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Category Archives: News Story 2016

Felix Brook, 10, has landed a role in LCB's Little Laord Fauntleroy (Peterborough Telegraph) 2016


Peterborough Telegraph
April 18, 2016


Felix Brook (10) of Ermine Crescent, Stilton, has followed in the footsteps of the fictional ballet star by defying gender stereotypes to land a part in Little Lord Fauntleroy. Felix was chosen as one of 60 dancers from around 600 who auditioned for the performance despite only taking up ballet in late 2014.

The Stilton Church of England Primary School pupil was inspired to take up dancing simply by turning off the light with his feet, and after giving ballet a go he soon became hooked by it.

Felix’s mum Sadie said: “He’s always prancing around. We tried lots of things like football and hockey with the school but he did not really enjoy it. I can’t remember who suggested it but we said try gymnastics or ballet. He said he can’t do ballet because he’s a boy, but he tried it and his teacher said he has real talent. She has taken him under her wing.”

Felix goes four times a week to classes at Tu Danse in Newark Road, Peterborough, where he has been welcomed with open arms and encouragement.

Sadie said: “They’ve been brilliant. Not many boys dance with them.

Felix Brook, 10, only start ballet lesson in 2014 (Peterrborough Telegraph) 2016“It’s given him a focus. In the last year he’s knuckled down at school a bit more. He did get a lot of stick at the beginning from the other boys but he’s really good at it, and he’s feisty.

“We always said we will encourage him and push him while he enjoys it. He says he’s going to dance for ever. I’m massively proud – it makes all the travel worth it.”

And it appears that Felix’s love of dance is not just confined to a ballet class. Sadie added: “He’s dancing down the aisle of Tesco, on the platform at the train station – he just does not stop, it’s brilliant. He’s just our little Billy Elliot. He’s read the book and watched the film a hundred times. He loves it.”

Felix will be on stage at the Peacock Theatre from April 21-24 as he performs for the London Children’s Ballet.

The youngster is very excited to perform live again and, not just content with four days in the West End, he is already looking ahead to a career in ballet.

Felix is booked in for a week at the Royal Ballet School this summer and will soon be applying for a full-time ballet secondary school.

And at the same time, he will continue to show people that ballet is something for both boys and girls.

He said: “Some will be nice about it and some people take the mick.

“At first I cared and got a little bit upset but now I’m not bothered.

“I normally have a show at the dance studio and a couple of my friends came and they really liked it.”


© 2016 Johnston Publishing Ltd



Amari Webb-Martin, 12, has been dancing since he was three (Newham Recorder) 2016


By Kat Hopps
Newham Recorder
April 12, 2016


[London, England] – Amari Webb-Martin, of Chichester Close, successfully auditioned for a role in Little Lord Fauntleroy, which runs for four nights at Peacock Theatre from Thursday, April 21.

The Kingsford Community School pupil, who has been dancing since he was about three, was one of 60 children out of 600 in total to get a part.

He said: “I’m having the best time at London Children’s Ballet and I am looking forward to the opening night. Being a part of this ballet production is fantastic and I think all boys should be able to pirouette, leap and glissade!”

The young twinkle-toed performer won several ensemble parts in the production including a hot dog seller, Earl’s Court dancer and church goer.

Prior to winning the role, he performed in theatre production Treasure at Finsborough Theatre, danced at the O2 and even sang in a teen pop band that appeared on Britian’s Got Talent

Amari is also accomplished in tap, modern, contemporary and acro dance.

Mum Kelley Webb-Martin said she was very proud of her son’s “determination, dedication and humility”, especially as he has often had to accept rejection for roles along the way.

She said: “He works very hard and he is one of these humble people who does his best.”

The Kerry Jane Academy Of Dance student officially started dance lessons aged three but first learnt his moves on the dance floor at just 18 months old, when he would watch his sister, Zakira Webb-Martin, 14, perform in dance classes at the same school in East Ham.

Kelley said: “I had to run to the shop and I left him with the dance people and he sat up and watched all the people. He then started to walk and he just started to go on to the dance school.”

The mum-of-two added that Amari “still loves it” and is undeterred by any social pressures that he may face along the way.

She said: “You do not see many boys who do step and modern dance so it is really brave of him to something really classical. Boys doing ballet isn’t as popular as other dances but I’m pleased that he continues to pursue and enjoy it.”


