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Tag Archives: Boy Dancers are Gaining Credibility

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.

 

Related Article: A Few Good Men

 

Boys at Gwinnett Ballet Theatre will flex their dancing muscles in GBT's Nutcracker (GBT) 2015

 

By Holley Calmes
The Gwinnett Daily Post
December 03, 2015

 

[Lawrenceville, Georgia, USA] – The growing popularity of dance is evident throughout our culture, and ballet is not just for little girls in tutus anymore. The increasing number of young men participating in the wide world of dance is seen everywhere in all forms of media.

This growing male presence is evident in Gwinnett Ballet Theatre’s upcoming production of “The Nutcracker.” When the curtain rises on the Infinite Energy Theater stage for GBT’s annual holiday offering, 13 young men, all GBT students, will be performing.

The nonprofit dance organization has been presenting “The Nutcracker” for 34 years. In the past, male participants have been very scarce or have consisted of hired soloists to play Cavalier to the Sugar Plum Fairy. This year, a strong male presence will run throughout the show, from Party Scene lads to Soldiers to Polichinelles and leaping Russian dancers.

Artistic Director Wade Walthall is a major reason the school has begun enlisting more guys. His commitment to the school acquiring its own stable of male dancers has been a major goal from the beginning. “It is wonderful to see that parents of young men are seeing the value of dance training and encouraging their boys to attend Gwinnett Ballet Theatre,” says Mr. Walthall. “The program and enthusiasm is growing almost daily, it seems.”

Another reason is the growing realization in the public perception that dance is highly athletic and a great physical outlet for all that male energy. From only a couple of young men in GBT’s classes, suddenly there were boys wherever one looked.

Young men who participate in dance at GBT enjoy a well-rounded curriculum of classical ballet, and as they grow older, jazz, hip hop and modern instruction. Students progress in physical skills common to all athletic endeavors: strength, endurance, agility, flexibility and coordination.

Dance also develops a sense of teamwork, commitment, respect, time management and more. And although occasional injury happens in dance as anywhere else, major injuries such as concussions and broken bones are, unlike some other sports, very infrequent.

Whether a young man is interested in a dance career or wishes to enhance his participation in another sport through honing certain physical skills, dance training is a valuable and very fun activity. The “fun factor” is one of the best aspects.

© Copyright 2015 Gwinnett Daily Post,

The London Boys Ballet School has just signed up its 100th student and has plans to open branches in Manchester, Edinburgh and Swansea

Young dancers at London Boys Ballet School, including Ross Black, at front (Teri Pengilley) 2015

 

By Karen Attwood
The Independent
September 12, 2015

 

James Anthony, who founded and teaches at London Boys Ballet School (Teri Pengilley) 2015[London, England] -James Anthony was desperate to take ballet classes at his mother’s dance school in Wales, but put his dream on hold because he was frightened of being bullied at school. He finally took up ballet at the age of 28, incredibly qualifying as a Royal Academy of Dance teacher within a few years, and has now set up the UK’s first ballet school for boys.

The London Boys Ballet School, in Islington, north London, has just signed up its 100th student and has plans to open branches in Manchester, Edinburgh and Swansea.“It’s clear to see that lots of boys do want to dance,” says Mr Anthony, 34. “A lot of boys start dance classes when they are younger but get discouraged when they get older. This [the school] is not just about being with other boys and the camaraderie that brings. Our image is very masculine. A lot of the other schools will have everything in pink. Our school has changed the image of ballet completely.”

Alfie Theobald, 16, travels two hours from Newbury, in Berkshire, every Saturday to spend all day at the school. He has been taking classes there since it opened a year ago, and wishes to pursue a career in dance after finishing his GCSEs. “My sister used to do ballet and I wanted to start at a younger age but my four older brothers persuaded me to wait until I was really sure I wanted to dance,” he says. After being persuaded to take GCSE dance by a teacher who saw him perform, Alfie developed a passion knew this was what he wanted to do with his life.

