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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 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

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

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

By Rory Brigstock-Barron
Islington Gazette
February 14, 2014

Boy's ballet[London, England] – Budding Billy Elliots are being sought for a flagship all-boys ballet school setting up in Finsbury. London Boys’ Ballet School, the first of its kind in the UK, is set to open next month and founder James Anthony is hoping to end the taboo surrounding lads in leotards.

Mr Anthony, 32, started one-on-one ballet lessons a year ago as he was too embarrassed to take it up as a child in Swansea. Now he wants to stop other boys being put off by creating an environment in which they don’t feel like the odd ones out.

Mr Anthony said: “I grew up in a very performing arts-orientated family, but I was still too embarrassed to take up dance when I was younger and to tell people I wanted to do it. It’s got a stigma associated with it. The problem you have with boys who do take up ballet is that they often end up being the only boy in their class and then they give it up.”

James AnthonyMr Anthony recently took over his mother’s dance school business in Swansea, which has been running for more than 35 years and has 150-plus students. He is involved in a number of other theatre and dance projects in London and south Wales and is a former teacher and sports coach.

Drafting in his sister Amelia Jane, an experienced ballet teacher who has performed and taught all over the world, he is hoping to show boys that there is nothing embarrassing about ballet. “I took up ballet when I was 31 at the Royal Dance Academy and they said it would never happen but now I’m looking at taking exams.

“I think that it’s such a great thing for young boys to take up. It’s great fun but it is also incredibly challenging. You might think it looks very graceful and easy on stage but the amount of strength and skill that goes into it is huge.”

Despite living in Brixton, Mr Anthony chose Islington as a base for the school as he said the majority of interest he had received for the project had come from north London.

The classes, suitable for boys aged four to 14, will be held at The Old Finsbury Town Hall in Rosebery Avenue.

The school opens on March 1 and the first class is free.

Go to for details of how to sign up.

© 2014 Archant Community Media Ltd.

Channal 7 News
August 16, 2013

Instructor Olivier Pardina helps student Henry Galban perfect his port de bras 2013

[Miami, Florida, USA] – It’s a form of dance we usually think only applies to girls, but there’s a place where young boys are encouraged to pursue their dream to dance. [Channel] 7’s Lynn Martinez shows us in today’s Parent to Parent.

From pliets to pirouettes, these teens are learning the art of classical ballet. This class may look a little different … because it’s all boys.

Watch the video for the entire story

For more information:

The Miami City Ballet is now registering for fall classes

Copyright ©2013 Sunbeam Television Corp.

By Lisa Lopez
The Register Citizen
July 5, 2013

Male dancers at the Nutmeg Conservatory (Photo - Nutmeg Conservatory)

[Torrington, Connecticut, USA] – A charming 9-year-old boy walked into the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory for the very first time this past week. He was wide eyed and a little nervous as his parents explained to Mrs. Marjorie Dante, the Torrington School of Ballet registrar, that their young son was interested in taking ballet lessons.

After a nice chat, he and his family had the opportunity to peek in on a class. He saw the young men of Nutmeg’s Pre-Professional Summer Program leap across the studio with a strength and agility seemingly possessed only by superheroes. And that was it. He was ready to take the leap too.

This is where it all begins. It’s that spark of curiosity that is all too often hidden away, particularly when it comes to young boys, that is nurtured at The Nutmeg Ballet. Whether it’s a child of 9 at TSOB or of 14 at The Nutmeg Ballet, the methodical training places these ambitious children on the path to some very amazing places.

Take Nutmeg alumnus Martino Sauter, for instance. He came to The Nutmeg Ballet in 2010 and graduated from the Professional Two Year Program in 2012. Now a dancer at MOMIX, Sauter founded the social networking sensation “boys of ballet” in 2012 with the goal of placing the spotlight on male ballet dancers through breathtaking images shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram (@boysofballet), and on their website, The “boysofballet” video on YouTube has already been viewed by thousands and their sites receive hundreds of submissions a day from across the globe.

Efforts to “celebrate the power and agility of the male dancer” have already garnered the attention of dancers from Boston Ballet, The Royal Ballet, ABT, NYCB, and even a nod from David Hallberg, the famous Bolshoi Ballet and ABT principal dancer. In addition, Sauter and his colleagues are busy developing a line of male dancewear and accessories including a “boys of ballet” shirt available for purchase at The Dance Shop at The Nutmeg.

