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When you think of ballet, do you think of boys?

 

By Jamuna Chiarinl
Artslandia Kids
December 14, 2015

 

[P]rima ballerinas get a lot of the spotlight [but] male ballet dancers play an essential part in the ballet and do a lot of the heavy lifting! Artslandia asked six of Portland’s best professional and pre-professional “ballet boys” (and men) what it takes to wear the tights. Here’s a hint: strength, grace, and inspiration!
[Portland, Oregon, USA] –

 

How’d you get started?

While many girls are encouraged to “be ballerinas,” or dream about it from a very young age, dance is a discovery that takes many boys by surprise! The boys we talked to report falling into dance by luck, instinct, “genetics,” or even by accident!

Jurica: There were free ballroom classes at Billings Dance Studio where we lived, and my mom pretty much forced us—my brother and I—to go because it was free and she wanted boys who could dance with girls, which would improve her chances of grandchildren and whatnot. We ended up liking it and decided to go to Arts and Communication Magnet Academy, and really got into it in eighth grade!

Simcoe: I was inspired by seeing figure skaters like Scott Hamilton do amazing tricks and turns on the ice. I would always be spinning around the house, tearing up the carpet—so it was actually my father’s idea…to put me in dance lessons. I was convinced that I wouldn’t enjoy it, probably only because it was something new, which I tended to shy away from. My dad proved me wrong, though. After my first dance lesson, where I was taught how to do an actual “pirouette”, I was hooked!

Skinner: My dad was a gymnast on the University of Michigan gymnastics team, and he put me into gymnastics as a kid. My family is very physically active, always doing something physical; I think it’s just in our genetics…We had a really great small civic theater in our hometown. I auditioned for musicals and loved being in those…I was always one of the kids who could pick up movement quickly…so they always stuck me into the dance numbers, and I loved doing those! When I was applying to colleges, I was either going to apply to musical theater or dance…I could sort of carry a tune, but I wasn’t that great…so my path just followed dance…My dad had ideas of me taking business classes, but that held no interest for me.

Both Garcia and Kindell took dance classes at West Sylvan Middle School. For Garcia, it was a choice—but for Kindell, it was a crash course.

Kindell: They had dance for PE, and somehow dance got on my schedule by accident. I didn’t forecast it at all; I was like, “I don’t want to do this,” because none of the guys did dance, and I was so nervous. I was about to change it, but of course I’m a huge procrastinator and I waited until the last minute, and the principal said, “No, you can’t change it; we told all the students they had until this date to change their schedule.” I thought, “I guess I’ll have to do it,” so I did it.

 

Getting teased, and getting better.

Sometimes, especially when they’re starting out, boy ballet dancers have gotten teased by their friends and classmates for doing what other kids see as a “girl” sport. Especially in conservative communities, and in the past, boys who dance have been given a hard time.

Skinner: As fine as it was in Muncie, it was pretty conservative. Not very many friends knew that I was dancing. I only told close friends; I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it. I decided not to do flap ball changes down the hallway at school. Maybe in this day and age, I’d be all over it…but not in the early 80’s.

In Portland—an open-minded, arts-friendly city—some boys are able to become dancers without ever getting teased.

Jurica: I was already going to an arts school, and it was normal to see kids walking down the hall in their tights, anyway. My friends were already my friends, and if they didn’t like me ’cause I danced now…well, then, they weren’t my friends anymore!

Simcoe: I actually didn’t have any difficulties growing up, which, from talking to others, is quite unusual. I was always known around school as one of the “artsy” kids, but nobody ever gave me any grief about it.

Others report trouble, even here.

Swartz: In fourth grade a few people gave me a hard time, like, “Ahaha; you wear a tutu!” That’s the worst. When I first started dancing, I felt the need to cover up ballet by doing something “masculine.” Heavy music and horror movies became that for me.

Kindell: The fear was so much. I was so scared that I was going to be the only boy in dance.

It’s tough, the boys admit. But as you get older, it gets better.

Swartz: I found that ballet is masculine, I got more confident, got more respect for it, and no longer needed to cover up anything. Now, people are more taken aback, they’re interested. They ask, “What’s it like?” It’s a whole new world that people don’t know about. They’re more accepting the older you get.

Kindell: My issues weren’t extreme. I did have some, but once I got to eighth grade, people became much more supportive.

 

Fewer boys = more opportunities.

Boy dancers may get teased more than ballerinas, but they also get more of something else: roles! Because ballet has been (unfairly) popularized as a “girl sport,” most people who are trained in it from a very young age are girls. That means a girl dancer has more company in ballet class, but also much more competition when she tries to get a role or a job as a dancer. When a girl auditions, she hopes the director will choose her special talent from dozens—even hundreds —of other trained ballerinas. That’s a lot of pressure, and not just on her toes!