© 2014 Archant Community Media Ltd



Pierson Feeney, 11, at the Gulf Coast School of Performing Arts (John Fitzhugh. Sun Herald) 2016-01


By Justin Fitzhugh
The Charlotte Observer
March 30, 2016


[D’Iberville, Mississippi, USA] – D’Iberville Middle School student Pierson Feeney finds himself checking the clock often when he has down time in class. The 11-year-old said he anticipates dismissal so he can hop on the bus and head to the Gulf Coast School of Performing Arts.”I’m always looking at what time it is, wishing it was time to go so I could go to dance,” he said.

Some classmates don’t understand Pierson’s passion for ballet, hip-hop, house, ballroom and contemporary dancing. In fact, he often faces ridicule from his peers. “At school, they’ll make fun of me, saying dance is all for girls,” he said. “I know girls do dance a lot, and it’s most[ly] girls in dance (class), but boys do it, too. If anybody says anything to me, I just ignore them.”

Many D’Iberville Middle students have never seen him on stage, nor do they understand how the art form changed his life for the better, the sixth-grader said. Pierson was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder when he was 4. By the time he was 6, he began to show differences in behavior that led doctors to put him on morning and night doses of prescription medicine.

Now, Pierson is a different child. He says his dance is how he gets out his frustration and how he gets his excitement out.

But it seemed to make his condition worse, Pierson’s mother, Marsha Feeney, said. By the time he was 9, it was hard for the family to go out in public together. Pierson had developed ticks, and medical professionals diagnosed him with Tourette Syndrome.

Marsha Feeney was desperate to help her son. She noticed that Pierson constantly shuffled his feet, so she asked if taking tap dancing lessons would be something he would like.

“His ADHD was disrupting our whole family,” Marsha Feeney said. “We, at the time, could not go to dinner. We could not go to birthday parties. We pretty much stayed home.

“Now, Pierson is a different child. He says his dance is how he gets out his frustration and how he gets his excitement out.”

What started as a couple of tap classes now encompasses every single dance class offered at Elaine Kulick’s performing art school: ballet, jazz, hip-hop, contemporary, ballroom and house. He also takes tumbling and acting classes. “It was as if God whispered and said, ‘We need to find a useful and productive use of all this energy,’ ” she said.

In two years since, Pierson’s technique has improved tremendously, and he earned a spot on the Gulf Coast Performing Arts Center competition dance team.

“When I first started, I didn’t know anything and it was really hard,” Pierson said. With ADHD he said he couldn’t control himself. Whenever you take class, you have to focus more. I started learning how to control myself because you have to be quiet in class and pay attention.”

After a year in dance, the ticks were gone. Pierson was off of almost all medication, but Marsha Feeney said her son still takes a low-dose of the ADHD drug Concerta before big tests or important days at school. Pierson goes to dance every single day after school and often stays until 8 p.m. or later. By the time he gets home, he’s covered in sweat and he’s oftentimes so worn out that it’s easy for him to fall asleep.

“I like being here better than home,” Pierson said. “It’s where my friends are and where my teachers are.”

Pierson said he believes dance is what helped him get his ADHD under control. “I felt so good because I could actually do something,” he said. “Every time I dance, I feel something in my heart and my head, and I just want to keep dancing, and it makes me feel really good about myself.”

Pierson Feeney, 11, dances with Rosa Machado, 11, during a rehearsal at the Gulf Coast School of Performing Arts (John Fitzhugh, Sun Herald) 2016 


Dance champion

Pierson’s hard work in dance class paid off this year when he won three awards at a Hollywood Vibe dance competition at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center in Biloxi.

He earned the Junior Scholarship Award and the Los Angeles Talent Agency Award in his age division. Overall, he scored one of the biggest prizes: Regional Dancer of the Year. He will travel to Las Vegas from June 27 to July 2 and audition to be a part of Hollywood Vibe’s tour, a team that travels across to U.S. and hosts dance clinics.

Marsha Feeney and her husband were ecstatic that Pierson did so well. “He has worked very hard, and it wasn’t just given to him,” she said. “When we pick him up at night, he is so tired. … Just to win one award, we would have went home feeling like we had conquered the world.”

Pierson said when his name was called as dancer of the year, he had to pinch himself to make sure it was real. “I just couldn’t believe it,” he said.

Pierson Feeney, 11, works with ballet instructor Vasily Lunde during a rehearsal at the Gulf Coast School of Performing Arts (John Fitzhugh, Sun Herald) 2016 


What his coaches say

Hip-hop, house and ballroom coach Josh Burchette said he and Pierson did not get along when the then 9-year-old started taking class. “He didn’t like my classes at first,” Burchette said. But the coach discovered in class that Pierson really excelled in house, a sub-style of hip-hop dancing. “It started opening up other styles of hip-hop, and he started growing.