“I wish someone had told me that ballet was an option when I was growing up. That it was something boys could do and that with the right training and lots of hard work, boys can be successful. Ballet is not just for girls, it’s for everyone,” elaborated Sauter who has been invited to numerous ballet schools to enlighten and motivate young boys interested in pursuing ballet.

So, why should boys consider training in classical ballet? Ballet training develops agility, creative thinking, discipline, and a work ethic that translates into success in any field of study. And if that weren’t enough, more and more athletic training programs are turning to ballet to increase coordination, flexibility, strength, precision, control and stamina. Numerous professional athletes credit their athletic success to ballet training and considering the benefits to range of motion, speed, and balance, this isn’t surprising at all.

Many Nutmeg Ballet students were accomplished athletes who traded it all for the discipline of ballet. Ben Youngstone of Richmond, Virginia, was a talented baseball player; Thel Moore of Baltimore, Maryland, was once an accomplished track star; and Matanya Solomon of Fairmont, West Virginia, was a competitive swimmer, for example.

This fall, Torrington School of Ballet will introduce a new boys-only ballet class taught by Nutmeg’s Ballet Master, Tim Melady, targeted to boys ages 8 and up. “As in other sports, a dedicated practice of ballet builds strength, coordination and confidence. Balletic exercise tones muscles and improves physical intelligences while studying among peers will foster camaraderie and a friendly competitive spirit,” Melady said.

“There’s athleticism to ballet that is often underappreciated. It takes a lot of disciplined training to execute those superhuman jumps and breakneck turns while still making it look easy.”

And if that’s not enough to convince you that ballet is for tough guys, remember that even Batman does ballet. Christian Bale, the actor who plays the strapping superhero, studied classical ballet as a young boy. And just look where he ended up.

For information regarding the Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory and Torrington School of Ballet, please visit or call 860-482-4413 extension 301. Registration is held every Thursday from 4-6 and Saturday 10-12 throughout the summer at Nutmeg Ballet, 58 Main Street or at the Nutmeg Dance Shop, 61 Main Street.

© Copyright 2013 Register Citizen

En Pro del Talento VeracruzanoProver is a non-profit organization that provides professional ballet training to underprivileged children in Cordoba, Veracruz México. By teaching ballet to kids from the age of six and up they can now dream of having a better life that the one they could have otherwise.

Prover was founded by the dance teacher, Martha Sahagun Morales, it is a social program launched in 2006 auditioning over 1500 boys in public schools with the goal of providing cutting-edge ballet training to a new generation of male dancers. With specialized teachers with extensive experience in the world of dance, the program offers a long-term project of life and culture to a sector of the population that normally has no access to the arts. Today the repertoire of classical and contemporary productions has been represented around the country in numerous meetings, contests and exchanges, winning major awards, scholarships and mentions both nationally and internationally.

Currently, graduates of this program are in companies and schools around the globe such as, the Joffrey Ballet, Boston Ballet, Orlando Ballet, Wisconsin II Ballet, Houston Ballet, Washington Ballet School, Princess Grace Academy of Monte Carlo, Houston Ballet School and Stuttgart Ballet’s John Cranko School.

Facebook – Amigos de Pro-Ver


 Amigos de Pro-Ver 2012-03      Amigos de Pro-Ver 2012-07

By Barbara Curtin
Photographs by Kobbie R. Blair
Statesman Journal
April 13, 2013

Annie Joslin, owner of American Ballet Academy, teaches a boys ballet class 2013

[Salem, Oregon, USA] – Ten-year-old John Miller spends Saturday mornings running, skipping and jumping with other young boys at American Ballet Academy.Years from now, he may look back on this time as boisterous fun — or as the impetus for a career as a professional dancer.

Annie Joslin, the Salem ballet school’s owner, started the free class for boys last fall in hopes of growing the male dancers that she lacks. “There’s always the desire to have more male dancers, especially in the smaller studios,” she said. “Since there are fewer boys, they usually are given better roles earlier. … The girls work really hard, but that is the reality of the dance world.”