Meanwhile, many dance companies and ballet productions struggle to find enough trained boys and men. When only a handful of boys apply, most of them—sometimes even all of them—will be chosen. It’s just easier to stand out among, say, 5 dancers, than it is among 50.

Skinner: Being a male dancer was definitely a benefit to me…Of the 80 or 100 ballet majors [at college], there were maybe 8- 10 men.

Because they’re so needed, boy dancers have the luxury of starting later and competing more casually—which becomes clear in the way they describe their auditions.

Swartz: With no prior training, [I] auditioned for The Nutcracker. And because there’s always such a need for guys, they took me. I wore jeans to the first rehearsal. I finished up Nutcracker and John Gardner, who was artistic director at that time, approached me and my mother and said, “I’d like to give you some private classes and catch you up to your age group.”

Jurica: [My Juilliard] audition was in San Francisco, and I’d already been there twice and felt comfortable. I didn’t take it too seriously—not to say I wasn’t respectful or anything—but I just did my normal routine. It was really fun—not very stressful, surprisingly comfortable, it was good for me to go into it relaxed. I just had this attitude that if it happens, it happens.

It happened. And it happens for a higher percentage of boys than girls who try. Perhaps the luckiest of this bunch, Garcia got into OBT without an audition at all.

Anthony Jones, School Director of OBT: Kevin Irving [OBT’s artistic director] saw Michael in a [Jefferson Dancers] performance last year, and contacted Steve Gonzales to offer him a scholarship…He really stood out on stage and captivated us! This does not happen that often.

 

Ballet looks easy, but it’s hard!

When ballet is danced well, it looks effortless, but the boys will be the first to admit it’s actually very hard work! It takes a lot of energy to leap high into the air, and a lot of muscle to lift other dancers above your head. That means these guys have to train and rehearse day and night.

Simcoe (full-time dancer): We start class at 9:30 every morning…an hour and a half long. Then we typically rehearse until 5:30, with our lunch hour at 2. Our schedule changes day to day…Some days, I’ll be in rehearsal all day long…Other days, I may only be scheduled for a couple of hours, in which case I might have time to fit in some physical therapy…I have to do weight lifting to keep my upper body in shape, and a little Pilates, and cross-training exercises to strengthen my core.

Garcia (student): Um, [my schedule’s] kind of hectic. I go to school in the mornings, and then I usually have dance classes in the afternoon, or I go to rehearsal at OBT, or I go back to school for rehearsal or come back to OBT for an evening technique class. [I also do] cross-training—that’s one thing that my family stresses a lot—swimming and doing other kinds of athletics.

They also have to teach their bodies to do moves that, at least at first, feel really unnatural.

Jurica (student): The hardest thing is…handling your imperfections. In the beginning, you don’t care because you don’t know what the technique is. Like when people told me to point my toes, I literally thought they meant to crunch my toes. I didn’t realize they meant point my ankles. Once you understand the technique more, you have more of a responsibility to do things correctly to the best of your ability, because you know. So, actually, the more and more you do it, the harder it is to do!

 

Advice for dancing…and for life.

So often, we do things we’re told to do, things we’re used to doing, things we think other people want from us. But ballet boys have learned to take risks, make discoveries, and challenge themselves every day. Even when you’re doing something you love, ballet boys know that life is a balancing act.

Kindell: [When] you find this thing that is everything to you, it clicks. Even if there are all these things you have to do that are hard to do, or you don’t have people taking you, or [you don’t] have the money, you know you have to do it—and there are other things you have to give up.

Simcoe: With the minor strains and sprains, it takes a while to learn how to take it easy. Know how much or how little to push your body, while still trying to do your job. I think dancers have a reputation for pushing through the pain a little more than is healthy for them.

Jurica: At the end of the day, it isn’t win-or-lose, but an inner competition: how much better can I be than before? It’s exciting to see that growth.

 

© Copyright 2015 Artslandia

Eden Johnson-Woods and J.T. Herndon perform a scene from The Nutcracker. I thought I would never like it, but I’d venture a guess it’s even harder than football, J.T. says of ballet. (Sarah Lane,The Washington Post) 2015

By Bettina Lanyi
The Washington Post
December 13, 2015

 

[Manassas, Virginia, USA] – J.T. Herndon was selling coffee and hot cocoa with his Boy Scout troop at the Haymarket Day Parade two years ago when Manassas Ballet Theatre costumer Christina Brooks made the boys an offer. She told them if they tried out for the professional ballet company’s “Nutcracker” performance, she would buy some coffee.

“I was skeptical,” said the strapping 13-year-old, then a sixth-grade student who was very much into football. But J.T. auditioned for a role as a soldier, and he said he liked it so much he continued taking classes after the show wrapped.

When football tryouts rolled around the following year, J.T.’s coach pulled his mother aside and asked what accounted for his improvement. “He was asking my mom, ‘What did you do?’ ” J.T. said. The footwork he had developed in ballet had boosted his agility and speed on the field. “And when I jumped up to get the ball, that helped a lot because of all the jumps I did” in ballet.

