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Originally posted on balletincleveland:

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

By Jacquelyn Bernard

Edited by Catharine Lewis

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

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

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

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Originally posted on balletincleveland:

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I could feel the awe, admiration and excitement in the airwaves. From my front row seat in the corner of the Cleveland Ballet Conservatory studio, I watched young dancers get the opportunity of a lifetime: intimate instruction from ballet great Carlos Lopez of American Ballet Theatre. Carlos visited the North Royalton ballet school April 27 to teach master classes in boys’ technique and partnering, the classes presented by Ballet in Cleveland, were open to all dancers.

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 In the first class, a Guys Dance Too class (these classes are just for guys and are always led by male dancers), boys received instruction and learned skills perfecting their classical ballet technique. They stood strong and tall at the barre and on the floor as they eagerly looked to Carlos for instruction and intently watched their own reflections in the floor-to-ceiling studio mirrors.

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“At first, I was nervous, but as class went on…

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Guys Dance Too educates, supports, and empowers males
in the art of dance.

It frees the minds and potential of male dancers
and all who aspire to be one.

It breaks down gender barriers and stereotypes and
creates opportunities for self-expression for all through dance.

 

Guys Dance Too, Ballet in Cleveland

 

Maryland Youth Ballet Boys' Class (Maryland Youth Ballet) 2015

 

Maryland Youth Ballet’s Young Men’s’ Division is growing by leaps and bounds. There are 15 (!) more boys not pictured above. (story shared by a MYB parent)

Pacific School of Dance lands grant for free boys dance class, training them in ballet, conditioning, partnering

 

Pacific School of Dance's boys class (Pacific School of Dance)

 

By Chelsea Davis
Coos Bay World
May 20, 2015

 

[Coos Bay, Oregon, USA] – Dance isn’t just for girls — but training boys is an entirely different animal. Ten boys joined a new class this spring at Pacific School of Dance in Coos Bay. The opportunity came from a $5,000 grant Dance Umbrella for South Coast Oregon received from the Charlotte Martin Foundation.

After 16 weeks of class, the public will get a chance to see them on stage at the dance center’s annual recital May 30 at the Hales Center for the Performing Arts on the SWOCC campus.

The boys’ experience ranged from beginner to intermediate, with older boys from the Pacific School of Dance stepping in to serve as role models.

“Drew and Will (Carper), they’re brothers, and they just happened to … come into the area just about the time that this thing came into being, and they heard about it,” said Pacific administrative director Pam Chaney. “They had done a little bit of dancing with another school in Vancouver, Wash. They moved to this area, waited until they got all settled, then they heard about this program and came right over and signed up for it.”

Chaney has dubbed Will “the girl-thrower,” since his strength lends him to partnering.

The grant paid for the boys’ costumes, shoes, membership and tuition, and lasts through the end of the calendar year. “They just had to show up with a willing spirit to dance and put their hearts into it, and they’ve been really good about that,” Chaney said.

In the recital, teacher Maria Rosman adapted the barn dance from “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” which the boys will perform with girls from Pacific’s regular classes. “It should be a fun, lively piece,” Rosman said.

The biggest challenge, for both Rosman and the boys, has been adapting to the etiquette of a dance studio. “You don’t always get it,” Chaney said. “It’s not like playing sports. You don’t get to talk. It’s athletic, but it involves a lot of politeness, manners, keeping their hands to themselves.”

Rosman has also adapted to teaching a group of boys — far different than teaching the typical studio of girls. “Classroom etiquette in a dance room is a lot different,” Rosman said. “That’s probably been the most difficult part. Boys have different energy than girls — they’re a whole different species. They’re fun, but they have so much pep and zing so I need to bring their focus in.

“I find that if I keep the class moving and keep them active, they stay with me. It’s been a wonderful challenge for me to take that energy and direct it through the classroom and make it productive.”

Rosman started at the very beginning, training the boys in basic barre work, including pliés and tendus. They also worked on strength and conditioning to get ready for partnering later on.

“I had them for a very short amount of time, so it’s a challenge to put them on stage,” Rosman said. “I wish we could actually perform maybe in the fall when I could’ve had more time to get something into them. I got them after Christmas, I have them for one hour a week, so we’ve been working on coordination, articulation of the feet.”