Boys Class at American Ballet Academy 2013For instance, the academy’s yearly performances of “The Nutcracker” require girls to dance boys’ parts. Last year, Joslin imported a professional dancer, Austin Tyson of Company XIV in New York. That allowed her to include the ballet’s signature dance, where the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier entertain Clara in the Land of Sweets.

“Any boy can benefit from training in coordination and strength, and interaction with other kids,” Joslin said. “It’s a lot of fun.” That certainly appeared to be the case at a recent class in Joslin’s sunbathed studio.

Jumping jacks and échappés

Dressed in black leggings, T-shirts and ballet shoes, seven boys warmed up with a vigorous game of “Simon Says.”

“Simon says do 10 pushups,” called Joslin in the echoing room. The boys dropped to the floor.

“Simon says do eight jumping jacks.” Vigorous jumps and claps all around.

“Simon says do eight échappés with hands on hips.”

“Who knows the difference between jumping jacks and échappés?”

SAedyn Orduno, 8, practices during a boys ballet class at American Ballet Academy 2013ome of the boys, though just 5 to 10 years old, did indeed know the difference. (Jumping jacks are the gym-class staple. Echappés start and end in a ballet position, with the arms opening more gracefully.)

Next came a game that involved an imaginary $100 bill clamped between the legs. The boys stood straight, squeezing their inner thighs together in an approximation of ballet technique.

“Who wants to play the pirate game?” Joslin called out, her voice suggesting that this was an experience not to be missed. The pirate game, it turned out, involved keeping imaginary treasure away from a loose-fingered partner — while turning around. The boys paired up, began rotating and whipped heads around with a snap, keeping their partners in view.

“What happens if I don’t watch my partner?” Joslin asked, starting a turn. John, her accomplice, dashed to Joslin’s side, swiping the “treasure” with an impish grin.

Then, to the sounds of recorded ragtime music, the boys took turns crossing the studio at top speed. “Jump, sauté!” Joslin called, ever enthusiastic and encouraging. “Leap, grand jeté!”

Raising a dancer

Curtis Daniel, 5, of Salem, leaps through the air, during a boys ballet class at American Ballet Academy 2013Parents watched the boys through a hall window as slender girls in leotards padded by.

Laurie Miller, John’s mom, said her son has been dancing since he was 3 and the family lived in Idaho. He’d been tagging along to his big sister’s lessons until one day he chirped up, “When am I doing dance?”

“We think it’s great that Annie does a boys’ class for free,” Laurie Miller said. “It encourages boys to get involved and lets them know it’s OK to dance.”

John’s classmates haven’t ragged him for taking ballet, to his mother’s knowledge. A few family members have raised eyebrows, however. “It seems OK (to skeptical adults) when they are little, but as they get get older, people start to ask questions,” Miller said. “Predominantly, ballet is female.”

John’s early start already has won him parts as a mouse, a soldier and a party guest in the ballet academy’s annual “Nutcracker” benefit at the Historic Elsinore Theatre.

The boys were thrilled to meet backstage with the “Nutcracker” Cavalier, Austin Tyson. “It was great for them to see a big boy dancing,” Miller said.

Another parent, Dan Butler, said the class has helped his son, Curtis, better control his body. “Annie is a wonderful motivator,” Butler said. “She corrects and instructs in a way that helps them feel better.”

Schools’ offerings vary

A spot check around local ballet studios showed that Joslin’s all-boy class is rare but not unique. Premier Academy of Performing Arts offers a free class for boys 12 and older, said Clory Najera, office manager. A few boys attend mixed classes as well.

Valerie Bergman, director of dance at the YMCA of Marion and Polk Counties, said she hasn’t seen enough interest to start a boys’ ballet class. However, the Y offers a boys’ hip-hop class, and the breakdance class is dominated by boys.

“That speaks to the desire to be very athletic in their dance,” Bergman said. “That’s not to say ballet can’t be very athletic, but it takes some years to feel that way.”

Discovery School of Dance offers mixed boy and girl classes plus a free class with nine boys preparing for a May show at the Historic Elsinore Theatre, said owner Lynn Sundermier. Three are her grandsons, who started dancing as young as 2 years old.

“To get a greater male presence on stage, we invite uncles, fathers and grandfathers to dress as pirates and be in a finale,” she said. “It has worked well; it has gotten families over the hump that this is not a ‘boy’ activity. When they see an uncle or grandpa up there, they realize it is not a scary thing.”

