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Category Archives: News Story 2008

Dancing Boys in the News

Stephanie Lyons Schultz Contributing Writer
Stamford Advocate             
December 11, 2008


At age 6, Southbury resident Roddy Doble started dancing, however he initially viewed it as most boys will — as something only girls do.

But by about age 10, he became what he called “serious,” having decided then that it was not only his current passion, but would unquestionably be his future. “I really knew at that point,” he said.

Quite a precursor for what was to come”¦

Today, Doble, 19, is the youngest dancer of approximately 50 in the American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) corps de ballet, and among the 80 who make up the full company. Forever inspired by the one and only Mikhail Baryshnikov, Doble has accomplished feats of which most can only dream.

“They select from anyone in the world,” Doble said. “And just when you think you’ve seen it all, someone walks in (the room) with unbelievable talent. That can be hard, but I am grateful — it makes me a better dancer.”

At age 15, after working with teacher Arlene Begelman, owner of New Milford’s School of Performing Arts (SOPA), Doble was seen by someone from ABT.

“Arlene arranged to have me observed by artistic director John Meehan, of (ABT’s) second company. I was too young at the time (age 15), but they kept tabs on me. I was very lucky — they were very interested in me.”

Doble attended ABT’s summer program on a full scholarship, and continued to take classes with ABT every few months. Then, Doble received a call he’d never forget.

“(ABT) called me out of the blue,” he said. “They wanted me to fill in for a dancer with the second company — I got a two-week contract…” The contract was to perform in California in 21 “Nutcracker” productions. “For me, it was really a chance of a lifetime.”

Doble’s mother, Beth Doble, couldn’t have been prouder. “It was an incredible moment — I remember the night they called,” she said. “It was hard — I have a fear of flying. I’d never missed him dancing in anything. I thought, ‘Why did it have to be in California?’ But (I was) thrilled — and I let him go.”

“It was great,” Doble said. “It was surreal to be with dancers of that caliber. It really pushed me. (And) the experience changed me.” When he returned, he felt he couldn’t go back to dancing at a smaller school — he then needed to make a professional decision.

Attending the School of American Ballet, affiliated with the New York City Ballet, was to follow; an opportunity he’d always wanted to experience. However, Doble said, “It reinforced the feeling that I was an ABT dancer. That felt like home for me. It was just a better fit.”

Following a second summer program with ABT, at age 16, Doble was offered a contract with their second company. “It was an incredible relief. I was one of very few lucky ones.”

And after proving himself with the second company for just over a year, Doble was taken into the main company where he has now been for a year.

“It was obvious from an early point that there was passion there,” said Beth Doble. “He went above and beyond — there was something different (about him).

“He was very athletic — he could do anything and he was good at it,” she went on. “But dance took over his life by age 9 or 10. He was always above average with his peers in maturity, very focused.”

Although Doble excelled in a number of town sports, he quit them all for dance.

And he also faced social difficulties throughout his school years. “As a public school student — dance doesn’t really go over that well with your peers,” he explained. He left high school in his freshman year to be home-schooled.

“I related to the athleticism of dance,” he said. “Dance was really my outlet for expression — and I related to the artistry. It requires the athleticism and energy of any sport; any sports star is an equal athlete. But it is something about the artistry (of dance) which sets it apart.

“What’s neat that I find about male dancers is that almost everyone has some interesting story,” he went on. “It is not viewed as acceptable for boys to do ballet. But (I think) most people have not seen really good dance. Not seen the physicality. People think dance is effeminate, weak — but it is just the opposite. You have to be even more masculine, even stronger.”

The only male dancer while at SOPA, Doble had little opportunity to see others. Instead he would watch tapes of Baryshnikov over and over, pausing frame by frame, analyzing each step. “I would push myself too far — I saw (him as) perfect — and thought, ‘This is how I have to be.’ “

Years later, Doble was to have an unforgettable experience while with the School of American Ballet. One day, when he was the only one in class, someone else walked into the room.