But the parents’ feedback has been rewarding, she said. “Some of the parents after class say their sons just love it,” Rosman said. “I feel like I’m making a breakthrough.”

 

© Copyright 2015, Coos Bay World

 

Related Articles:

Dance Umbrella lands grant to support boys dance program

Like ‘Billy Elliott,’ local boy goes against grain, takes dance

 

The School of Pennsylvania Ballet Men's Class (Alexander Iziliaev) 2014

 

A candid interview with the artistic director of one of the premier U.S. ballet companies discussing boys, sports, bullying and the future of ballet.

 

By Tor Constantino
The Huffington Post
April 27, 2015

 

Both of my daughters had ballet lessons for a year or two when they were younger. But as I think back about it, I never saw a young boy in any of the practices or recitals. I never thought much about that until I wrote a couple of articles for The Good Men Project asserting that ballet is more of a sport than other activities such as bowling, billiards, darts, poker…etc.

Those articles got me thinking that within youth ballet, there seemed to be a stark lack of boys –the future of ballet requires boys now. That observation was confirmed during a recent interview with Angel Corella, the artistic director for the Pennsylvania Ballet.

One of the things he shared with me is that ballet requires balance — not just of each individual performer but gender balance because every ballet has specific choreographed roles and responsibilities for men and women.

However, the challenge facing ballet is breaking some of those gender stereotypes to help boys consider ballet to be as fun, exciting, rewarding, challenging and as athletic as more traditional pursuits such as baseball, soccer, football or basketball.

In the excerpted interview below, Corella shares his vision and that of the Pennsylvania Ballet, which has a ballet school for boys and girls that seeks to maintain that all important balance.

 

What led you into ballet?

The way I got into ballet is kind of strange because I came from a country [Spain] where men just didn’t do that type of thing because of its machismo culture.

Regardless, I’ve been dancing since I was three years old. During that time in the late 1970s, the movie Saturday Night Fever was incredibly popular and I would mimic the dancing I saw of John Travolta’s character every chance I could get. It was a way for me to express my need to dance without formal training.

Then my sisters began going to ballet class and I would go with them because I was taking karate class nearby. But I would often watch their ballet lessons and really began to appreciate the beauty and athleticism of ballet. I continued to go to karate classes until a friend of mine suffered a broken bone — so I stopped attending and sat in on my sisters’ classes.

I did that for several days — paying close attention — while my mother would run errands, until I actually began to follow and mimic the movements, joining the class.

 

How was that for you as a boy in a very masculine culture of Spain?

I had some trouble. When the kids at school found out that I was taking ballet — a few of them followed me home and bullied me saying I wore a tutu and wore tiaras. But I loved ballet so much and it came so naturally to me, I didn’t even care about the ridicule.

Shortly thereafter I moved to a larger ballet school outside of Madrid, where I studied for several years before moving to the U.S. where I became a professional dancer.

 

Given your fondness for movies about dancing, what was your opinion of the movie Billy Elliot that came out in 2000? Seems like it was something you could relate to.

The School of Pennsylvania Ballet Boys' Class (Alexander Iziliaev) 2014Yes, I could relate — in fact there were eerie similarities. Like in the movie, my father was also a boxer and there was a great deal of tension and difficulty when I told him I wanted to be a dancer. But when you love something so much — you’re willing to fight for it. I was willing to fight for my love of dancing and that was something my father came to understand.

 

Can you describe the support network you had that kept you going?

It was my family — especially my three sisters. One of my sisters was a dancer with me and she was right beside me to face every challenge together. But I have to say the opposition and bullying made me really strong as a person. I had to grow up quickly. So much so that I began dancing professionally at age 15 — but the ballet provided me a discipline and a great outlet to stay out of trouble. Again, my family has played a critical role and we’re still very close.

 

I can imagine family support was important because ballet lessons are not cheap, correct?