But the Metz Middle School student’s football days were numbered. Last year, J.T. decided to increase his focus on ballet to about 30 hours of classes and private instruction a week, and to stop playing football altogether. “After football, I would come straight here and have to change . . . and jump in class,” he said. “They’re both really physical activities, and then I would be so tired. I had to choose one or the other, so I chose this.”

J.T. is rehearsing with the other dancers for this year’s production of “The Nutcracker,” which will be performed from Dec. 17 to 23 at the Hylton Performing Arts Center. This year, J.T. will play Fritz with one of the company’s two casts, and the roles of lead soldier and a boy in the party scene for the other.

“I never, in a million years, thought this was something he would do,” said Shelby Morton, J.T.’s mother. “His life was football, Boy Scouts, tae kwon do. I have told him all his life, ‘Whatever it is you choose to do, as long as you do it heart and soul, I will support you 100 percent.’ Never did I dream it would be dance, but I couldn’t be more proud of him that he’s found his niche.”

What got J.T. hooked? “The dancing itself — all the jumps and everything,” he said, pointing in particular to the challenge of dancing pas de deux with a partner. “And I really like the partnering aspect — when I figured out I could do lifts and everything — that’s really fun. You kind of have to know each other a lot, so that you do really well together.”

Sara Ordway, J.T.’s instructor and a principal dancer with the Manassas Ballet, said J.T.’s focus and determination to improve are his standout qualities. “He has natural talent, but the way he approaches it with his mind — he could go as far as he wants to with it,” Ordway said. “For an American boy at his age who doesn’t have any background in dance — it’s a miracle.”

Amy Grant Wolfe, Manassas Ballet’s artistic director, said it can be tough to draw boys to dance. “American society thinks of ballet for very little girls, period,” Wolfe said, adding that changing the cultural perception about ballet is a gradual process.

“I’ll bring people in the studio so they can see the athleticism that’s needed to do ballet,” she said. “Once they do that, everything changes in a moment and they see that, ‘Oh, ballet is also a sport.’ They’ll see our company men jump . . . off the floor and jumping cleanly, not just to get a basket or something, and to lift the women like they’re light as feathers.”

J.T., who said he has faced teasing at school over his decision to pursue dancing, has also found role models in the older boys and male dancers in the company.

His advice for boys considering ballet? “Try it. Just try it,” he said. “I thought I would never like it, but I’d venture a guess it’s even harder than football. With football, there’s a limit to what you can do. But when you’re dancing, you really have no limit. Because you can get better and better and better.”

 

Copyright 2015 The Washington Post

 

Ian Brooks, 14, and Quinton Brooks, 10, are the best ballet students Dawn Marti has ever had (Jaime Carrero, The Victoria Advocate) 2015

 

By Jon Wilcox
The Victoria Advocate
December 9, 2015

 

[Victoria, Texas, USA] – The two brothers who miraculously danced into ballet instructor Dawn Marti’s life were “a blessing from God.”

With about two years of combined ballet experience, Victoria dance students Quinton, 11, and Ian Brooks, 14, have been selected to dance in a production of “The Nutcracker” by a pre-professional Austin dance academy.

When Marti met the brothers in January 2014 at an event that connects home-schooled students with extracurricular activities, she didn’t know she was introducing herself to two of the most talented dancers she would ever teach.

They met one day at random, said Michelle Brooks, mother of Ian and Quinton. “There was a home-schooling convention at a Lutheran church, and (Marti) had a booth there,” Brooks said.

After starting tap lessons with Marti, the brothers expanded their dance repertoire to include jazz, contemporary and ballet.

“I wasn’t sure they would be students at first,” Marti said. Before long, Marti began to realize how special Ian and Quinton really were. “I just saw such fast progression from these boys that I was amazed,” she said.

Marti said when she sent a video audition of the brothers to the Austin Metamorphosis Dance Ensemble in September, she knew it was a long shot. Although Marti said she knew the company was in need of male dancers for its next production, “The Nutcracker: Suite Dreams,” she was also aware of the level of prestige at AMDE.

The ensemble places strict requirements on any who wish to study at the company and even stricter demands for those who wish to perform.

Quinton and Ian Brooks at the Austin Metamorphis Dance Ensemble's Nutcracker (Danceworks Unlimited) 2015Marti was blown away when she heard the news. AMDE wanted to cast Quinton in the leading role of the Nutcracker Prince and wrote in a new part for his younger brother, Ian. Considering her experience with the brothers, Marti said she probably shouldn’t have been surprised.

They practice about 15 hours each week, but there’s more to their success than simply rehearsal. “Ballet is not their only passion,” Marti said. “These boys are good at everything they do.”

Despite their shared last names and a passion for dance, the two brothers are certainly individuals.