“I looked up and saw him (Baryshnikov),” Doble said. “We looked at each other, gave a nod, then started stretching. I was somewhat used to (seeing stars) — but he was somebody special. He had such an impact on me — he was so inspiring for me.”

Dance has always been and continues to be all-consuming for Doble, but he has no regrets for what he might have given up. And he considers himself very fortunate. “Most dancers have to move away from home (for high-caliber training),” he said. “But I found SOPA — it helped prepare me.”

Now, still living at home, he commutes to New York. “I never had to leave my family to pursue what I love.”

“And I am extremely lucky to have a career which is also my passion,” Doble said. “Very few people are fortunate enough to make that happen. I try to be the best I can be at it.”

Doble reaches out for other experiences beyond dance to enhance his artistry. “The more exposed you are, the more you bring to dance,” he said. “So much of dance is emotion — you are naked on the stage in a sense, you are opening up. The more you have, the better people relate to you — they leave the theatre feeling different. That’s what any art is always supposed to do.

“Technically, I am a strong guy with a big jump. I can do a lot of pirouettes,” he went on. “But that is superficial — I mean, it’s great if you can do it. But for me, while I love to do that, it is the passion that sets it apart. People relate to my dancing on a very human level. It is not pretentious. I enjoy what I do — and people enjoy seeing it.”


© 2010 Hearst Communications Inc

By Frances Loates
Families Upon Thames Magazine


Some people, it seems, are simply born to dance and young Joshua Webb, aged 9, from Hinchley Wood could not fight the impulse from the moment he took his first step. As Mum Fleur says, ‘It’s simply in his soul’. She noticed his advanced musicality and sense of rhythm when, aged 2 he was drawn irresistibly to music and responded by exuberantly skipping and dancing around the house.

His family was amused yet perplexed; the youngest of three boys, Joshua was growing up in a fiercely macho household. When Dad, a Chelsea-supporting Eastender and all round ‘man’s man’, not to mention his two big brothers saw the way that dance was rapidly becoming Joshua’s raison d’etre they were initially, to use Fleur’s word, ‘mortified’. In actual fact their attitude did Joshua the biggest favour ever in that it prepared him for the adverse reaction which he was to encounter as his life became increasingly devoted to dance.

Thankfully Joshua, a quirky, determined and unusual character was not put off and the age of four he was begging his parents to let him start ballet classes which he did with the Margaret Barnes School of Dancing, based in Surbiton. From then on there was simply no stopping him. He currently attends ballet classes three times a week, as well as an hour of Jazz, an hour of Gym and two hours once a month at Arts Ed School.

Inevitably over the years Joshua has faced unkind remarks and bullying about his passion but, toughened up by the reaction at home, he has leant to cope with it by flaunting his love of dance at all times. As Fleur told us, ‘he now hangs his ballet shoe key ring on his school bag and faces the music! I believe Joshua is a wonderful role model for any young boy wishing to follow their dream. He does not let other people’s opinions stop him from doing what is important to him, yet he is so young.’

Still only 9 years old, Joshua is currently preparing for his RAD Grade 3 Exams. His talent, drive and dedication seem to be leading him to achieve his ultimate goals – to join the Royal Ballet and become a famous dancer. Joshua was recently in a production of ‘Oliver’ run by Stagecoach Theatre Arts at Leatherhead theatre (see picture). Mum was pleased to report back, ‘His Dad sat in the audience and cried emotional buckets of tears as he watched his young son dance in front of so many people. He was the proudest man in the room, how the tables have turned!’