Alfie Theobald travels two hours from Newbury every Saturday to spend all day at the school (Teri Pengilley) 2015

However, he was reluctant to join a class with girls his own age who were more advanced because they had been taking classes since they were young. “In the boys’ ballet school, the others have also just started so we really encourage each other,” he says. My parents are astonished by my capabilities and have been really supportive. My aim is to audition for dance schools, and keep auditioning until I get in.”

Ross Black became the school’s 100th pupil last week. The 12-year-old from Dorking, Surrey, comes by train with his mother for four hours of dance and, like Alfie, hopes to make a career out of performing.

Ross started performing in musical theatre at the age of seven and began ballet three years ago but in a class of mostly girls. “I didn’t mind being with the girls as I am with lots of boys at school,” says Ross. “But I think it will be much better to be with the boys because I hope to be able to do lots more spins and jumps.”

His mother Ceri said other ballet schools tend to focus more on the girls’ syllabus. “Ross is very keen so it can be frustrating,” she says. “It’s good that he will be able to dance with other boys that he’s got a lot in common with. Ross goes to lots of auditions, and there are always lots of boys there dancing so it is clear there is a need. I’m surprised this didn’t happen before. Billy Elliot was years ago – this has been a long time in coming.”

Mr Anthony said it was “against all the odds” that he got his vocational qualifications given that he started so late. He practised for three hours a day to pass his examinations.

He knew that it was too late at 28 to launch a career as a professional dancer but thought that there must be other boys out there who wanted to dance, just as he did.

He started teaching at the family school in Wales which his mother founded and where his sister still teaches before setting up London Boys Ballet School last year. He now divides his time between London and Swansea.

“I do think there has been a change in attitude to boys dancing,” he says. “You have television shows like X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing that have had an impact. It can still be difficult outside of London, but the school started with just a few students through word of mouth and is now building momentum, so hopefully the same will happen around the country.”

Copyright 2015 The Independent

 

Read more about LBBS:

All-boys ballet school to be first in UK

London Boys Ballet School attracts budding Billy Elliots

A Man walks into a barre…he eats his words

 

Northern Ballet Academy class (Simon Hulme) 2015

 

By Sarah Freeman
The Yorkshire Post
September 6, 2015

 

[Leeds, West Yorkshire, England] – Northern Ballet Academy is looking for new recruits. And it’s not the boys who are in short supply.

It’s 4pm on a Thursday evening and with school over, it’s a fair bet that most teenage boys have already swapped the classroom for the computer. Not Ben Davis. As he is most days, the 15 year old is warming up in one of the studios in Northern Ballet’s Quarry Hill headquarters. He won’t get home for at least another few hours when he will then have to catch up with homework and sleep.

It’s an exhausting routine, but as one of the Academy’s rising stars, Ben, who lives in Bingley, wouldn’t have it any other way. “I started dancing when I was three years old and loved it immediately,” he says. “When I was younger some people at school did tease me for wanting to be a dancer, but it’s different now. I’m not sure what’s changed, but there has been a shift in attitudes. Ballet is just as physical, if not more so, than football and rugby.”

Call it the Billy Elliot effect or the impact of choreographers like Matthew Bourne, who famously staged the first all-male Swan Lake, but in recent years Northern Ballet has had little difficulty finding talented male dancers, who now make up close to 50 per cent of those who graduate from its Academy.

Like many, Ben was spotted by Yoko Ichino, associate director of the Academy and wife of the company’s artistic director David Nixon. Together they make a pretty formidable partnership and have helped put the company on the national and international dance map.

It was David who spearheaded Northern Ballet’s move from its old, rather dilapidated base on the outskirts of the city and into the largest purpose-built dance studios and theatre outside London.

Now rubbing shoulders with West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds College of Music and Yorkshire Dance, it gave the company the surroundings to match its ambitions and brought it into the heart of the city.

It’s those same connections that the Academy wants to foster which is why it’s holding an open day next weekend [ September 12-13th 2015] in the hope of sparking the interest of others like Ben.

Spotting and nurturing the talent of the future has always been one of Northern Ballet’s priority, but in the last few years it has been able to increase its national and international reputation for training.

