Islington Gazette reporter Rory Brigstock-Barron visits London Boys Ballet School
By Rory Brigstock-Barron
The Islington Gazette
January 2, 2015
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
By Andy Dangerfield
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.”
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”.
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
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
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.
“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
February 14, 2014
[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.”
Mr 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 www.boysballetlondon.com for details of how to sign up.
© 2014 Archant Community Media Ltd.
Channal 7 News
August 16, 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.