Correct, they can be a lot of money and they were for my family. My father worked two jobs to support our family and our passion for ballet and my mother was a school teacher. It was incredibly hard, but I’m very appreciative of that. I can tell you that both my parents were incredibly proud and repeatedly told me so after the first time they saw me perform — in fact my father cried the first time he saw me dance, so all that effort really paid off.

 

Can you talk about the athleticism that’s required of ballet dancers?

Absolutely, it’s one of the few professions that require complete engagement of every aspect of your being — mentally, emotionally and physically. Ballet demands complete control of your body from your toenails to the top of your hair during a performance. It requires complete concentration to make sure you don’t hurt yourself or other performers.

Bottom line, you have to be an athlete — you have to be athletic and extremely well trained. There are extremely high leaps. It’s a physical challenge lifting female dancers above your head several times during a performance.

Such athletic actions require balance, strength and poise because the ultimate goal is to make it look effortless and graceful — like it’s nothing. You can’t show with your face that it’s really, really difficult to create every human emotion with your body.

Pennsylvania Ballet's Soloist Alexander Peters in George Balanchine's Prodigal Son (Alexander Iziliaev)

 

Ballet has been rewarding for you, even as a young boy. How do you introduce ballet to the next generation of boys?

You first have to make it as easy as possible for them to experience it first, and then continue to make it easy and enjoyable for them to want to continue to do it every day thereafter. It’s critically important to create a very positive atmosphere, and to help families support a boy’s passion for ballet — if he has it.

Usually, when kids — both boys and girls — decide for themselves that they want to dance, there’s no way to stop them. It’s the role of ballet companies — such as the Pennsylvania Ballet where I work as the artistic director –to create the vision and capture the dream for children of what’s possible and what they can become. It’s very exciting to be part of that.

 

Tell me about the ballet school for kids that’s sponsored by the Pennsylvania Ballet?

A full school year runs for 35 weeks, starting in September and ending in June. There are seven levels of training in the student division in addition to pre-ballet classes we offer for students ages 5 to 7. There is no audition requirement for pre-ballet but all new students between the ages of 8-to-19 do attend a placement class so artistic staff may determine the level of study appropriate for each child.

General auditions take place throughout the year, and each year about 100 students are selected exclusively from the school to appear with the Pennsylvania Ballet in its annual holiday production of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker — it’s really amazing for the students and their families to experience. The most important thing is to start them young — the younger the better. Ballet won’t hurt their developing bodies but will make them stronger, more graceful and flexible.

What makes our program unique, is that the boys train with the boys which helps normalize the experience and bonding. Growing up, I only danced with girls and would have benefited from having more peers who were male.

 

Can you tell me about the need for male dancers in ballet and the important role they play?

Every performance must have balance — just as in life. And that’s one of the reasons why the ballet needs male performers, to provide that balance. Ever since the beginning of balance centuries ago it has been about both male and female performers. Both are equally important for the future of this art form.

The School of Pennsylvania Ballet

Copyright ©2015 The Huffington Post

 

Boys-Free-Program-Flyer[Buffalo, New York, USA] – Neglia Conservatory of Ballet is excited to announce its first ALL MALE summer ballet workshop, for FREE. This new free program, specifically for males age 8-12 will help break the gender imbalance by giving boys an opportunity to experience the artistry and strength of ballet. In a female dominated art we are confident this new gender specific program will give interested boys the confidence to try ballet without fear of criticism.

A majority of boys play contact sports because social norms say boys play sports and girls dance… social norms are changing. With shows like “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Dancing with the Stars,” boys are becoming more interested in dance. Male dancers, as all dancers, must work hard to become strong, agile and disciplined. Neglia Conservatory has transformed young boys into exceptional young men strong enough to lift women over their heads, talented enough to perform in professional productions and confidant enough to pursue a future in the performing arts.

Highlighted teachers include Fidel Orrillo, visiting ballet master from the official school of the Rochester City Ballet, and Neglia Ballet Artists, Sergio Neglia. At the end of the two weeks, scholarships to attend Neglia Conservatory full-time will be awarded to those who show a high degree of both interest and passion for dance. Classes will take place from 4:30 pm to 5:45pm, Monday through Friday starting on June 29th, ending July 10th.

Space is LIMITED.