“House is one of those styles, you don’t normally see people learn off the bat. It’s a mature style and a mature mindset. It’s about soul. It’s about feel. For an 11-year-old to get that at that age, that can put 30-year-olds to shame.”

Burchette said Pierson is one of his best students. “He’s such an amazing dancer,” he said. “He deserves it. He deserves being called dancer of the year. I’m really proud of him.”

Jazz and contemporary coach Casie March said Pierson works hard and listens to coaches, and that helps him excel. “He’s very talented,” she said. “He puts forth 110 percent in everything he does.”

Ballet instructor Vasily Lunde said his class is one of the hardest because ballet movements have to be perfect.

Lunde said he and Pierson have butted heads in the past, but he’s a hard worker and will push himself beyond his limits.

“He’s not scared,” he said.


Dancing and Dad

Marsha Feeney said it was very hard for husband at first to appreciate Pierson’s passion for dance. He had to miss his son’s first live performance because of a prior engagement. But he saw his son on stage during last year’s competition, and his mind totally changed.

“As soon as Pierson got on stage that afternoon, and my husband saw him, he was blown away. He got it then, and he understood.”

Pierson said he is happy to have his father’s support. “He just didn’t think I was a good dancer because he had never seen me. He always had to go somewhere,” he said. “Now, he shows up for all of my performances and is there in whatever way he can.”

Pierson said he hopes to dance professionally in the future.


This story originally appeared in the SunHerald.

Copyright 2016 The Sun Herald



Xander Bevan, 12, left, on stage in English Youth Ballet's Giselle (2016)


The Leigh Journal
March 26. 2016


[Preston, Lancashire, England] – Fresh from his performance in Giselle, young dance prodigy Xander Bevan is encouraging more boys to take up ballet.

Xander, 12, danced the role of Gentleman of the Hunt in the English Youth Ballet production of Giselle at Preston Guild Hall and Charter Theatre on March 4 and 5.

The enterprising youngster has also started a company called Ballet Boy X, making it easier for boys to get hold of ballet gear.

Speaking to the Leigh Journal after the shows, he said: “The performances went very well. Ballet friends and adrenalin kept me going through the long hard days.”

Xander says he was first attracted to dancing aged six when a ‘ballet school did a presentation’ at his school. He said: “They needed boys and I offered my name. They rang my father and he was confused as we only had boys in our house! However my parents took me to the first lesson to ‘get it out of my system’ so to speak, and I’ve been doing ballet ever since.”

He believes more boys should get involved. “I would encourage any male to do ballet, for a number of reasons,” he says. “It keeps you fit, toned, ripped.

“Ballet is the foundation for all dance and many sports. I understand there’s a stigma attached to male dancers, but just look at the shape these guys are in. And above everything else, me and the other nine boys who starred in Giselle had a supporting cast of more than 90 girls…

“The boys get a lot of female attention, which is always a bonus.”

Xander says he is starting his boys’ ballet clothes company because his mum struggled to find male ballet gear. He said: “I want guys to be able to find everything they need to perform or rehearse.”

His ambitions include getting into the Royal Ballet School or Northern Ballet, to eventually teach and to continue Ballet Boy X.

He says his dancing idols are Louie Spence from Pineapple Dance Studios, Australian Brendan Bratulic from English Youth Ballet, who trained with K-Ballet in Japan, and Xander Parish, the first British dancer to be employed with Russia’s Mariinsky Ballet.

Xander’s dad Lee Bevan said: “The dancers didn’t leave between performances. They are proper grafters and it was a complete sell-out – it was full to the rafters. I was absolutely blown away by the performances.

“Xander was placed in the older group this time with 15 to 18-year-olds. Some of these kids are at performing art colleges. He worked so hard. We are really proud of him.”


Copyright 2016 Newsquest (North West) Ltd


Read more about Xander:

Young dancer wins dream ballet role

Youngster will star alongside pros in Coppelia




Leon Metelsky, 11, wins one of 12 places at RBS (2016)


By Kate Wilson
The Daily Echo
March 21, 2016


[Ferndown, Dorset, UK] – Aspiring ballet dancer Leon Metelsky is [in step] to fulfil his dream of dancing in The Nutcracker. Leon, who is in Year 6 at Ferndown Middle School, beat hundreds of other young performers to gain a place at one of the world’s most prestigious ballet [schools].

After starting dance classes at the age of three it quickly became clear that Leon had both the feet and passion for ballet. And now after years of training he has become one of just 12 boys from across the world to secure a place at the Royal Ballet School in London for the upcoming school year.