Ian, a quiet young man with thoughtful eyes and long, dark hair enjoys practicing piano, horseback riding and singing.

Many of the skills learned on the back of Snickers, a bay quarter horse, have helped Ian with his ballet, he said. Core muscle strength, flexibility, balance and, especially, patience are essentials in both dancing and riding, Ian said. “He really does have the patience of Job,” Ian’s mother said, referencing the biblical Job. “He sticks with it until he gets it.”

Ian isn’t quite sure what to make of his own dedication. “I just get these boosts of encouragement,” he said. “Then I want to do things better. If I’m here at dance and I can’t do something well, I go home and practice it.”

Despite their differences, the two share one thing in common: an uncanny ability to focus on the task at hand. “A lot of boys don’t have that drive and determination to pursue dance, but these boys are very disciplined and determined,” Marti said. “They love that art and have that appreciation.”

Blond-haired and shorter by about a foot, Quinton’s fearless enthusiasm and easy laugh complement his perpetually confident grin. While his brother prefers to devote his time to horses and music, Quinton spends his time crocheting, reading myths and fairy tales and painting.

He also finds time to care for a saltwater aquarium inhabited by a goby fish and starfish. In his bedroom hangs one of his many watercolor paintings he’s finished, “The Lunar Eclipse.” In 2014, another one of Quinton’s paintings, “The Lonely Flower,” won third place in a contest by the Victoria Art League.

Ian and Quinton may have plenty of other hobbies, but for now ballet is a priority.

Given their level of commitment, Marti has no choice but to reciprocate.”I’m investing in these boys because they want to make something of it,” Marti said. “It’s a good investment.”

She said she has high hopes for their futures. “I think both boys have the potential to take their dancing to a professional level,” Marti said. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”

A former dancer herself, Michelle Brooks said she never pressured the brothers into dancing. She sets herself apart from the stereotypical dance mom persona with a decidedly hands off approach. “I just try to hang back and let (Marti) handle all the corrections,” Brooks said. “Because she has gotten them to where they are. They’ve come a very long way.” Her sons have enough motivation on their own, she said.

Brooks said she enjoys watching her sons succeed, but the real prize is seeing the genuine pleasure Ian and Quinton find in dancing.

She is happy in her confidence that both boys dance because they want to.

For Ian, ballet is a transcendent feeling. “It’s just fun to be floating through the air for a while,” he said. “It’s a little like flying. Who doesn’t love to fly?”

 

© Victoria Advocate Publishing Co

 

 

Zy’ear Irving, 11, a student at the Pennsylvania School of Ballet dancing in the Nutcracker(CBS Philly) 2015

 

By Cherri Gregg
CBS Philly
December 10, 2015

 

[Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA] – An 11-year-old boy from South Philadelphia got not one, but *two* of the starring roles in the Pennsylvania Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker at the Academy of Music.

 

Watch the Video: http://cbsloc.al/1NQKfkh

 

Zy’ear Irving loves to move to the music.

“And you can feel everything that is going on. You can feel the rhythm, you can feel the beat,” Irving told Eyewitness News.

Zy’ear discovered his love for ballet in the first grade.

Last year the Pennsylvania Ballet discovered the sixth grader and gave him a scholarship to the ballet school.

And for the second year, he’ll step into a royal role as the prince and for the first time- as the nutcracker, too.

Zy’ear lives with his grandmother Cheryl Irving, who keeps the future pro organized so he can attend rehearsals six days a week as he prepares to perform in 20 out of 27 shows this season.

 

©2015 CBS Local Media

 

 

I was excessively perspiring, trying to make my clunky body look graceful, and pointing my toes with a ferociousness they hadn’t felt before. It was Bring a Boy to Ballet, and I was absolutely crushing it. Not really, I was struggling.

 

By Tim Drugan-Eppich
The New Hampshire
December 7, 2015

 

On Friday in New Hampshire Hall, it was “Bring a Boy to Ballet” day. It is a day that happens once a semester, and the premise is explained quite well in the title. In a class of predominantly women, the Ballet 2 class was treated to a day where extra testosterone is brought in to help raise awareness of the program.

“I kind of expected to be thrown completely out of my element-which I was-but I never felt uncomfortable,” said Jack Shea, a boy who attended the event on dancing for the first time. “The teacher and my partner were really helpful and made it easy to have a good time.”

“We want to spark an interest in dance, and expose men to ballet,” said Susan Endrizzi, the instructor of the class. “But the main goal is to have fun.”

Endrizzi also emphasized that female guests are welcome to attend.

But the fact that it was fun did not negate the fact that it was hard. I began to realize it wasn’t going to be a romp among the daisies when we started on the barre, in first position, which was the first thing we did. So what I’m trying to say is, it was hard right away.