Serious inquires should contact our office at info@negliaballet.org or by phone 716-447-0401.

Please REGISTER ONLINE by June 1st.

For over 20 years Neglia Conservatory of Ballet has trained male dancers who have continued on to successful dance careers, or alternative disciplined professions. While partnering and basics are advantageous to all dancers, Neglia’s boys program was created to give male dancers the extra instruction and advice they need to truly become strong male dancers with separate men’s classes in addition to mixed. Now is the time to add to our male student base allowing them the experience to build a solid foundation to become strong, agile, and talented male dancers with an internationally sought after male teacher, the conservatory’s own Sergio Neglia.

Twenty years ago, Neglia Conservatory of Ballet opened, providing a distinctively high level of classical ballet training to dance students in Western New York. Since its inception, the Conservatory has achieved great success in identifying and developing young talent as well as creating an international reputation for superior training.

After leaving the Cincinnati Ballet, Buffalo native Heidi Halt, a former professional dancer, and Argentinian-born ballet artist, Sergio Neglia, rooted their family and founded Neglia Ballet in Buffalo, NY. Neglia describes the conservatory’s expressive ballet training style as one that imparts energy and feeling with regard to the body’s movements rather than overstressing machine-like technique.

Over the years, Halt and Neglia have expanded conservatory programming to include ages 3 to adult (both beginners and experienced), a strong boys/ men’s training program and created Neglia Ballet Artists, giving Buffalo a professional ballet company.  The dedication Neglia Ballet gives its students have lead them onto careers with dance companies such as the American Repertory Ballet, Colorado Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, North Carolina Dance Theater, Richmond Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet.

Today, Neglia Ballet offers students the opportunity to audition and perform with professional dancers and the BPO onstage at Shea’s. This September students and local dancers can audition for Baba Yaga, and The Nutcracker. More information about the free summer boys program, annual classes, performances and auditions can be found at http://www.negliaballet.org.

Islington Gazette reporter Rory Brigstock-Barron visits London Boys Ballet School

 

By Rory Brigstock-Barron
The Islington Gazette
January 2, 2015

A Man walks into a barre...he eats his words 2014-01

A Man walks into a barre...he eats his words 2014-02

 

 

JoJean Retrum teaching the Boys' class at Monona Academy of Dance (JoJean Retrum) 2014

 

By Andrea Marks
Dance Teacher Magazine
December 25, 2014

 

[Monona, Wisconsin, USA] – Within the Wisconsin dance community, JoJean Retrum is known for her boys’ program. As director of the Monona Academy of Dance, she is particularly proud to have trained former American Ballet Theatre principal Ethan Stiefel when he was a child. And plenty of her other male students have gone on to professional careers, performing with companies from The Washington Ballet to the cross-dressing Trockaderos. “I’ve always had a lot of guys in my studio,” she says. “I don’t know what I do, but I have this knack for attracting boys.”

They could be drawn to the way she makes boys’ classes a challenge. Before barre, they hit the floor to burn their way through muscle-building push-ups and crunches. During regular barre exercises, Retrum drives home the difficulty of getting ballet right. She makes constant hands-on corrections, so no one gets away with slacking. “I get down on the floor and guide their tendus and dégagés and make them feel it,” she says.

Or, it could be the way she lets them soar during center combinations. One day, boys may try the Russian dance from The Nutcracker and the next, a routine from Newsies. “There isn’t a ballet company that does just ballet anymore,” she says, so incorporating jazz and musical theater skills into technique classes isn’t just a good time—it’s essential.

And she eases new dancers’ nerves. Whether a male begins as a toddler or a teen, she gives him the option to take beginner ballet in a boys-only class before introducing him to coed technique classes. Partnering starts as young as 11, but begins very simply: The boy puts his hands on the girl’s waist and practices tilting her side to side on two feet.

Retrum credits her late mother, who founded the studio in 1948, with teaching her to find every dancer’s potential. “She would help each individual child, and that’s something I try to do,” she says. “You don’t just let someone who’s struggling keep struggling. You give them extra help so they feel like they’re a part of it. Anyone can learn how to dance. You just have to work a lot harder with some of the kids.” DT

 

Pre-class routine: Retrum keeps it simple, warming herself up with pliés and relevés.