Margaret Barnes School Of Dancing – 020 8390 1953

Stagecoach Theatre Arts – check for your local school. All Boys’ Ballet Company – 01932 256206 

–Published by Families Upon Thames Magazine–

By Deanna Truman
Iowa City Press-Citizen
July 5th, 2008


Alex Ko, 12, 2008 


A lot of kids don’t get the opportunity to see New York. Alex Ko , 12, is dancing there.  The Iowa City youth is dancing with Steps on Broadway Sunday through Aug. 17.  The Northwest junior high seventh-grader won a scholarship to Steps, a prestigious New York Dance school. He’ll be taking four ballet classes a day as well as a couple of jazz lessons.

“It is exciting,” said Alex , of the trip days before leaving.

In addition to dancing, he was hoping to take in a Broadway show or two.

Alex has been dancing since a young child. “He was dancing around the house since he was 4,” said Tammie Cumming- Ko , Alex ‘s mom.

Because her sister was a professional ballet dancer, Cumming- Ko thought her kids might get the dancing bug as well. She enrolled Alex at age 4. At first, he wasn’t too impressed: He chose to sit on his hands instead of dance. But by age 5, dancing had become a passion. It is not uncommon for him to practice 20 hours or more a week.

His determination is rare, said Eloy Barragan, assistant dance professor at the University of Iowa. “Iowa City has a lot of talent, a young talent, but Alex has something very unique, he has maturity and dedication and is committed to what he wants,” Barragan said.

That dedication led to Ko taking classes June 5-16 at Steps on Broadway. Liking his style and technique, the school offered him a scholarship to come back in July and August. They weren’t the only ones. He was also offered other scholarships.

His dancing also attracted a talent manager.

Alex is hopeful that classes could lead to something more. He would jump at the chance to be in a Broadway production.

As to what attracts Alex to dance, he says it is the creative freedom. “You can do whatever you want, there’s not just one certain thing,” Alex said. “It’s free.” Barragan wholeheartedly agreed. “Ballet is fun,” he said. “It has a stereotype that it is long and structured. It is beautiful.”

Currently, Alex dances and takes lessons at City Ballet of Iowa, whose current headquarters are at Old Brick.

He met Sarah Barragan at the University of Iowa Youth Ballet, where he previously took classes, and where she served as artistic director.  Seeing his talent, Sarah Barragan encouraged her husband, Eloy Barragan, to take Alex under his wing.

The two immediately began working on a solo. Alex credits the piece for helping him work through his father Sam Ko ‘s death June 10, 2007. Through the solo the two became extremely close. In fact, they refer to each other as family.

When the Barragans chose to open City Ballet of Iowa a few months ago, it was an easy decision to follow, Cumming- Ko said.

In addition to this determination, what sets Alex apart from others is his stage presence, Eloy Barragan said. “Alex has something really special,” Barragan said. “There’s a soul to his dance and that is what people notice.”


© Copyright 2008 Iowa City Press-Citizen

by Kathryn Howe
Iowa Alumni Magazine
December 2008

  Alex Ko, 12, with Eloy Barraghan 2008


Sure, lots of preschoolers dance around the living room. But not like Alex Ko.  His mother, Tammie, noticed something special about the quality of Alex’s movement when he was only three. Her intuition proved right.

Alex enrolled in his first formal dance class as a kindergartener. Now 12 years old, he’s the youngest student ever in the University of Iowa’s renowned dance department—and he’s on the cusp of a dream to star in the Broadway musical Billy Elliott.

“To me, he’s like a son,” says, Eloy Barragán Alex’s mentor and UI assistant professor of dance. “He has a maturity and a dedication to the art that’s beyond his years.”

In Halsey Hall, Alex twirls and plies in black tights and white ballet flats alongside a group of college-aged women who admire his skills. He moves his body through space with a grace and assuredness uncharacteristic of a typical adolescent boy.

He’s here through a state Post Secondary Education Options law that allows young, gifted students to take university courses in their area of talent. Alex takes classes every day at the UI and at City Ballet of Iowa with Barragán and his wife, Sarah, in addition to voice training and a rigorous home-schooling schedule. He devotes at least 20 hours each week to dance.