“When I was growing up in Canada, if you wanted to be a dancer then you had no option but to leave home at an incredibly young age,” says David, on a break from rehearsing a new production of Romeo and Juliet. “I was 12 when I went to board at ballet school and that’s so young. It was the same in this country, if you wanted to dance, you had to go to London. Partly that was about snobbery – if you wanted the best, the feeling was you could only get it in the capital, but those facilities simply didn’t exist elsewhere. That’s not true any more and it’s because of places like the Academy. I think we offer something unique and our students graduate and go on to all the major ballet schools.”

Nixon says that while some centres are desperate for their dancers to hit certain milestones by certain ages, Yoko insists that everyone who comes through the Academy system is trained as an individual. While many of the Academy recruits come from local dance schools, Northern Ballet also tries to find untapped talent from within Leeds and the surrounding the area.

“There are many children who don’t have the opportunity to have dance lessons and so we now run a programme where we go into schools and try to reach those who have never event attempted an arabesque,” adds David. “That’s great for us as we get to see them before they have had a chance to learn any bad habits. Those that we feel have potential are then invited to workshops. That’s as much for them to see what we do and how we work and the scheme has proved incredibly successful.

“The world of ballet is often accused of being elitist, but we have always tried to appeal to as wider section of the community as possible. Dance as a whole has also become much more flexible. There is and always will be an ideal shape for a male and female dancer, but that’s not to say that anyone who doesn’t fit those statistics is automatically ruled out.

“The truth is, that the very best dancers have that certain something which makes it impossible not to watch them on stage and that kind of presence more than compensates for being shorter or taller than average.”

That said, not every dancer who is accepted into the Academy will end up realising their ambitions. “Some decide it’s not for them or that they would rather dance as a hobby rather than a career,” says David, who has been with Northern Ballet since 2001. “However, the hard part comes when you have a dancer who is desperate to go onto one of the top schools, but who you know isn’t going to make it. That’s an awful thing to have to tell someone, but it’s worse to string them along. We have a duty of care to everyone who comes into the Academy and that sometimes includes telling them what they don’t want to hear.”

 

© 2015 Johnston Publishing Ltd

On the way to his career, 16-year-old Brennan Benson shares his love for ballet with his ‘Boys Club’ students

Brennan Benson teaches boy’s club ballet class at Dance Gallery in Sioux Falls (photo by Emily Spartz) 2013

By Lori Walsh
Photographs by Emily Spartz
The Argus Leader
December 1, 2013

[Sioux falls, South Dakota, USA] -Ever since Brennan Benson watched the tap scene from “The Music Man,” he knew he wanted to dance. He laced up his church shoes, snatched the lid off his toy box and started stomping away.

At the age of 10, Benson learned that Jackie Pederson-Kriens at Dance Gallery offered classes for boys, and he was all in. “It felt like a hole in my life had been filled,” says Benson, now 16. “The first week, I thought, ‘There is so much to learn.’ It was overwhelming. Then, the second week, I knew I wanted to learn all of it. I wanted to be able to do all of it.”

Benson loves contemporary dance and jazz, but ballet is his passion and his strength. He currently teaches Dance Gallery’s Boys Club, a ballet class just for boys. Imagine a gallery overflowing with the energy of a dozen 5- to 7-year-olds clad in black pants and white T-shirts — leaping, turning and stretching at the barre and, at least once in a while, bouncing off the walls. That’s Boys Club, and it’s thriving.

Brennan Benson helps Oliver McKinney during a recent Boys Club ballet class (photo by Emily Spartz) 2013

Benson presides over them all, gently reminding the boys how to stand, when to be quiet, how to move. They face the barre in first position. They face the mirrors and imitate their leader’s poise and elegant strength. Sure, there might be a few theatrical falls (there is a newspaper photographer in the room, after all), but Benson brings their focus back to center.

“Are you all right?” he asks a boy who has tumbled momentarily to the floor. “OK. Then let’s dance.”

Ballet is physically and mentally demanding, although, when you’re 7, it feels an awful lot like play. Still, the demands of dance are intense. Physicality. Artistry. Discipline. More boys than ever are being drawn to the foundational experience and the flourishing opportunities of ballet.

