever before. Since 2007, the Russian American Foundation’s U.S. summer intensives and government-funded scholarship program have helped pave the road from America to Moscow as BBA has become increasingly open to foreign students. Now, Bolshoi-trained Americans still in their 20s are making their marks with top international companies, bringing with them a distinct blend of Russian training and American spirit.

Going Back to Zero

Despite being hand-picked for BBA, most Americans who arrive in Moscow have to start again from the beginning. “The first day I came into class,” relates Mario Vitale Labrador from California, “my teacher Ilya Kuznetsov made me do a tendu to the side and he smacked his thigh and Precious Adamsyelled, ‘Stop, stop, stop!’ He came up to me and said, ‘Would you like to be stupid for the rest of your life?’ For the next month we worked on tendus and turnout. He tore me apart and built me back up from the bottom.”

For American students, who often tackle variations for competition from a young age, this process can feel tediously slow. “I didn’t have the clean, polished technique like everyone in my class did,” says Philadelphian Gabe Stone Shayer, who had the same teacher. “So I started at the bottom, like a first-year student, with very slow tendus and port de bras.” But it paid off, especially for his elevation. “When working on jumps,” he says, “the teachers focused on getting as much power as possible from a deeper demi-plié with your heels solidly on the ground.” Now a corps member of American Ballet Theatre, Shayer says the technical effort has helped him in featured roles like Ariel, in Ratmansky’s Tempest. The approach eventually proved intellectually stimulating, too. “Ilya’s training helped me to ask questions,” he says. “I wanted to know why we were learning what we were learning…to find the root of everything.”

Precious Adams, a Michigan native who joined English National Ballet in 2014, found that the challenges developed sequentially. “Once you’re real whacked out—really flexible—then you work on building strength, consistency, control, style,” she says. At some point, the difficulty shifted to the psychological arena. “Your body can be pushed, but being able to tell yourself to do it every day, it’s more of a mental game.”

Inspiration and Artistry

For many, the desire to train in Moscow stems from a love of “Russian soul.” Labrador, now a soloist with the Mikhailovsky Ballet, admires Uliana Lopatkina, longtime principal of the Mariinsky Ballet: “Every step she makes she’s in the now, she never dances two steps ahead of herself. You can feel the deliciousness of every movement, even just standing still, because she’s there with you.”

Adams enthuses over Natalia Osipova, the former Bolshoi star now with The Royal Ballet: “Her artistry is just so overpowering. ‘Bolshoi’ means big, so everything is very clean and precise and very long and beautiful, but then there’s this grandness, this artistry factor, that takes it outside the box.”

Adams found that artistry was cultivated in the academy’s acting classes. They taught her to get out of her shell, to explore different characters and feelings. “Then when you go back to variations class, you have a better understanding of how you should be doing it: not just with a plastic smile on your face, but really telling the story through movement.” While working on Roland Petit’s Carmen, for example, “we looked in depth at how you walk, how you stand by the window…playing with being sensual but not trashy.”

San Francisco native Jeraldine Mendoza appreciated the detail work. “My acting teacher described every single movement, every single eye gesture, every single feeling that I should have.” For her exam in acting—the exams can take months of preparation—she was assigned the role of a blind woman in love who didn’t want her lover’s help. “I didn’t feel like I was acting. I was just being.”

Coping With the Environment

Despite rigorous expectations at the school, relationships with fellow students and teachers are nurturing. “I did see the ugly side of ballet: girls not eating and girls crying because their neck’s too short or their boobs are too big,” recalls Mendoza. “There are politics at Bolshoi, but we all were there for one thing—to become a ballerina. My group supported each other.” She admits she missed her family and American food. “But I was mesmerized by where I was.” She still stays in touch with her Bolshoi teacher, Vera Potashkina, through Facebook.

“It’s a hard environment to survive in, but if you do, you will prosper from it,” says Shayer. His advice? “Never get defensive or offended by how things work there.” He now considers Moscow his second home and will be happy to return to Russia when he guests with the Mikhailovsky this summer [2015] in St. Petersburg.

Labrador, who was recently coached in the role of Albrecht by the Mikhailovsky’s ballet master, admits, “There’s always gossip going on, but it’s not the same gossip as in the States. The students make fun of you and talk behind your back, but once they get to know you, they’re your friends.” And now, he says simply, “I’m happy here.”

Gateway to Moscow

How do Americans make their way to BBA? Every summer about two hundred students 15 or older study with top Bolshoi teachers at the BBA summer intensive in New York City, while younger students, 9 to 14, study in Middlebury, Connecticut. For some, the summer ends in an invitation to Moscow. Starting in 2006, BBA has also partnered with the Russian American Foundation to offer scholarships for one female and one male student to perform at the BBA gala in Moscow. RAF also works with the NSLI for Youth Scholarships to Study Language Abroad program to send 15 American high school students to BBA for six weeks to immerse themselves in ballet, Russian culture and language—and to experience a raked floor—on full scholarships funded by the U.S. Department of State. For more information, go to —WP


Copyright © 2015 DanceMedia LLC.


Read more about the Bolshoi Ballet Academy

Read more about the Russian American Foundation



DSC_0001-001 (2) Ballet West principal dancer Christopher Ruud instructs young Lex at a Ballet in Cleveland all guys master class.

By Jacquelyn Bernard

Edited by Catharine Lewis

In an art form that has been traditionally defined as feminine and only appropriate for women, male dancers are continuing to reveal their aptitude and talent in the world of classical ballet. The following post is taken from an excerpt of Jacquelyn Bernard’s research paper and elaborates upon how males are viewed in dance. Bernard, a dance major and college student in Tulsa, Oklahoma, discovered Ballet in Cleveland through social media and has since connected with Guys Dance Too.

Ballet in Cleveland founder, Jessica Wallis (center) with Guys Dance Too teachers, students, and supporters Ballet in Cleveland founder, Jessica Wallis (center) with Guys Dance Too teachers, students, and supporters

Male dancers are strong, graceful, and beautiful to watch onstage, but the words that come to describe them are not of a masculine root. Maybe “strong” can be related to…

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