Footwear: Capezio Pedini

Weight training: “Sometimes I make students hold weights (or soup cans) so they realize they need to have strength in their backs to hold their arms up.”

To motivate young males: Retrum suggests Center Stage, starring her former student Ethan Stiefel.

Favorite inspirational read: Mao’s Last Dancer, by Li Cunxin. “What inspired me were the trials and tribulations he went through to achieve his dreams. I had him guest for my Nutcracker twice.”

Outside the studio: Retrum likes to unwind with a round of golf.

 

Copyright © 2014 DanceMedia, LLC

 

Boys at the London Boys Ballet School (London Boys Ballet School) 2014

 

By Andy Dangerfield
BBC News,London
July 12, 2014

 

[London, England] – Youngsters gather in a room in north London for a ballet lesson. But here there are no tutus, pirouettes – or even any traces of pink.

Jean-Claude Van Damme, Rio Ferdinand and Christian Bale may not sound like your typical pink tutu-wearing ballerinas. But all three have taken ballet classes in the past and are role models for pupils at the London Boys Ballet School, the first of its kind in the UK dedicated entirely to boys, according to its founder James Anthony.

The 33-year-old says he hopes to remove the stigma surrounding boys doing ballet. “Many boys are taking up ballet for the first time and loving it,” he says. “I’ve been inundated with inquiries from boys and young men who want to dance.”

The popularity of the school may be part of a trend that is seeing more boys take up ballet and other forms of dance.
Boys at the barre (London Boys Ballet School) 2014

 

Role models

Royal Ballet School figures show the number of boys who applied for full-time training with it increased by 30% in the past two years. “There are many more male dancers as role models on stage and on our TV screens which helps to counter some of the perceived negativity around boys taking up ballet,” says Annalise Cunild from the Royal Ballet School.

Elsewhere, probably Britain’s best-known choreographer Matthew Bourne recently recruited more than 300 novice dancers for his Lord of the Flies tour, in an attempt to get more young men dancing.

Mr Anthony says he started the London Boys’ Ballet School, which offers weekend and evening classes, partly because he was too embarrassed to take up ballet when he was growing up in Swansea. “I really wanted to take up ballet when I was at school but I thought I would get bullied,” says the former teacher and sports coach.

He said he hoped to stop other boys being put off by creating an environment where they do not feel like the odd ones out. “Boys don’t want to go in a class with girls where they end up being the only boy in the ballet class,” he says. “It’s all about changing the image,” he adds. “There’s nothing girly about it.”

He says boys who are good at ballet need “huge amounts of strength, confidence, flexibility and athletic ability”.

‘Focus on strength’

Ellis Jones, nine, says he might like to pursue a career in dance one day (Claire Jones) 2014One of the school’s star pupils, nine-year-old Ellis Jones, says he was inspired to try out ballet after seeing a dance show and “wanting to do what the dancers could do”.

He says he prefers the boys’ school to mixed classes he attends elsewhere because “you get to focus on strength. It’s very friendly and I feel like I’ve made lots of progress,” Ellis adds. “In one day you will learn the equivalent of what you learn in two weeks elsewhere.”

Ellis’ mother Claire Jones accompanies him from Rustington, in West Sussex, to attend the school in Islington, every Saturday. “There are only one or two boys in the local mixed dance class, but here, they are able to focus more on boys’ dance,” she says. “It’s not too strict or regimented and the progress he has made has been amazing.”

Ellis, who was en route to an audition for the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical in the West End that afternoon, says he hopes he might pursue a career in dance one day. “I’d like to go into acting and dancing and to perform on a stage,” he says. “But if you’re going to be a good actor you have to dance.”

Meanwhile, the school has started running extra classes, including jazz dance, tap dance and musical theatre. “But it’s not just about the classes,” Mr Anthony says. “We do regular theatre trips and recently saw Billy Elliot backstage.”

And the school has appeared to be receiving recognition from far afield, ever since it opened in March. “We get emails from all over the world praising us for what we do,” he adds. “I had one from a woman out in the sticks in Australia saying her son likes to dance but gets bullied and she wishes there was a ballet school out there.”