Last month, Canada’s National Ballet School reported its highest percentage in history of boys in its entry level class — 65 percent. Enrollment of boys at the school was the highest ever at 41 percent.

More than 50 years ago, Rudolf Nureyev redefined male ballet. Then came Mikhail Baryshnikov. More recently, the stage production of “Billy Elliot” has inspired waves of boys to try on their first dance shoes. Television shows such as “So You Think You Can Dance” tap in to the irrepressible urge to move

Men in modern ballet are not token princes and lifters of the ladies. In fact, the students at Boys Club probably haven’t considered the possibility of partnering with the girls. The boys are just here to dance.

Boys’ Club Gallery

Deb Workman’s son Preston is talking off the shoes he wears for ballet and changing into his tap shoes. At 8 years old, Preston has mastered the one-word answer when questioned about dance. What’s it like to dance with your friends? “Good.” Do you think Brennan is a good teacher? “Yes.” What was it like to have your photo taken while you danced? “Weird.”

And yet, Preston will spend the evening in motion, expressing far more physically than verbally. Watch and you can see joy and confidence, exuberance and exhaustion, restoration and contentment.

Brennan Benson, 16, teaches a recent Boys Club ballet class at Dance Gallery (photo by Emily Spartz) 2013

“We think the arts are really important for each of our children,” Deb Workman says. “You have to not be afraid to try different things. Dance just fits Preston’s personality. He likes to put on his cowboy boots and tap in the kitchen. He comes here, and he enjoys himself.”

Eliot Gongopoulos is 6 years old. His sister has studied at Dance Gallery for years, so Eliot is at the studio often. He learns hip-hop in a class that includes boys and girls, but in Boys Club, it’s just the guys.

“He doesn’t ever say, ‘I don’t want to go,’ ” says George Gongopoulos, Eliot’s father. “He’s been around dance so much, but in some classes it’s one boy here or one boy there. This is a way to get his energy out. It’s a good way to build relationships. All the boys look up to Brennan. They think he’s cool.”

Benson’s future

“When I started out, the hardest part was probably mental,” Benson says. “Some people didn’t see dance the way I did. They want to know how you could ever make a career out of that. ‘A boy in dance? What are you doing?’ ”

But Benson is determined to make a career in dance, and he’s well on his way. He has already been invited to become a member of the trainee program with Ballet West in Salt Lake City.

“His lines are really pure for ballet,” says Jackie Pederson-Kriens, Dance Gallery owner. “It’s amazing. Brennan works really, really hard, and he analyzes his weaknesses and works to get better. At his level, it’s starting to become wicked competitive. But he can get there.”

Most of what Benson knows about ballet, he has learned from women, a common experience for male ballet dancers, at least in the early years. But he also has traveled across the country to study from male teachers.

“There are some steps that women specialize in that men don’t have the body type for,” he says. “Men don’t go en pointe. Then there are some jumps and turns that women don’t have the body type for. Female teachers can describe it, but not being able to show the moves makes it harder to learn.”

Every Dance Gallery teacher has become like another mother to him, Benson says. His dance family is “definitely a second family to me.” But it was his grandmother who truly saved his love of ballet after a violent incident nearly scuttled Benson’s dreams forever.

“Some kids in the neighborhood were playing street hockey,” Benson recalls. “I wasn’t going to play, but then some of them started teasing my brother, so I stepped in.”

Benson was good at the game, he was fit, and his athleticism did not go unnoticed. Frustration mounted, and one of the opposing players started to get angry. He slammed into Benson, shoving his street hockey broomstick into the base of the boy’s skull, knocking him unconscious. When Benson, then 13, woke up, he wasn’t sure what had happened. The concussion and recovery caused him to struggle physically and mentally. The boy who injured him has never apologized.

“I was discouraged for a little while,” Benson admits. “It was probably the only point in my life when I didn’t want to dance … because I couldn’t dance. I was really holding a grudge. But finally, I was able to turn all of that into energy. I feel like I’ve almost moved past it.”