Copyright © 2013

Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet
Press Release
March 12, 2013

CPYB Guest Teacher Daniel Ulbricht 2010b

Carlisle, Pennsylvania, USA –  Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (CPYB) is expanding and formalizing its men’s dance training through an enhanced curriculum and dedicated program of study. To launch this initiative, CPYB is offering an opportunity for up to eight aspiring male dancers to receive two-years of uninterrupted training through generous, tuition free scholarships.

CPYB is offering scholarships to male students ages 14 to 19. This includes two consecutive academic year tuition scholarships, 5-Week Summer Ballet Program and August Course tuition scholarships, and a monthly housing stipend for 22 months.

“We want the students in this program to know that we have made a pledge to them. Upon receiving the scholarship they can rest assured that we are mutually committed for two years,” says Nicholas Ade, School Principal of CPYB.

Applicants will submit a video that will be judged by CPYB’s artistic leadership. “We are having students audition by video, rather than on-site auditions to lessen a student’s financial burden to travel. This opens up the opportunity for any male dancer who wants to pursue his dreams to apply,” explains Ade. “We are excited to accept audition tapes from across the country, or even around the world.”

For application deadlines and requirements, visit the CPYB’s Men’s Scholarship webpage:

About the Men’s Program

Mr. Ade joined CPYB as their School Principal in September of last year with a vision to enhance the Men’s Program. “In further developing the Men’s Program, we wanted to ensure that students who complete the program will come out prepared to succeed in the professional dance world,” explains Ade.

“Male dancers need specific training and mentoring to achieve professional success. CPYB is building upon the distinguished technical training and performance opportunities it already provides men with a fully developed curriculum, a proven faculty, and guidance by advisors who are experienced at helping male dancers achieve their potential. We are pleased to announce this exciting opportunity for male dancers,” says Ade.

The Men’s Program curriculum includes technique, partnering, men’s, and strength training classes. Students will also be educated about how to succeed in the dance world. A description of classes is attached.

This unique curriculum is just the beginning. Students will become part of a ballet school that has continually produced dancers for the top dance companies in the world. They will learn from an internationally renowned faculty, be mentored and taught about the requisites of being a male dancer by those who know, and have the opportunity to perform in a broad spectrum of repertories. The program’s environment stimulates camaraderie and healthy competition, all aimed at helping the student to fulfill his potential as a dancer.

CPYB MasterSeries White Swan pas de deux 2011bMarcia Dale Weary, Founding Artistic Director, adds “CPYB recognizes the importance of having a dedicated men’s program not only for developing male dancers but also for complementing female dancers’ training. This is a natural step in fulfilling our mission of making dance training available to all children and continuing our rich history of training tomorrow’s professional dancers.”

By Nina Amir
My Son Can Dance
January 20, 2013

Nina Amir author of Mysoncandance recently asked Mick Gunter, who own and runs the Centralia Ballet Academy, why his ballet school has been so sucessful in attracting boys.

Boys at Centralia Ballet Academy 2011Centralia Ballet Academy, was established in 2009. It now have about 80 students; over 20 of them are boys. This last October, the Academy completed its first production, a full length ballet version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. It will become the Academy’s Halloween Nutcracker. In 2014, the males students from Centralia Ballet Academy will perform at the Men in Dance festival in Seattle.

Since the number of boys enrolled in Centralia Ballet Academy far exceeded many other ballet programs and the boys programming seemed stellar, I asked Mick to answer some questions for me, for other studio owners and dance teachers, and for parents. While parents and boys reading this post may think, “Hey! My studio doesn’t offer this type of programming.” Or, “Why doesn’t my son’s dance program get as many boys coming to the studio?” I hope that reading Mick’s responses will give you “ammunition”—good suggestions—to take to Goblin from Centralia Ballet Academy's The Sorcer's Apprentice 2012your studio owners or dance teachers. Additionally, reading about his program will give you an idea of what to look for in a boys’ ballet program. As for studio owners and teachers, there’s much here in Mick’s brief answers to mull over.