So could international interest from budding Billy Elliots mean the London Boys Ballet School might put its best foot forward elsewhere? “It’s early days, but you never know,” Mr Anthony says.

© Copyright BBC 2014

Related Article: All-boys ballet school to be first in UK

Metropolitan Ballet Academy Boys (Metropolitan Ballet Company)

 

Press Release
Metropolitain Ballet Company
May 16th, 2014

 

[Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, USA] – — Metropolitan Ballet Company (MBC) will hold auditions for its Boys’ Scholarship Dance Program on Saturday, June 7, 2014 at 9:00 AM, at the studio of Metropolitan Ballet Academy, 700 Cedar Road, Jenkintown, PA 19046. Up to fifteen boys ages 7-11 and 12-18 will be selected to receive a full year of free, weekly dance classes with Alexander Iziliaev, a former principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet and Denis Gronostayskiy, a graduate of the world-renowned Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Over fifty boys participated in the MBC program this year.

The Boys’ Scholarship Dance Program, celebrating its 16th year in 2014, provides tuition-free training in all-male classes to more than 50 boys, ages 7-18, each year. Boys’ unique movement and learning styles are addressed by distinguished male dancers serving as teachers and role models. The program offers weekly classes in beginning, intermediate and advanced ballet, as well as partnering; and guest instruction in modern, jazz, and character dance. It is designed to enhance athletic skills, flexibility, and strength. Participants in the program also enjoy many diverse performing opportunities. Classes begin in September 2014 and continue through June 2015. No prior dance experience is required.

The acclaimed Boys’ Scholarship Dance Program was founded by Lisa Collins Vidnovic in 1999 as a way to make ballet accessible to boys in the greater Philadelphia region. Vidnovic, a former Pennsylvania Ballet soloist and Ballet Mistress, founded Metropolitan Ballet Academy (MBA) in 1996 and Metropolitan Ballet Company (MBC), a nonprofit, pre-professional performing company, in 2001. Over 230 boys have participated in the program since its founding, and some have pursued professional careers in dance.

The MBC Boys’ Scholarship Dance Program is proud to be supported by grants from the Loeb Performing Arts Fund of The Philadelphia Foundation, and by many generous gifts from individuals. Metropolitan Ballet Company is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

For more information about auditions for the Boys’ Scholarship Dance Program, MBA classes for boys and girls, tickets to the MBA Showcase May 31- June 1, 2014, or tax-deductible contributions to MBC, please contact Lisa Collins Vidnovic at 215-663-1665 or visit http://www.metropolitanballetcompany.org.

By Claudia Bauer
Dance Studio Life
March 4, 2014

City Ballet School, San Fransisco, Boys Program (City Ballet School)“Can we do another jumping competition?” Five-year-old Theo is flushed at the end of his boys’ ballet class. He wants to dance more, jump more, learn more, and keep having fun.

Any teacher would love a studio full of talented, ballet-crazy boys like Theo (not his real name). Nikolai Kabaniaev, Theo’s teacher, is looking for more like him. As the director of the new men’s program at City Ballet School in San Francisco, Kabaniaev has developed a plan to recruit them, retain them, and cultivate their enthusiasm for ballet.

Kabaniaev brings 40 years of experience to this endeavor. Trained as a child at the Vaganova Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia, he was a soloist with the Kirov (now Mariinsky) Ballet for nearly a decade before immigrating to California in 1991 and becoming a principal dancer with Oakland Ballet. After retiring from performing, he served as co-artistic director of Diablo Ballet while choreographing for an array of Bay Area companies. But he has found his métier in teaching boys’ and men’s ballet. He came to City Ballet School after a two-year tenure as senior boys’ teacher at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C.

His partner in the program is Galina Alexandrova, City Ballet School’s co-owner (with her husband, Ken Patsel). A former Bolshoi and San Francisco Ballet dancer, Alexandrova shares Kabaniaev’s sterling ballet pedigree and his unwavering belief that “if the school wants to progress professionally, it has to have a men’s program.”