Brennan Benson in Dance Gallery SD's Sleeping Beauty (photo - Dance Gallery SD Facebook) 2012

What turned the tide was an article that Benson’s grandmother sent him about David Hallberg, a South Dakota native who went on to professional stardom. In 2011, Hallberg joined the Bolshoi Ballet as a principal danseur. He was the first American to join the company.

“If somebody so close to me could do that …

“It made me want to push myself harder.”

And so Benson dances on. He holds principal roles in this year’s holiday performances of “The Nutcracker.” He teaches weekly. He plans his future. The oldest of eight children, Benson is home-schooled. He is used to working outside of conventional boxes and expectations. He is used to pushing himself to excel. A whole lot of boys have been privileged to watch him do so and have been shown that they can succeed as well.

Don’t waste time, Benson says. If you have a boy who shows the “first glance of an interest” in dance, bring them to ballet.

“Not enough people realize how much work goes into making something look effortless,” Benson says. “You see a dancer on stage and the audience says, ‘Oh, that was nice.’ Us dancers … we just wrap our arms around each other and say, ‘I don’t know how you did that. That was incredible.’ ”

As for Benson, he won’t dance in Sioux Falls forever. Dancers of his talent must journey. He already belongs to a bigger club — young artists compelled to leave home, at least for a while, simply to do what needs to be done.

“This is what I want to do forever,” Benson says. “I know I can find the place I’m supposed to be.

Copyright © 2013 Argus Leader

Canada's National Ballet School now has the largest enrolment of boys in its 54-year history, with 59 boys in Grades 6 to 12, or 41 percent (photo by Andrew Wallace) 2013

ByIsabel Teotonio
The Toronto Star
November 1, 2013

When Cole Sweet’s parents first urged him to try dance lessons at age 8, he wasn’t keen. But once he signed up for hip-hop and acrobatic classes at the Oakville dance studio his older sisters frequented, he was hooked. A year later, Cole started ballet — it turned out to be “pretty fun” — and he hasn’t stopped.

Artistic teacher Ilza Titova instructs a group of Grade 6 boys at Canada's National Ballet School (photo by Andrew Wallace) 2013“When people think of ballet they think of, like, girls and pink tutus,” says Cole, now 11. “They don’t think really think of the importance of male dancers because we have to lift the girls. . . . It’s pretty intense.”

He’s not the only one who loves the intensity. A growing number of boys are slipping on dance shoes. This year, Canada’s National Ballet School (NBS) has the highest percentage of boys in its entry-level Grade 6 class in its history: 65 per cent. Currently, there are 6 girls and 11 boys, including Cole.

The school also has the largest enrolment of boys in its 54-year history, with 59 boys in Grades 6 to 12, or 41 per cent.  By comparison, when the Toronto school opened in 1959, all 27 full-time students were female; of the 202 after-school students, only nine were boys. Over the last 20 years, the percentage of full-time boys has fluctuated between 23 and 34 per cent.

There have been other spikes in male attendance in the past, most notably when Russian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov rose to international stardom in the 1970s, and after the 2000 film Billy Elliot and its 2011 stage adaptation in Toronto. (Four boys who played Billy in the Toronto production, about an 11-year-old who discovers a passion for ballet were NBS students.)

Canada's National Ballet School students Benjamin Alexander, left, and Cole Sweet (photo by Andrew Wallace) 2013There are likely many reasons for the recent spike in interest among boys, says Laurel Toto, junior school manager. Toto, along with other experts, point to a greater social acceptance of boys in dance; the popularity of dance shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars; the so-called Billy Elliot effect; and the realization that ballet, with all its jumping and turning, is intensely athletic, which appeals to many young boys.

The phenomenon isn’t confined to NBS. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, dance was the 10th most popular “sport” for boys aged 5 to 14 in 2012, with participation rates rising in recent years.

And in the United Kingdom, an August survey of 1,000 children aged 2 to 12, done by retailer Mothercare and charity Save the Children, found more boys (8 per cent) than girls (5 per cent) wanted to become a dancer. In order of preference, the top jobs for boys were doctor, soccer player, dancer and teacher. For girls: doctor, teacher, soccer player and dancer (see Ballet is attracting more boys)

Often, says Toto, boys don’t initially seek out dance. Many, like Cole, become interested because a sister is taking dance lessons and they see how much fun it is. Typically, boys start out in other dance forms, such as tap or jazz, and only later discover ballet. Many will take up ballet because they want to participate in dance competitions, which require them to demonstrate various styles.