First position is standing with your feet in a V shape, but when Endrizzi was demonstrating it, her toes were pointing in opposite directions. My tiny V looked pretty stupid in comparison, maybe 30 degrees separated my toes, and my hand was already sweating on the cool metal of the barre.

I would have felt fine about myself, except that there was another fellow across from me who had been warming up with splits, could stand on his toes, and had biceps and pecs that were straining against his shirt. After questioning the surrounding dancers I found out that he was a student in the class, which made me feel a touch better.

Brett McConn is in the master’s program for science and accounting. After going to a few “Bring a Boy to Ballet” days the end of his sophomore year, he was convinced to take a ballet class and has been at it since. I don’t think that doing math gets you ripped, but ballet is a daily part of his life, so perhaps that could have something to do with it.

“Most guys have this weird perception of ballet as not manly,” he said. “But you can see guys on YouTube doing huge impressive lifts and jumps.”

Endrizzi agreed with him. “The balance, strength, flexibility and endurance make it a great way to stay in shape,” she said.

I suddenly felt like my weekly squats and pushups were somewhat ridiculous when looking at the coordination and athleticism brought out in the unique movements of ballet. I should buy a tutu. Kidding, McConn was in tights, showing off that even his legs were more muscular than mine.

“It was definitely a sort of humbling experience,” he said. “I have a lot of respect for how much skill the dancers have.”

The barre work included various spins, leg lifts, and forward bends that made my hamstrings feel like banjo strings. Twang. Remember that balance Endrizzi was talking about as a necessity for ballet? I didn’t have it. I’m sure I looked downright goofy flailing about on the various jumps and tiptoe walking. In fact, I know I did, for there were large mirrors lining the walls. My calves burned as my ego bruised. Putting the barres away on the side of the room, I heard other boys groaning about muscles they hadn’t known existed being put through the ringer.

Partner work, now this is what I was excited for. I mean, the girl that invited me was attractive, and I’m a young man, rife with hormones. So let’s dance.

A choreographed dance was what Endrizzi had in mind, and a choreographed dance is what she got.

“You all picked up the choreography really fast,” Endrizzi said. But who was the best? “Of course you were, Tim.” Nice.

Whether she meant that compliment or not will remain a mystery, but she did pick me to demonstrate the moves we were tying into a larger dance, so I must have been somewhat competent. Or perhaps she wanted to make everyone else feel better by displaying the worst. I’ll never know.

The dance included lots of steamy eye contact, some bowing and trying to make tricky moves look easy. It also included a waltz.

Every once in a while you surprise people, and I had the privilege of doing just that. Waltzing was introduced as an essential part of the dance, and unbeknownst to my partner and Endrizzi, I’m a pretty good waltzer. So as I was tapped to demonstrate the section, I promptly blew Endrizzi’s mind and everyone else’s.

“Oh, you know how to waltz,” Endrizzi said, as I twirled her around the room like a spinning top. Women fawned over my moves, my partner stood in shock of the talent that she had invited with her that day. Alright, I might be remembering it with a little excess braggadocio, but I was quite pleased with myself.

Just as my confidence was blowing through the roof, lifts were introduced into the dance. The guys in the class exchanged looks as Endrizzi explained the lifts. Here was the big moment, the big test, if we had any manliness left to make up for the atrocity that had taken place in lack of flexibility and coordination up until now, this was the opportunity to negate all that. While my partner could be described as petite, I was a bit nervous over a shoddy gym-going record. How many times had I been in the past month? Does going just to take a sauna count?

But putting our hands on the hips of our respective females, we gracefully lifted the ladies high into the air, and gently brought them back to earth. Oh, what manly men we were.

The class wrapped up with running lifts where the women lifted the boys. Kidding, we were still lifting, but now it was combined with trying not to trip over our feet.

As time ran out, I realized why McConn was so jacked. I could feel muscles screaming from confusion. “What was all that?” they seemed to be asking.

“It was definitely worth getting to see the artistry behind something that I previously knew very little about,” said Shea. “I think that it’s important to try new things, especially those which I would never really associate myself with.”

I regret that I will be finished with school after this semester; for I would enjoy going back and seeing if I can’t point my toes even more furiously. If anyone has the opportunity to take a ballet class, I highly recommend it, you might surprise yourself. Or get an unexpected compliment.

“You have great feet,” Susan Endrizzi told me. That compliment will get me through the rest of the semester.

 

 

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
The Telegraph
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

 

The ‘Billy Elliot’ effect sees young males become the ‘crème de la crème’ of the dancing world

More boys attended Royal Ballet School than girls last year

Strictly Come Dancing judge and professional ballerina Darcey Bussell said the UK was producing more male dancers than female

Billy Elliot and TV talent shows are credited as the reason

 

Boys pictured at the Royal Ballet School in Richmond Park, Surrey (Lucy Ray Photography,The Daily Mail) 2015

 

By Antonia Hoyle
The Daily Mail
December 11, 2015

 

Toes pointed, arms aloft, the ballet dancers balance perfectly on one leg and lift the other high behind them. The delicate grace of their flowing movements is captivating. With backs ramrod straight, they smile serenely as they glide and twirl across the room. These youngsters are the crème de la crème of the ballet world. Only the best are good enough — and they are intent on perfection.