Under Alexandrova’s leadership, City Ballet School has turned out pre-professional female ballet dancers since it began in 1987. To train today’s versatile dancers, current instructors, including Kristin Long, a former San Francisco Ballet principal dancer, and Anne-Sophie Rodriguez, who has danced with Boston Ballet and taught at Joffrey Ballet School, offer Vaganova-style classical training as well as contemporary classes. Graduates have gone on to respected traineeships and schools, including the Bolshoi Academy, while companies such as the Joffrey, San Francisco, and Alberta Ballets count CBS alumni in their ranks.

Boys and men have always been invited to join the school’s summer intensives, but a dedicated men’s program will round out the school. It will also allow the extensive pas de deux and partnering training that are so vital for aspiring professional ballet dancers. Alexandrova and Kabaniaev offer perspectives, insights, and tips on building a strong foundation for a boys’ ballet division.

 
Think big, start small
City Ballet School’s boys’ program launched in September 2013 with one class and four beginning students: Theo, plus 8-, 11- and 12-year-olds. But Alexandrova was willing to underwrite the program with only one student. “You must be willing to conceptualize the program, front the necessary capital, and follow through without compromise,” she says. “Be willing to start modestly, and build slowly.”

To that end, she has set promotional goals and marketing plans for the first year. Recruitment is a high priority, so she is promoting the program through advertising and special events, such as a party to introduce Kabaniaev to the school and the dance community. The boys performed in the school’s October recital (one of several annual performances), although they had trained for only two months. They partnered four girls in a piece set to Glière—a hit with the audience, a source of pride for the boys, and a publicity boost for the program.

The school has always included boys in its summer intensives, but Alexandrova’s first-year ambitions include an all-boys intensive in the summer of 2014. All along, she and Kabaniaev will focus on creating a positive community among the boys and growing a staff of highly regarded instructors, whose reputations will draw additional students to the program.

Like any business venture, a new boys’ program needs capital until it is self-supporting. Alexandrova and Kabaniaev are fundraising in the private and corporate sectors, and Kabaniaev is at work on a scholarship fund, which can mean the difference between keeping and losing promising boys who lack the resources to pay for training.

 
Define the program
Alexandrova knows exactly what she offers her students. “Our women’s program is the only one in San Francisco that exclusively offers Russian Vaganova training,” she says. It is the defining philosophy of City Ballet School, and it draws students who desire that training.

Now Kabaniaev is offering that to boys. The ultimate goal is to make the school a destination for pre-professional Vaganova-based training, and he and Alexandrova have agreed to make no compromises on the rigorousness of the training, the commitment level of the students, or the pace of each individual’s advancement. That kind of clear philosophy on training, and a defined structure for implementing it, can inspire confidence in parents, students, and potential funders.

Designed for students who want to become professional ballet dancers, the program will ultimately include two-hour technique classes five days per week, plus additional classes in variations, partnering, and contemporary dance.

For the time being, Kabaniaev’s beginning class is open to all boys who have a sincere interest. Even so, he and Alexandrova are prepared to turn away hopefuls in whom they don’t see the potential, drive, or enjoyment of ballet they are looking for.

City Ballet School, San Fransisco, Boys Program (City Ballet School)-02

“As long as they want to seriously take ballet, you take every student individually,” Alexandrova says. She and Kabaniaev agree that a school can undermine itself by focusing on short-term income rather than principled training—their choice may mean less revenue in the near term, but it serves their long-term goal of developing a high-caliber program.

Enrollment will eventually be by audition, as it already is for the girls. Kabaniaev and Alexandrova also trust that as the program’s reputation grows, it will draw young dancers with compatible goals. As enrollment grows and boys advance, the school will increase the number of classes, which Kabaniaev will segregate by skill level rather than by age.

Not every school will have such specific parameters, or even desire them. Leveraging what your school already does well and clarifying your values for boys’ dance training can help you establish effective founding guidelines in every style of boys’ dance class, including contemporary, competition, and hip-hop. Market research can also help you discover ways to develop a program that will appeal to your community. Since many boys start dance classes because they have a sister in dance, surveying parents about what dance styles, class times, and music their boys are interested in is a great way to start.