Ballet made me feel like I just always had an urge to dance,” says 11 year-old Benjamin Alexander (photo by Andrew Wallace) 2013Benjamin Alexander, also in Grade 6 at NBS, started tap at age 4, with his older sister’s encouragement. Months later, after seeing a recital of ballet dancers dressed as reindeer, he wanted to do ballet.  “I really wanted to be a reindeer so I started ballet and I loved it,” says the 11-year-old from Chatham. “(Ballet) made me feel like I just always had an urge to dance.”

When other kids learned Benjamin was doing ballet, “they were kind of confused,” he recalls. “They were like, ‘Oh, you’re doing ballet? Hmm.’ It was weird. They didn’t bully me about it, they just, were confused about why I did it…. Probably because I’m a boy.”

Although there’s still the stereotype that ballet is effeminate, the perception is slowly eroding, says Toto, who’s worked at the school for 30 years. “I think a lot of the boys… will say they prefer not to tell people they dance (ballet),” says Toto. “But I think parents are trying to say to those boys, ‘Don’t listen to that. If you want to do that, try it.’”

Benjamin says he hopes that as more people realize the athleticism and physical demands in ballet, those stereotypes will dissipate. After all, he notes, hockey and football players do ballet to help with dexterity and co-ordination. In July, Steve McLendon, a 320-pound defenceman for the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he does ballet, noting “It’s harder than anything else I do.”

Also this summer, the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, 70, told Q Magazine that ballet helps keep him in shape.

Popular TV shows and films are making all dance forms, including ballet, accessible to the general public, says Norma Sue Fisher-Stitt, professor of dance at York University.  “Boys, their parents and their teachers are seeing more examples of young men in dance,” says Fisher-Stitt.

Boys and young men may initially be attracted to other dance forms, but realize to go further they need more training, which may include ballet, she says.  “For all dancers in this day and age, the wider your dance vocabulary, the more opportunities you have in the professional environment,” says Fisher-Stitt.

She suspects Ontario’s public school curriculum — dance is now required from kindergarten to Grade 8 — may be piquing the interest of some youngsters. “Those students might decide to carry on with their training — it could be somewhere like the National Ballet School, or an arts high school, or maybe it will be in a university.”

When it comes to school, Cole says he’s focused on trying to “survive.” After graduating, he hopes to become a principal dancer in a company. And if that dream doesn’t take flight, he wants to make and test video games.

The NBS national audition tour starts Nov. 4 in Moncton, NB, and ends in Toronto on Feb. 9.

© Copyright 2013 Toronto Star Newspapers Ltd.

By Will Grant
BBC News
Photographs by Deborah Bonello
August 14, 2013

It's been very difficult for people to accept that men might dance 2013

In a small dance studio in the Mexican town of Cholula, about a dozen young dancers are being put through their paces under the eyes of their watchful teacher. But while it is hard enough for any ballerina to make a decent living from ballet in Mexico, these dancers face an even greater challenge: they are men.

It takes a certain bravery to wear a leotard to work in Cholula, where machismo is still rife.

“I have three brothers and they would always mock and bully me about ballet,” says Faustino Rios, 26, one of the most accomplished dancers in the Antoinette Dance Company. But now they’re my biggest fans!” he says proudly.

Though his family was eventually won over, Faustino initially hid the fact he was learning ballet. “It took me at least two years before I invited anyone to come to see me dance.”

He remembers that his mother was totally unconvinced by his new passion until she finally saw him dance. “When the performance was over, she was waiting for me outside the theatre, crying with happiness, saying, ‘How did my son get so good at this?'”

 

‘100% support’

Mexico’s most famous male ballet dancer – Isaac Hernandez, a soloist at the Dutch Ballet Company – says he was lucky because dance ran in his family.

“Both my parents were ballet dancers,” he tells me during a rare trip to his native Guadalajara.  But my father had to leave Mexico when he was very young – he went to the United States when he was 17.