Leon Metelsky, 11, wins one of 12 places at RBS 2016-02_resizeThe school, which has a campus in Richmond Park and Covent Garden, has produced some of the world’s greatest ballet dancers including English darling Darcey Bussell. And Leon hopes that after attending the school he too will become one of the greats.

“I’m really excited to start at the school it’s going to be brilliant,” said Leon, whose favourite ballet dancer is Steven McRae. “My parents were both dancers and my two older sisters are dancers so it was always in my blood. I’m just glad that after all the work both them and I have put in it has paid off.”

Leon had to audition twice before getting the letter to say he had secured a place at the school. “I wasn’t really nervous about it as I am already a junior associate with the Royal Ballet School so I knew what they were looking for and was well rehearsed.

“I just can’t wait for September to come so I can start there.”

Leon’s parents Tanya and Vitaly took him to Prompt Corner Academy of Dance in Ensbury Community Centre when he was three. “From when he could walk he would tell us that he wanted to take dance classes,” said mum Tanya. “So when he was old enough we took him along to the same school as his sisters and he just loved it. That’s the thing with Leon, he has always had such a passion for dance and it comes out when he performs.”



“As a parent it’s scary to think of him going off to live away for school at only 11 but he spent a week at the school over the summer last year and said it was the best week of his life so we know he will be happy.”

Katy Chaldecott-Gill, who runs Prompt Corner Academy of Dance, said it’s Leon’s passion for ballet that has managed to get him so far. “You have students that come in with the right body and feet but if they don’t love dance then it just looks like hard work,” she said. But Leon always looks like he is loving every second and is a pleasure to teach. We are so thrilled for him and he is an inspiration to the younger dancers who look at him and realise it can happen and your dreams can come true.”

Speaking of dreams, it is Leon’s to one day perform in one of the world’s most famous ballets – The Nutcracker


Copyright 2016 Newsquest Media (Southern) Ltd



David O'Matz, 15, studying at the Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh (Marcus Charleston, 90.5 WESA) 2016


By WESA, Pittsburgh
March 11, 2016


[Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA] – While choreographing ballets is a logical next step for dancers, where will the next generation of ballet dancers come from? Especially with ballet programs needing more boys?

Essential Pittsburgh attended a class at the Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh in Mount Lebanon to meet David O’Matz a young dancer.

David O'Matz, 15, warming up at the barre, Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh (Marcus Charleston, 90.5 WESA) 2016_resizedO’Matz, 15, is a Mount Lebanon High School student who has been dancing for three and a half years. One of the attractions of ballet, for him, is rooted in the lines which a ballet dancer creates with his or her body.

“These lines and how they relate to the music coveys really powerful emotions,” O’Matz said.

Chris O’Matz, David’s mother, said he first became interested in ballet after reading a Time magazine article about boys in ballet. “That’s what I attribute his interest (in ballet) to,” she recalled.

“Ballet is so interesting how you’re not doing this for yourself and you’re not doing this to beat a team, but you’re doing it for the beauty of others,” David said, when recalling his interest in ballet.

David’s future plans include attending the School of American Ballet this summer this summer. While the ballet world is very competitive, David hopes to become a professional dancer.


© Copyright 2016 90.5 WESA




The Royal Academy of Dance appears to have cracked the age-old problem of persuading boys to take up ballet lessons – using video game characters and superheroes as role models


Royal Academy of Dance’s new male dance ambassador Iain Mackay with students (Mark Mainz) 2016-02


By Patrick Sawer
The Telegraph
March 20, 2014


The grace and muscular athleticism of Rudolph Nureyev and Carlos [Acosta] made them global stars, revered by fans and critics alike. And story of the miner’s son from County Durham who went on to become a principal dancer with the Royal Ballet, made Billy Elliot a film and musical sensation. But it remains difficult to persuade young boys there’s nothing soft or sissy about pirouettes, pas de deux and jetes.

Now the Royal Academy of Dance appears to have cracked the age-old problem of persuading boys to take up ballet lessons. It has recruited hundreds of new boys to take part in a series of events promoting classical dance and has seen an increase in the numbers taking ballet exams.

Last years [sic] the Royal Academy surpassed its ambition to sign up 1000 boys to its masterclass events, with the number of boys being taught in these classes currently standing at 1, 046. The academy has also seen a 16 per cent rise in the number of boys taking ballet exams over the past two years, from 1,127 in 2013 to 1,316 last year.

How did the Royal Academy pull off this spectacular leap?