Alex met Barragán in 2007 when he began pursuing private ballet lessons. The two developed an instant rapport and Barragán soon realized that his new student possessed star potential.

This past summer, instructor and protégé traveled to New York City so Alex could participate in the prestigious Steps on Broadway dance program. A teacher with the program noticed Alex and invited him to audition for Billy Elliott, the story of a young boy who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer. He will soon find out if the part is his. If so, his family will relocate to the Big Apple.

Alex can’t think of a better, more fitting role to play. After all, the story might as well have been written about him.


©2008 Iowa Alumni Magazine

Under communism, ballet students were driven to achieve international fame for the glory of the state. In Putin’s Russia, nothing has changed. Alastair Gee investigates the post-Soviet machine.



August 10, 2008


Photographs: Rachel Papo






Zhenya Ganeyev is marooned on a sofa bed in the corner of his St Petersburg living room. A narrow, sinewy 15-year-old, he has been forbidden by doctors to walk since early June. So the ballet student rests on an elbow tucked behind his head, a position that seems to verge on contortionism but is not uncomfortable for him, and occasionally curls his long feet into the en pointe position. His schoolteachers, who have a distinctive take on such issues, are pleased about his injury.

Ganeyev is enrolled at the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St Petersburg, perhaps the most famous ballet school in the world. He suffered a compressed spinal fracture while lifting a partner. But he was thought by instructors to be too short, and they hope the bed rest will give him a chance to grow. If he doesn’t, he may not have much of a future at the academy. No matter how talented, dancers of the wrong height, weight or shape are expelled. Standards have not slipped in the age of Putin – though many young Russians these days turn away from the classical tradition.

The US-born Israeli photographer Rachel Papo spent five weeks photographing students at Vaganova and at the Mariinsky Theatre, where pupils perform after school. Papo herself studied ballet between the ages of 5 and 14 in Haifa, although she left after realising that she was less able than some of her classmates. She saw similar frustrations at Vaganova. “I was heartbroken the whole time I was there,” she says. “When they graduate, only very few will make it.”


          vaganova-ballet-academy-alexander-2007-by-rachel-papo    vaganova-ballet-academy-ilya-backstage-2007-by-rachel-papo    vaganova-ballet-academy-batyr-2007-by-rachel-papo   

         vaganova-ballet-academy-two-2nd-class-boys-vlad-and-vadim-2007    vaganova-ballet-academy-two-3rd-class-boys-denis-and-kostia-2007-by-rachel-papo    vaganova-ballet-academy-yana-backstage-2007


But how has the Soviet-era ballet system fared in the gaudy, wealth-obsessed new Russia? Boris Akimov, a former artistic director at the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow and now a senior coach there, suggests it can weather anything. “Whatever the historical event – perestroika, the Soviet collapse – ballet is never touched.” Vaganova isn’t stuck in the past, however, despite its adherence to a notoriously strict training technique developed by the ballet dancer Agrippina Vaganova after the 1917 revolution and copied worldwide. As Soviet habits decline and Russia becomes richer, the school’s character and demographics are changing.

Vaganova occupies a colonnaded yellow building in a picturesque part of town, surrounded by titanic neoclassical and neogothic structures that enclose delicate parks. The school has been here since 1836, and is undergoing a £15m restoration as city coffers benefit from Russia’s soaring oil and gas profits. Laminate has replaced battered wood floors, and the changing rooms are fitted with handsome lockers, while boarders, about half the student body, have a computer suite and sleep two to a room (at Russian universities, four or more may share). vaganova-ballet-academy-1st-class-boys-2007

Students enrol at the age of 10, after a multi-hour exam that tests their ballet technique, rhythm and health. Five years ago, there were about 100 applicants for each place. Today, there are about 20, and there’s a specially steep decline in the number of boys applying. A contributing factor is parents’ awareness of the unremarkable salaries earned by most dancers other than soloists. “I live in a dormitory,” sighs Anna Lavrinenko, 21, a gentle, slightly built Vaganova graduate and a mid-ranking Mariinsky dancer. “The wages are enough to live on, but not enough to buy somewhere of your own.”