“He didn’t want that to happen to us, so when he offered ballet as an option to me and my siblings, he gave us 100% support,” Isaac recalls.

But according to Miguel Calderon, a footballer turned dancer for the Antoinette Dance Company, that kind of acceptance and support is still not the norm in Mexico.

Now a teacher of dance as well as practising it himself, he recalls how a group of boys came into one of his classes and started making jokes about ballet.

“I told them: ‘I was a football player too, but I bet you can’t handle an hour and a half of one of my ballet classes’. Well, they accepted the challenge and now I have 11 boys learning ballet!” Miguel says.

At first, Faustino kept his passion for ballet hidden from his family 2013

Open minds

Someone who has done more than most to break down the ingrained ideas about traditional male roles in Cholula is the boys’ instructor, Ivonne Robles Gil.  Over the years, she has trained around 50 young men in classical dance, even providing those from low-income families with grants so they can afford to study.

She says that change, even though gradual, is well under way. “Mexico has improved a great deal in terms of ballet,” she explains as her dancers warm down after a strenuous session.

“Now you find many more male dancers, including some who have achieved national and international acclaim. This has opened the minds of people in society, but also the minds of boys who might have wanted to dance but were fearful of being judged for being dancers,” she says.

 

More schools

And it is not just the young boys who are making great leaps in Mexican ballet. On the other side of Cholula, inside a stuffy dance studio, adult dance teachers have gathered for a masterclass in Benesh Movement Notation, a system similar to a musical score which can document any form of dance.

The teachers come from all over Mexico, urban centres as well as rural areas. Watching over them is the doyenne of ballet in Mexico, Julieta Navarro. The Mexico director of the Royal Academy of Dance for more than 25 years, she says the current boom in ballet is irreversible.

“When I started my job, there was just a very small group of teachers, mainly in Mexico City. But the academy has been training new teachers and that has given us the opportunity to have more schools and more students,” she explains.

Now, she says with pride: “There are very few states where we have no academies or no school.”

Dreaming of success

She confesses she does not know what lies behind the speed of ballet’s expansion in Mexico over recent years. But she says its popularity among boys can be partly attributed to a hugely popular film on the subject.

“Billy Elliot! Thanks to Billy Elliot many of the boys really dare to say, ‘Yes, I want to be a dancer, I want to dance, I want to try ballet.’  So that was a really big help, not only for Mexico but for the rest of the world.”

In Cholula – where some of the dancers still keep their passion for ballet secret from their friends and relatives – the British film has been an inspiration.

The story of a boy whose family bans him from dancing only to be won over and see him take the lead in Swan Lake has allowed many of the male dancers to dream of achieving a similar feat.

© 2013 BBC

By Steve Hawkes,
The Telegraph
August 14, 2013

Joseph Harrington as Billy 2011[United Kingdom] – A survey found dancing was the third most popular career choice of boys aged between two and 12 – just behind doctor in first place and footballers in second. More boys – 8 per cent – want to be dancers than girls – 5 per cent.

Some 7 per cent of girls would rather be a footballer than pursue a more traditional female career, such as a nursing.

The research by Mothercare and Save the Children shows the impression left on the kids of today by the success of dance troupes such as Diversity, which sprang to fame on Britain’s Got Talent. Diversity leader, choreographer Ashley Banjo, has since launched his own series on Sky and street dance schools are popping up in towns across the UK.

The survey’s surprising results come more than a decade after hit film Billy Elliot challenged stereotypes about boy dancers with the story about an 11 year-old who takes up ballet during the coal miners strike.

A Mothercare spokeswoman said: “Due to the popularity of dance shows like ‘Got to Dance’ and ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ today’s children are twice as likely to want to be a dancer than their parents. Boys do seem to be dreaming of becoming the next Billy Elliot.”

Doctor is the dream profession of both girls and boys. For girls, teacher is second best, but 7 per cent want to be a footballer.

Teachers topped the list of what parents wanted to be when they were younger, 9 per cent, followed by nurse, doctor, lawyer, and police officer

©  Copyright 2013 Telegraph Media Group Limited

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