 
Focus on men’s technique
If you’re starting with only one or two boys, it may be tempting to save money by placing them in a girls’ class, then add boys-only training when enrollment increases. But Kabaniaev and Alexandrova recommend having dedicated boys’ classes from the outset. “Boys have to be with other boys in the class,” Kabaniaev says. “It’s a different training.” Dedicated classes for boys also show that you take their training seriously. Boys show respect for the program by arriving on time and adhering to the dress code (at City Ballet School, a classic white leotard, black tights, and black shoes).

They also advise hiring a male instructor, preferably one who has had professional experience as a performer. Not only will he have an innate understanding of men’s technique, he can also serve as a model of strength, athleticism, and artistry for boys to aspire to.

Kabaniaev knows from experience that strength, coordination, flexibility, and turnout are the foundations for everything boys will do as ballet dancers, and he structures his classes accordingly. The boys start out facing the mirror, at standing barres. The barres are parallel to a seam in the marley and positioned about 18 inches (boys’ arm distance) past it. Standing on the seam during pliés, tendus, dégagés, and grands battements, the boys have an easy visual reminder of where their turnout belongs. To teach rhythm, Kabaniaev has them say the counts out loud. While they work, he walks from one boy to the next, gently and repeatedly adjusting their shoulders, chins, and posture, and getting them onto their standing legs.

Patience, persistence, and open-mindedness are his watchwords. “Sometimes you just let them be, even if they’re not exactly doing what they are supposed to,” he says, adding that a two-hour class allows plenty of time for goofing off between focused exercises. When they do lose interest in “the boring stuff,” like repetitive barre work, he often laughs, charmed by their personalities. “Boys will be boys,” he says with a smile. After they burn off some energy, they are ready to refocus, and are once again eager to please.

 
Let boys be boys
“At 10, girls already want to be ballerinas. Boys, they’re a different animal,” Kabaniaev says. He takes advantage of their natural bent for performing and competing to keep them engaged, enthusiastic, and barely aware that they’re learning technique.

Most boys can hardly wait to do “fun stuff” like pirouettes, so he uses those as rewards for dutifully completing their tendus. For beginners, pirouettes are an ambitious goal; though performed with verve, they are wobbly and turned-in. But, says Kabaniaev about his training at the Vaganova Academy in the 1970s, “we wouldn’t start pirouettes until we were 13 years old, and then it is too late. Coordination develops at an early age—the earlier the better. They just need to try.”

And Kabaniaev is not above a little trickery. “I told them, ‘In academics, when you want to ask a question, you raise your hand. In ballet, you raise your leg over your head.’ So now when they ask a question, they go ‘Ugh!’ and raise their leg.”

Instead of asking for eight sautés in first position, Kabaniaev might have the boys do a low-stakes competition. Lined up side by side, they see who can sauté longer than the others. “After four jumps, their muscles start getting tired,” he says. “But nobody wants to give up.”

Ever protective of his charges, Kabaniaev makes sure the boys don’t overwork. He will call a tie to bring a competition to a dignified, and safe, end—a result that the boys seem content with. The rule is that when they quit, they have to lie on the floor in the frog position while the others keep going. This double ruse gets the boys doing many more sautés, with much more gusto, than a traditional exercise, while improving their turnout with repeated frog stretches.

Pushups, sit-ups, and changements also work well for competitions. Spread them throughout class time to keep spirits up, and save one competition for the end of class, to finish on a high note before réverénce. It’s a simple and effective way to build camaraderie in the group; after all, the more emotionally invested the boys are, and the more fun they have, the stronger their commitment will be. And even though only one boy gets to taste the thrill of victory, they all learn that giving their best effort can bring meaningful rewards.

Ultimately, all of these efforts are geared toward a critical goal: creating a place where boys can enjoy themselves and fall in love with ballet.

“There is no magic,” Kabaniaev says. It takes hard work, creativity, a financial investment, and a leap of faith. “After the first class, I thought maybe the next day Theo wouldn’t be there,” he says. “But he was there. I talked to his mom and she said, ‘He said the class is too short.’ ”

Copyright © 2014 Dance Studio Life

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