The Vaganova style fuses elements of the Russian, French and Italian ballet schools, and the academy produces dancers who move their upper bodies particularly well. The teaching is codified and precise – rivals at the Bolshoi school in Moscow suggest that St Petersburg dancers are overly focused on technical details. A quirk of the system is that beginners write essays on steps they have learnt, describing which muscles are used and how their bodies should move. They also write analyses of their mistakes.

Classes for Vaganova’s 350 or so students begin at 9am and continue till 6pm – or till 11pm and later if students are performing at the Mariinsky. Younger students have two hours of classical dance per day and five to six hours of academic lessons; older students have four to six hours of classical dance and fewer academic lessons. Historical, modern and character dances are also fitted in. It’s a six-day week, and the day off, Sunday, may be taken up by rehearsals. “You sometimes feel like you’ll die of tiredness,” says Aleksei Popov, 18.




While some teachers are miserly with praise, cruel behaviour, like that of a notorious teacher who enjoyed telling students they were worthless, has all but vanished. Younger, mellower instructors have been employed (and even getting inside the tightly guarded building has become easier). Still, the atmosphere is hyper-competitive. Students battle for favour and roles at the Mariinsky. “I don’t have any real friends at the academy,” says Popov. “On stage, they’re rivals.”

And there’s an ever-present risk of expulsion. Dancers are weighed two to three times a year and before exams, and girls who don’t keep their weight below 50 kilograms are considered too heavy for boys to lift; they lose marks in exams and, if they don’t slim down, will have to leave. “Practically everyone in my class diets,” says Alexandra Somova, 16. “Most of all, they don’t eat sweets, then things made of wheat.” Cases of anorexia, however, are said to occur only once every few years.

A girl’s legs, meanwhile, should be at least half her height, a rule that inspires bizarre exercises, according to Elena Apakova, an English teacher at the school. “Sometimes they attach heavy things to their feet and hang from bars. Swimming with flippers helps. And they stretch most of the time. I allow students to sit stretching on the floor rather than at their desks.”

All this, together with near-unattainable standards, contributes to a high attrition rate. Of the 50 students who enrol in the first year, 40-80% might not graduate. This year, there were 30 graduates. In 2009, there will be only 12. Of all the boys Popov enrolled with in the first year, he is the only one left.

These photographs will be on show at the ClampArt Gallery, New York ( ), from February 12 to March 14, 2009;



Copyright 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.

Kelly-Anne Reiss, Leader-Post

Published: Saturday, May 03, 2008


REGINA — While many Canadian boys grow up dreaming about being NHL hockey players, there are those who have different aspirations. Some want to dance on stage, surrounded by beautiful women.   

Graham Kotowich is one of those rare boys.  

At Class Act Studios in Regina, Kotowich and three other boys were the only males taking ballet in the ’90s. All of them were aware of the stereotypes they would face, which is why some of them told their schoolmates they were soccer players instead of dancers. But Kotowich wasn’t one to lie and so faced his share of teasing.

In gym class, Kotowich got his revenge, lifting the heaviest of weights for as many reps as the other boys dared him to do.Despite being strong and athletic, Kotowich never volunteered to dance at school talent shows, as he knew a bunch of high school jocks wouldn’t appreciate what he did.

If Kotowich had succumbed to peer pressure, he would never be where he is today — touring Britain with one of the U.K.’s favourite dance companies — the Northern Ballet Theatre.

Becoming a professional ballet dancer wasn’t easy for Kotowich. It was just as gruelling as becoming a professional hockey player.  Kotowich had to be committed. Every day after school, he would go home, do his homework and then eat his supper in the car on the way to the dance studio. He would practise until 10 p.m. each night. The next morning, in school, he could barely keep his eyes open.