Continue Reading:

Related Articles:

Boys in Ballet: Dancers Break Stereotypes

Posts Tagged NinaAmir/My Son Can Dance

Boys’ Programs Page

By Tim Smith
Photograph by Kim Hairston

The Baltimore Sun
December 15, 2012

As touring musical arrives in town, students relate to story

Terrell Rogers, 16, Baltimore, gets help from Meredith Rainey at Peabody Dance 2012In 2000, the British film “Billy Elliot” generated a flurry of admiration on both sides of the Atlantic. Something about this story of an 11-year-old boy, who decides to study ballet even as it makes him a major oddity in his northern England mining town, touched a nerve.

Five years later, transformed into a musical with a score by Elton John, “Billy Elliot” became a runaway hit in London’s West End. It went on to win a slew of Tony Awards, including Best Musical, after its 2008 Broadway premiere.

When the touring production of the show arrives Tuesday [December 18] in Baltimore, the audience will include boys around Billy’s age and just as enthusiastic about dancing. They’re members of the Estelle Dennis/Peabody Dance Training Program for Boys, part of the preparatory division of the Peabody Institute.

Chosen by audition and awarded free tuition, the students, ages 9 to 16, are put through a rigorous training in classical ballet. It’s the kind of training the fictional Billy embraces, resists and embraces again as he comes to terms with his gift.

The Peabody boys, who will also attend a master class with choreography staffers from the show later in the week, easily identify with the musical’s unlikely hero. They’ve all experienced, one way or another, the realization that they need to dance.

“I went to see ‘The Lion King’ two years ago, and I felt like I didn’t blink one time. I was staring at the dancers,” said Terrell Rogers, 16. “Now I just can’t stop dancing. I’ll do a turn randomly in the grocery store.”

Such a sight could be something right out of “Billy Elliot.” Billy, unenthusiastic about the boxing lessons his father has insisted on, discovers a ballet class and finds himself drawn in almost instantly, as if his feet had been waiting for such a chance.

Billy faces the expected obstacles: knee-jerk opposition from his father and brother, concerned about the boy’s masculinity (Billy does sense encouragement from the spirit of his dead mother); the challenge of affording dance lessons; and, especially, the trip to audition for the Royal Ballet School in London.

Set in the mid-1980s, the plot pits the child’s struggles against a backdrop of conflict in the town, where the miners have gone on strike. In the end, thanks to the generosity of the local ballet teacher who first spots Billy’s potential, and of the miners who decide to help out, the boy gets his chance.

Providing a chance is what the Peabody dance program is all about. The Baltimore-born Estelle Dennis started dancing at a tender age and kept at it, despite family resistance. She formed a community dance company here in 1934.

Before her death in 1996, Dennis arranged for a trust fund that would award scholarships to male dance students in Baltimore, advanced students ready to take bigger steps toward a professional career. When too few such students could be found, the fund’s trustees authorized the creation of a dance training program for boys, launched in 2009 at Peabody Prep.

“Just as we were beginning, ‘Billy Elliot’ opened on Broadway, and it was so inspiring and beautiful,” said Barbara Weisberger, the octogenarian artistic adviser for Peabody Dance and founding artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet. “We said something like ‘Think Billy Elliot’ in the release announcing the program.”

Auditions were held in several Baltimore public schools to put together the first class. About 60 turned out; two dozen or so were chosen. Each year since, there has been a good response to the auditions. Currently, about 30 boys are enrolled in the program.

“Once we took the financial factor out of it, providing the free tuition, we discovered there are boys out there,” said Timothy Rinko-Gay, one of the teachers for the scholarship program.

Those boys do not necessarily have any experience with ballet.

“I was a hip-hopper,” said 13-year-old Gordon Lander. “Someone told me that ballet was the technique for all dancing, that it would help with endurance. And it has helped me.”

Gordon looks thoroughly at home executing classic ballet steps — coupe, frappe, passe, plie, releve, sous sous (the boys learn a lot of French terms along the way).

“We are not trying to make them all princes in ‘Swan Lake,’ ” Weisberger said. “We just want them to know that whether it’s hip-hop or jazz or classical ballet, Broadway, modern dance, whatever, they can do better.”

Asked after a class how many envisioned going on to pursue a dance career, nearly all the boys raised their hands. But 12-year-old Olivier Knopp, whose older brother went through the Peabody program and is now in the America Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company, did hedge his bets.