To help them attain it, instructor Hope Keelan barks instructions as they dance. The smallest indiscretion is noted and brusquely corrected. ‘Fingers and thumbs away,’ she raps. ‘Teeth, teeth! Come on! That was torture.’

It’s astonishing to watch such talent and relentless discipline in ones so young. More astonishing, though, is the fact there’s not a tutu in sight. The leotards of the dancers are blue. And their hair isn’t scraped back into buns, but slicked down in short cuts.

Sacha Barber, 12, Stanley Young, 12, and Isaac Martin, 13 are students at RBS (Lucy Ray Photography,The Daily Mail) 2015

We might be at the mixed-sex Royal Ballet School — Britain’s most prestigious dance training institute — but in this rehearsal studio there are only boys. While little girls still comprise the vast majority of those clamouring to study ballet, boys are increasingly choosing it over ball sports. Last year, there were 112 boys and 109 girls at the Royal Ballet School’s junior and senior branches.

This week ballerina and Strictly Come Dancing judge Darcey Bussell — herself an alumna of the Royal Ballet School — highlighted the remarkable rise of the boy ballet dancer. ‘Every dance school I went to there was only ever one little boy,’ said Darcey, 46. ‘Suddenly, we’re producing more male dancers. Apparently, the problem now is that we’re not producing enough women! How is this possible?’

How indeed?

Some boys have admitted relating to Billy Elliot due to teasing and bullying from other boys (Lucy Ray Photography,The Daily Mail) 2015

Some boys have admitted relating to Billy Elliot due to teasing and bullying from other boys

The ‘Billy Elliot’ effect is a factor. After the film — which charted the plight of the fictional 11-year-old miner’s son who won a place at the Royal Ballet School — was released in 2000, much of the stigma around boys and ballet was removed. That shift has been reinforced in recent years by the captivating performances of male ballet stars such as Cuban Carlos Acosta, 42.

‘Shows like Strictly Come Dancing and X Factor have also made dancing more acceptable for boys,’ says Hope, a youthful-looking 60-year-old who seems to inspire both respect and affection from her male students in equal measure. She is artistic teacher and programme manager at White Lodge, the junior wing of the Royal Ballet School. Based in Richmond, South-West London, White Lodge was created in 1955 to produce professional dancers for the Royal Ballet Company.

It is home to 130 boarders aged 11 to 16, one of whom is 11-year-old Blake Smith from Gloucester. He wanted to be a dancer at five, after watching children’s television show Angelina Ballerina.

And he harbours a true passion. He admits he initially encountered opposition to his dreams. ‘I was the only boy in my ballet class and at first my friends would tell me ballet is for girls. But eventually they got used to the idea.’

Blake’s mum Siobhan, 37, was, nonetheless concerned when her little boy started ballet classes. ‘Within two months he’d completed his first competition. I was amazed and proud, but worried he’d be picked on,’ says Siobhan. ‘But Blake says he doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.’

The Royal Ballet School fees cost £30,000 per year and only the best dancers are accepted (Lucy Ray Photography,The Daily Mail) 2015

The Royal Ballet School fees cost £30,000 per year and only the best dancers are accepted

Two years ago, Blake was spotted at his local dance class and invited to audition for White Lodge. Competition is fierce. More than 1,000 youngsters vie for two dozen places at the boarding school each year. And the fees — £30,000 a year — are as substantial as the talent.

Like 80 per cent of White Lodge’s students, Blake is given a government grant. ‘Without the grant, there’s no way I would have been able to afford it,’ says Siobhan, a cleaner who split up with Blake’s father while she was pregnant.

She admits the prospect of sending her boy across the country for weeks on end filled her with anxiety. ‘I didn’t want him to go. I know it is an amazing opportunity, but I felt physically sick as I left him for the first time. I’m still struggling.’ She and Blake Skype each other each day. ‘As soon as we’ve finished speaking I cry,’ she says. ‘He’s always been focused, but I worry about how he’ll handle the pressure.’

Boys sandwich four hours of ballet practice a day on either side of their academic studies (Lucy Ray Photography,The Daily Mail) 2015

Boys sandwich four hours of ballet practice a day on either side of their academic studies

Indeed, the pursuit of excellence here is relentless.The boys sandwich four hours of ballet practice a day on either side of their academic studies. Their warm-up alone is characterised by ‘blood, sweat and tears’, says Hope, without hint of apology.

‘Assessments’ are held at the end of the year to boot out underperformers. Less than half of students will progress to the upper school, and fewer still will be accepted into the Royal Ballet.