“I have yet to be as tired as I was in high school,” said Kotowich, who now dances up to 12 hours a day.

There isn’t much room for a life outside of dance. Most of Kotowich’s friends, and the girls he’s dated, are all dancers.  

Before dance took over, Kotowich was on the basketball team in elementary school, and played the saxophone and the flute in the band. He was also a competitive diver and a talented baseball pitcher. In fact, his father, Rick, thinks if Kotowich had stuck with baseball instead, he might have been able to make a career of that.

But Kotowich had to make a choice. Did he go to the baseball game or did he go to the dance rehearsal for an upcoming recital? Kotowich followed his heart and chose dance. “He felt bad about letting down his ball team,” said his father.  

Despite all the hours in the studio, it could have been all for nothing. His dreams could have quickly been dashed, like many, who dream of going pro. Rick recalls how nervous Kotowich was trying out for professional companies, such as the National Ballet of Canada.

Kotowich, 20, knew there was a chance he wasn’t going to make the cut. England’s Northern Ballet Theatre was his first choice.

Although he likely could have had a job with the National Ballet in Canada, Kotowich had fallen in love with England’s rolling hills after attending the prestigious Royal Ballet School in London on a full-scholarship in 2005. While at the Royal Ballet School, Kotowich performed for Prince Charles, the school’s president, at Buckingham Palace.

“You don’t even realize what you’re doing until you walk in the door of the palace and you see this huge marble staircase just leading up with red velvet carpeting and gold scenery and statues everywhere, and huge canvas paintings of years and years of royalty It was a night to remember, that’s for sure,” said Kotowich, who had been invited to audition for the school, beating out many talented dancers from around the world for his spot in the academy.

But although Kotowich felt he had made the big leagues, his scholarship wasn’t renewed the following year. He wasn’t given a reason why.Disappointed, Kotowich returned to Canada and continued his training in Toronto at the National Ballet School of Canada, another world-renowned dance academy.

Despite all his accomplishments, Kotowich, who is Metis, only told people very generally that he was going to school in Toronto; he never mentioned he was dancing at NBS.

When he completed his studies there, he had plans to audition in several European countries, but didn’t have to in the end, as the Northern Ballet Theatre called him first.

Andorlie Hillstrom, the owner and founder of Class Act Studios, isn’t surprised to hear of Kotowich’s success. “I’m really proud of him,” she said.  

Kotowich has kept in touch with her, coming back to Regina in December to perform in West Side Story for the studio’s 15th anniversary celebration, which featured a number of the school’s alumni who have gone on to professional careers in musical theatre, jazz and tap. Kotowich is the only student who has become a professional classical ballet dancer.

While Hillstrom said she’s had plenty of talented ballet dancers come through, not everyone was cut out for the tough life. Ballet dancers have to push their bodies to extremes, are on the road all the time, and are poorly paid for what they do, especially when starting out.  

Money is a concern for Kotowich, who has taken out student loans to pay for some of his dance lessons. But whatever the price, dance is worth it to Kotowich, who loves to travel.

And at the age of 12, Kotowich learned to live on his own while taking a six-week dance training program at the Banff Centre for the Arts.

If his parents wanted, Kotowich could have moved to Toronto by himself at the age of 10 to train at the National Ballet School of Canada. But his mother, Pat, wanted to keep Kotowich at home for as long as she could.

Pat recalls meeting one of Kotowich’s girlfriends who grew up in the ballet residences as a child. She had a picture on the door of her and her roommates from when they were quite young.  “They grew up together,” said Pat of the girls. “They seemed like such little orphans, but very proper-like.”

At home in Saskatchewan, Kotowich was lucky enough to have an excellent teacher — Ana Maria Campos, who is originally from Brazil.Campos helped push her students to achieve professional standards and gave her students the opportunity to travel with her down to South America, introducing them to one of her friends who had a dance studio that was free to underprivileged youths. Kotowich observed that the children worked hard there to get ahead, because dance was their ticket to a new life.