“If I had to make a choice right now, it could be ballet,” Olivier said. “But it could be soccer. Ballet helps with footwork and stuff.”

There is considerable appreciation these days for the link between dance and sports. “Great athletes are studying ballet; basketball teams take ballet classes,” Weisberger said. “Pittsburgh Ballet had Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann on its board of directors. Ballet dancing is the highest form of athletics. It’s not just physical; it’s the total aesthetic. And it’s not easy. You think everyone can do this?”

Meredith Rainey, a former soloist with Pennsylvania Ballet, is one of the teachers who put the Peabody boys through their paces, from exercises at the barre to increasingly tricky steps and leaps across the length of the floor.

He doesn’t miss much in the rectangular, mirrored dance studio — someone grimacing (“It’s going to hurt”), someone with eyes down (“You can’t look at your feet and do this”). And the teacher keeps things going at a steady clip.

There’s a point to the urgency. Rainey knows how much these students have to do if they are to excel. “I started late,” he said. “I was 15. So I had to learn fast. And I didn’t have a boys’ class. I was the only boy taking dance.”

Being outnumbered by girls in dance class is not an unusual occurrence for boys. That’s something observed by Nora Brennan when she holds auditions for the lead in “Billy Elliot.” For some boys, being chosen — four at a time rotate in the title role — means their first chance to work with peers of the same gender.

“It’s helpful for the boys to know they’re not the only one,” said Brennan, the children’s casting director for the Broadway production of “Billy Elliot,” which closed last January, and for the North American tours. “When they get in a room together, they all learn from each other.”

Nearly two dozen boys have performed the role so far in the United States and Canada. The latest are “getting their feet wet” in Austin, Texas, this weekend before the show heads to Baltimore, said supervising resident director Steven Minning. “They are fresh out of the gate, which is great,” Minning said. “That’s when they’re really hot.”

To get to that gate takes a variety of talents. “We travel the country looking for 9- to 12-year-olds who are extraordinary dancers,” Brennan said. “Usually, they are very strong in ballet with several years of training. They have to have the potential to learn new dances — tap, gymnastics, contemporary. They have to be able to sing and learn to act. And they have to learn the Geordie accent [of northern England], which sounds a bit Scottish.”

That’s still not all. To capture the essence of Billy, a performer needs to reveal something else. “I’m looking for a sense of determination and tenacity,” Brennan said. “This almost always comes from within themselves. I notice at the audition which kids give up or fall apart easily.”

Added Minning: “To access the emotional parts of the character of Billy is a challenge. Some boys tend to be older souls than others. There are a lot of life experiences in them already. They can’t articulate them, but they are there.”

One of those life experiences is likely to be dealing with lingering prejudice against boys dancing ballet. There have been periods when dancing was seen as cool for boys — Weisberger recalled increased interest after publicity surrounding the brilliant Russian celebrity-defectors Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov decades ago — but that is an exception.

“There’s still a stigma, a lot of dancing-is-for-girls stuff,” Rinko-Gay said, “even if it doesn’t go to the are-you-gay stage.”

All of that is part of the “Billy Elliot” story.

Brennan noted that when she asks boys at auditions whether they have ever had trouble at school because of their interest in dance, “pretty much all the hands go up. There are bullying issues. Sometime they tell friends they are going to soccer practice instead of dance class,” Brennan said.

Boys in the Peabody program don’t hesitate to acknowledge that they have faced some of these issues, but they shrug it off. “I’ve loved dancing since I was little,” said Seth Walters, 13. The taunting “changed when I said I was studying at Peabody.”

And the boys who are accepted into the demanding Peabody program invariably arrive with essential support. “My family is proud of me,” said 11-year-old Devonte Tasker. Nods from his colleagues reflected similar sentiments.

If the Peabody imprimatur help boys get past the old stigma, their own conviction and dedication make the biggest difference. Rinko-Gay’s assessment of the current crop of students is upbeat.

“There is good potential here,” he said. “I don’t know how many would stay in classical ballet. But I do think some of them might go on to Broadway.”

Learn more about the Peabody Program

Related Articles:

Boys at the barre: Peabody adds new young dancers

“Mom It’s Ballet”

Breaking Down Barriers

Program trains boys for careers in dance


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