While the boys insist the girls — who train separately because of their different physical strengths — don’t begrudge their increasing dominance, 11-year-old Caspar Lench lets slip that relationships between the sexes can be strained. ‘At the start of the year the boys and girls didn’t exactly get on,’ admits Caspar, also in his first term. ‘The girls didn’t want to be friends with the boys and the boys were a bit shy around the girls.’ Fortunately, things picked up. ‘After a few weeks we made friends and it’s not awkward any more.’

Caspar started ballet lessons at three after his mum Yasmin spotted his potential while he was playing a sheep in his nursery nativity play. ‘He smiled all the way through, showed no nerves and made everyone laugh,’ says Yasmin, 42.

Like her husband Tristan, 44, Yasmin is a doctor, and their son’s talent came as a surprise. ‘Dancing definitely doesn’t run in the family, but Caspar has always loved performing,’ she says.

Yasmin credits competitors on shows like Britain’s Got Talent with inspiring boys’ ballet dancing ambition, as well as footballers such as England star Rio Ferdinand, who have been open about practising ballet as youngsters.

What about Billy Elliot? ‘I do sort of relate to him, but feel like it was easier for me because I had my parents’ encouragement,’ says Caspar.

Yasmin acknowledges her son was lucky to only receive a couple of barbed comments from peers who described his hobby as ‘girly’. And she adds: ‘I think Tristan being supportive helped. We know of other boys who have dropped out because their dads didn’t approve.

‘I knew it would be sad for us to say goodbye to him but, by the time he was seven, he was showing such promise we had an inkling he would go to ballet school.’

Annually, more than 1,000 youngsters vie for only two dozen places at the Royal Ballet School (Lucy Ray Photography,The Daily Mail) 2015

Annually, more than 1,000 youngsters vie for only two dozen places at the Royal Ballet School

Auditions for Royal Ballet School are held at the beginning of the year, with staff scouring the country for the best of the best. Every aspiring student is invited to take part in a dance class where their talent is assessed. Caspar’s audition was at a church hall near his home city of Bristol with a final audition at White Lodge this January. A week later, he discovered he’d been accepted.

As the term started in September, he managed to maintain a stiff upper lip, despite the fact he faced weeks without his mum, with all visits pre-arranged. ‘He made it very clear he didn’t want me to cry and embarrass him,’ says Yasmin. ‘But the school prepared us for the fact the children can get homesick.’

In fact, says Hope, the boys are more susceptible to homesickness — or more likely to show it. ‘Girls are a bit more able to mask their feelings,’ she says, adding that despite the discipline, she would never tell a lad missing home he wasn’t entitled to feel sad.

‘We talk about their feelings. I think boys show pressure differently if they’re angry or upset. They cry or they’ll fight. I say they need to see a nurse, and we have psychology workshops.’

Caspar admits he’s found his first term heavy going. ‘When things have happened — I’ve had injuries and arguments and stuff — I’ve wished Mum could be here to sort it out and I call her and cry.’

They speak for half an hour every evening. ‘If I’m feeling sad, she will say she is hugging me down the phone.’

Yasmin doesn’t find his homesickness quite as easy to brush off. ‘I know Caspar bounces back quickly, but I still feel anxious,’ she says. ‘I worry about the pressure and how he would cope if he lost his place. I like to think he is strong, but it would be a blow for him.’

Sacha Barber, 12, Stanley Young, 12, and Isaac Martin, 13, training at school's Pavlova Studio (Lucy Ray Photography,The Daily Mail) 2015

While all the boys have a certain air of vulnerability, it’s also striking how composed they are. ‘There is an emphasis on professional behaviour here,’ explains Isaac Martin, 13, from London, who is in his second year.

Isaac, whose dad Leo, 49, is a company manager and mum Catherine, 45, a museum curator, was a gymnast before discovering ballet a couple of years ago. He admits that at the end of a hard day’s practice, everything aches, but he wouldn’t dream of complaining: ‘We’re taught to respect our elders, that we’re here to learn and not to make a fuss. It’s a good motto to live by.’

Stanley Young, 12, Sacha Barber, 12, and Issac Martin, 13, the Royal Ballet School (Lucy Ray Photography,The Daily Mail) 2015-03

And it is quite extraordinary that despite being in stiff competition with each other, the boys show no signs of jousting or one-upmanship. Are there really no squabbles? ‘Only in our dorms,’ chips in 12-year-old Stanley Young, who has also just entered year two. ‘And mostly over things like the shower rota. But it’s always sorted out.’

It sounds like Stanley, from Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, whose parents are Sarah, 49, and Steve, 45, an engineer, has found an acceptance through ballet school he previously lacked. ‘Because I didn’t like football I felt isolated and different from the other boys,’ he says. These days, Stanley shares his section of the boys’ dormitory with Sacha Barber, 12, from Eastbourne.