Inspired by this work ethic, Kotowich pushed his own limits harder. His goal in life is to be the best dancer he can be, although he knows there will come a time in his life when he can’t dance anymore.  

Like all athletes, one day his body will just give out. When this happens, Kotowich thinks he might explore the business side of dance. Although he’s not sure what exactly that will entail yet.

Currently, Kotowich is in top physical form and has never felt better. But this wasn’t always so.As a teenager, rapid growth caused Kotowich some knee pain. His mother recalls how he walked down the stairs of the studio like an old man, but he was able to push past these growing pains.  

“From a very young age, I knew I wanted to be a professional dancer,” he said. “It’s a beautiful art form.”

Kotowich got into dance after having tagged along with his sisters to their dance classes. He started out in tap and jazz at the age of seven, but he wanted to switch to ballet when he saw that ballet dancers had nicer shoes.

While he had the talent, he also needed the looks. Lucky for Kotowich, he won the genetic lottery and had the right build. As a dancer, one’s body has to be well-proportioned. One’s neck can’t be too short or too wide. And leg muscles can’t be bulging when they’re not flexed. It is for this reason Hillstrom often compares ballet dancers to race horses.

Ballet is one of the few professions where one is required to put age, weight and height on his or her resume.

Kotowich is lucky, because he can eat as many calories as he wants and will burn them off. This isn’t the case for all dancers. Some have to carefully watch how much they eat.

It was around supper time in Regina, on April 20, when Kotowich moved to Britain to start his professional dance career. His mother and father said their goodbyes on the phone to Kotowich, who was in Toronto.

His father advised him to read some Shakespeare on the plane, because Shakespearean ballet is the focus of the Northern Ballet Theatre.

“It would be a lot harder if we didn’t have e-mail or if the long distance rates aren’t as good as they are now,” said Rick.

Both he and Pat are happy for the opportunities their son has had, even though it meant a lot of sacrifice on their part, such as paying for lessons and driving back and forth from the studio.

Sometimes Rick wasn’t aware of how talented his son was.He remembered one time when his son was at a dance competition in Moose Jaw, “he was on stage just hopping around.”

Rick sat in the audience watching dancers he thought were better and tried to figure out how to console Graham when he didn’t win. He was surprised to learn later that Graham’s performance actually won an award.

“To me, he’s just my son out there,” said Rick.


© Leader-Post 2008




Living in Richmond & Kew Magazine

Editorial, October 2008



Matthew Ball, 14, is in Year 10 at the school. He first started to dance aged 6, encouraged by his mother – herself a pupil at the school for a year until her height prevented her from continuing. He won his place aged 11Living in Richmond Magazine, October 2008


Sunday, December 07, 2008

Living it Up

"Dance is like oxygen. I can't imagine life without dance."

“Dance is like oxygen. I can’t imagine life without dance.”

Children cast as party boys in “The Nutcracker” tend to march about and play follow the leader more than dance.

An 8-year-old Michael Burfield, however, stayed on stage because, thanks to gymnastics training, he could supply a cute little flip. That left him in the wings with a clear view, rather than backstage, when Ballet Lubbock’s guest artist appeared to dance as the cavalier.

Nine years later, Burfield recalls feeling awed.

He left the Civic Center that day and told his mother he wanted to learn how to perform leaps just as graceful, and just as high, as that guest artist. He enrolled in his first ballet classes right after Christmas.

Burfield never left.

Instructors in two cities now expect this 17-year-old dancer to enjoy success in the world of professional ballet. He’s traveled light years from that moment when he asked his mom, “What’s a nutcracker?”