The answer appears to lie in the world of video games and action films. Instead of classes based on the classical repertoire, with its emphasis on fairytales, princesses, tiaras and tutus – seen as more appealing to little girls than their male counterparts – the boys are encouraged to adopt the personae of superheroes and characters from films and video games such as Angry Birds, Optimus Prime, Minecraft, Star Wars, Lego and Toy Story.

Birmingham-Royal-Ballet-principal-iain-mackay-becomes-rad-male-dance-ambassador (Mark Mainz, Royal Academy of Dance) 2016

The newly appointed male dance ambassador for RAD, Iain Mackay, also Principal at the Birmingham Royal Ballet, says the secret lies in encouraging boys to view ballet in the same way they see sport – cool, physical, aspirational and addictive.

Mr Mackay was taught a crucial lesson by his own son Oscar, 6, who told him he thought ballet was ‘girly’. “I’ve taken all my ideas from Oscar,” admits Mr Mackay. “Before he was born I taught ballet workshops using the traditional methods, but I could see the boys weren’t really engaging.

“And when I [took] Oscar to his first ballet class it was a sea of pink and white and he just said ‘No, I’m not doing that. He said it didn’t look like they were having any fun. So I thought about the things he and others boys relate to – such as the superheroes and video game characters they play with on their iPads.” Now Oscar likes the sword fights and dance inspired games in his father’s rehearsals, but doesn’t think of it them as ‘ballet’.

The Royal Academy, which sets the global standard for dance exams, now wants to encourage a change in the way classical dance is taught around the country, from schools to draughty church halls, to attract more boys to take part.

Mr Mackay was first persuaded to attend ballet lessons as a seven-year-old Glasgow schoolboy only as company for his older brother, who had been inspired by the TV show Fame. His father was a sales rep for a guttering firm and his mother a librarian and until then neither had had much time for ballet.

He said that although he attended his first class only reluctantly, the physicality of the leaps and jumps persuaded him to persevere with classical dance and he says it is this which still engages boys.

“There are no short cuts. Ballet is physical and gruelling and you have to learn the technique from scratch,” said Mr Mackay. “But let the boys have fun first and enjoy being physical and in control of their bodies.

Royal Academy of Dance's new male dance ambassador Iain Mackay with students (Mark Mainz) 2016-01

“If they like Angry Birds I get them to stand, twist and move like Angry Birds. If they like Transformers I ask them to hold themselves with their chests out and heads held up, ‘to look strong, like the Transformers’. They love it. And then I explain that’s the position Carlos [Acosta] stands in.”


Case Study: ‘Evan is so confident after going to ballet classes’


Evan Paterson was reluctant to join in with his older sister’s ballet classes. After all ballet, according to all his friends, was “what girls did”. But when he took part in one of Ian Mackay’s Royal Academy of Dance’s masterclasses he suddenly realised it could be something for boys too.

Evan Patterson from Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland, goes through his ballet routine (Jon Savage, The Telegraph) 2016-01

Now the nine-year-old is a regular at the ballet classes where his sister Alex, now 12, learnt her craft and is preparing for his RAD exams this summer.

Evan said: “I like expressing my feelings and how you can jump high and be acrobatic.”

Evan Patterson from Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland, finishes his routine by playing an air guitar (Jon Savage, The Telegraph) 2016-02As part of his class Mr Mackay asks the boys to end their routines with a pose of their own choosing. Evan chose to imitate a rock guitar player. “I was thinking of poses that I could do and I saw someone on television playing the guitar and I thought that it would be cool to do the same thing,” he said.

His mother Nicola, a dental nurse in Dunbar, East Lothian said: “He’d been interested in ballet because he saw his sister doing it, but he was reluctant to join in.

“But then he did one of Ian’s masterclasses and loved it; being with other boys and doing ballet like boys do. He loves the high energy of it and the fact it’s a bit rougher and tougher than what the girls do. After seeing other boys dancing his confidence grew enormously.”


© Copyright 2016 Telegraph Media Group Limited


From RAD:

The Herald Scotland also reported the news: Meet the Scottish ballet star inspiring a new generation of Billy Elliots.

The RAD is working on a range of additional opportunities for boys and young men to engage in dance, which will be added throughout 2016. Opportunities currently available for booking are:

Boys Ballet Masterclass – London, 17 April

Boys Only! – Eastleigh, 25-26 June

Boys Day of Dance – Hinckley, 6 November

We are also planning an additional Boys Ballet Masterclass in Edinburgh in October, as well as activities in other parts of the UK. Please check in due course.




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




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