You always have to be better than you were the day before' is the mantra boys are taught at the RBS (Lucy Ray Photography,The Daily Mail) 2015

You always have to be better than you were the day before’ is the mantra boys are taught at the RBS

Sacha admits he is finding his second year more stressful than his first and that his dad Daniel, 48, a carpenter, is ‘still surprised’ by his love of dance. ‘You don’t get pushed as much until second year,’ says Sacha — the only boy permitted to sport a longer hairdo, because he is playing Fritz, the lead role in the Nutcracker at the school’s annual performance now taking place at the Royal Opera House. Apparently, he needs longer locks to look suitably Victorian.

But he refuses to buckle under the increased pressure of the second year: ‘I just try harder.’ And it is this which is the unspoken mantra of all the boys at The Royal Ballet School. Without exception, they handle mounting pressure with remarkable grace.

‘It is stressful,’ says Caspar as rehearsals end. ‘You always have to be better than you were the day before and I don’t always achieve that. But you have to work hard and hope for the best.’

 

Copyright 2015 Associated Newspapers, Ltd.

By Steve Trounday
Reno Gazette-Journal
December 4, 2015

 

[Reno, Nevada, USA] – One of the stereotypes of ballet is that it’s a girl’s activity. Often when one thinks of a ballet dancer, a woman wearing a tutu and pirouetting with her pointe shoes is the first thing that pops into your head. The concept of a male ballet dancer is not top of mind — especially in the United States. Yet some of the most famous ballet dancers of all time are men. With their powerful leaps, dancers Mikhail Baryshnikov and Rudolf Nureyev are arguably the two most well-known dancers in modern ballet.

There has been a stigma in the U.S. that has kept American boys away from ballet. It’s kind of ironic because when you watch a professional ballet dancer, both male and female, the athleticism is as rigorous as in any sport. And I mean any sport. The leg strength needed to make those commanding leaps and the upper body strength required for partnering and lifting a ballerina into the air is substantial. What they make look so easy is tremendously difficult to do.

The lack of male dancers from the U.S. means a majority of male dancers in American ballet companies come from other countries. There have been periods of time where all of the male dancers in the San Francisco Ballet have been from countries outside of the United States.

Perhaps this is beginning to change. The success of the stage play and the movie “Billy Elliot,” the popularity of the television show “So You Think You Can Dance,” and the growing approval of ballet in general are adding an element of cool to the art form.

Proof of this can be found with the Tilton brothers, originally from San Marco, California. All four brothers (Roy, Rex, Raymond and Ronald) have danced with professional ballet companies at some point in their lives. Rex is a principal dancer with Utah’s Ballet West. His brother Ronald is a corps artist with the same company. Both men have performed in A.V.A. Ballet Theatre productions here in Reno. Rex starred as the prince in “Swan Lake” and as a featured dancer in the rock ballet “Vortex.” Ronald was a featured dancer in “Vortex” for two consecutive years. Both Rex and Ronald were stars in the CW television reality series “Breaking Pointe.”

Raymond Tilton has danced with the San Francisco Ballet and is currently with the Diablo Ballet. Raymond will be making his debut with A.V.A. Ballet Theatre next week in “The Nutcracker” at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts. He will star as the Sugar Plum Cavalier.

I asked Raymond how the four brothers became involved with ballet. “Our sisters were taking ballet lessons,” he said of his older sister Alexis and twin younger sisters Angelica and Abigale. “My brothers and I were outside of their ballet studio just goofing around. The director of the studio — needing male dancers for his performances — came out and offered us free dance lessons.” At the time, none of the brothers expected that ballet would become such a large part of their lives. Their passion had been soccer. They each began attending more advanced ballet schools and honing their skills.

While the oldest brother Roy has moved on to other pursuits, Rex, Ronald and Raymond continue to excel in the profession. Their dark hair and handsome brooding features combined with their dancing ability make them popular performers.

Alexander Van Alstyne, the artistic director of A.V.A. Ballet Theatre, appreciates their dance ability. Van Alstyne was a professional dancer with Ballet West, the Boston Ballet, and the San Francisco Ballet. “It’s exciting for the art of ballet to see so many male dancers,” he said. It’s even more amazing to see so much talent in one family.”

Raymond is looking forward to his Sugar Plum Cavalier role next week in “The Nutcracker.” He said, “My brothers have always told me how much fun they have when they come to Reno to dance for Alex. I’m really looking forward to the experience.”

Joining Raymond in the production will be local male dancer David Huffmire. David has danced with A.V.A. Ballet Theatre since he was a child and is currently a trainee with Ballet West. David was so eager to begin professional dancing in Utah that he graduated early from Galena High School to make this happen. Like the Tilton brothers, David knows it’s cool to be a ballet dancer.

 

Steve Trounday is a board member at A.V.A. Ballet Theatre, the resident ballet company of the Pioneer Center.

© 2016 http://www.rgj.com.

 

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