Edward Truitt is the former artistic director of Amarillo’s Lone Star Ballet and the director of dance at West Texas A&M University in Canyon. Having worked with Burfield for years, Truitt will feature the Lubbock dancer in his own original, neo-classical ballet called “Empty Embrace” in the spring.

He hoped that Burfield also would take university classes, but that appears unlikely. Burfield studied the past two summers on scholarship with the Joffrey Ballet in New York City and the Carolina Ballet. Much like a Kobe Bryant who could not wait to join the NBA after high school, Burfield plans to just keep dancing.

And Yvonne Racz Key, Ballet Lubbock’s artistic director, thinks betting on Burfield’s success is a sure thing.michael-burfield16-in-ballet-lubbock-nutcracker-2007

This week, she added, will be Lubbock’s final chance to see him in “The Nutcracker.” He has come a long way since his party boy introduction.

This week Burfield will dance four roles: Toy Soldier, Mouse King, Arabian Prince and Russian Dancer. Key also cast him in the male lead of the cavalier in the company’s outreach performances.

“Physically, Michael has the perfect body for ballet: long legs, developed feet, and he is flexible,” she said. “He has a gift for performance. He has excellent stage presence. He picks up choreography very quickly.

“Michael has given complete focus and dedication to ballet as long as I have known him. … What’s more, he is 100 percent dedicated. He has never allowed anything to conflict with his dance training. He pushes himself so hard that I don’t need to push him.”

Truitt agrees. He said, “Michael is dedicated to his art form, and he has a work ethic that is rare these days.

“He is the kind of dancer whom every choreographer wants to work with – not just because of his ability as a dancer, but also because of his work ethic, his selflessness, his loyalty, his passion for the art, and his ability to solve problems rather than create them.”

But Burfield tries to maintain a healthy passion and avoid obsession. “There’s more to me than dance,” he said. “I feel I have a healthy social life.” He takes time to hang out with friends. They see movies together, and he said, “We also go bowling sometimes, and I don’t mind falling on my ass and making a fool of myself.”

Such a visual would seem unlikely to those who have witnessed his graceful turns and extensions while performing in ballets.

Key noted that, at present, Burfield needs to add strength.

“He is a very good partner, but he still needs to work on building his strength so that he can be a solid partner to different types of dancers,” she said. “He needs to be working in a company where there are other male dancers his own age, who are just as talented, and some even more talented. They can push him more and make him that much better.

“He definitely will make it as a professional dancer, and I expect Michael to rise very quickly in whichever professional company he joins.”

Burfield has been home-schooled since childhood, and he said that he is ready to make the jump into the professional ranks right now. He will begin auditioning for professional companies after his spring performance. He said he’s already researched more than 30 prospective ballet companies.

Key added that there are several gifted male dancers in her company this year, including Stephen Anaya and Texas Tech students Joseph Rodriguez and Jeff Smith.

She labeled Burfield her “most advanced male dancer.”

He gives partial credit to his work with other companies. “At the Joffrey,” said Burfield, “I learned so much in terms of technique. That is their main focus. They polished me to the point where I feel nothing can hold me back.

“Then this past summer, with the Carolina Ballet, I focused on artistry. I decided what I liked best about each dancer, and tried to apply their techniques. One might be a great turner, and I’d try to figure out how he perfected his turns. Another might be a great jumper, and someone else might have beautiful extension.

“I tried to focus on that and analyze how they did it.”

Truitt said, “Many dance companies now prefer dancers with college backgrounds because of the variety of educational experiences college has to offer, and the maturity it engenders.”

But Burfield said, “My parents and I decided together that college is not the best thing for me right now, not if I want all my dreams to come true. College can take a long time to get through, and a dancer’s body ages quickly.

“I could graduate from college at 22, and have just an eight-year career. Or I can plan my career right now, and it might last for 14 or 15 years.”

The determined young dancer added, “These past summers I spent away from home have helped me a lot. Last summer, especially, has helped prepare me to be on my own.”


© 2008 The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

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