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Tag Archives: Encouraging Boys to Dance

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


The Leigh Journal
March 26. 2016


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Copyright 2016 Newsquest (North West) Ltd


Read more about Xander:

Young dancer wins dream ballet role

Youngster will star alongside pros in Coppelia





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


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


By Patrick Sawer
The Telegraph
March 20, 2014


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

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

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

How did the Royal Academy pull off this spectacular leap?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


© Copyright 2016 Telegraph Media Group Limited


From RAD:

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

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

Boys Ballet Masterclass – London, 17 April

Boys Only! – Eastleigh, 25-26 June

Boys Day of Dance – Hinckley, 6 November

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




Lee Smikle, centre, helping to train the next generation of ballet boys (Telegraph and Argus) 2016


By Kathie Griffiths
The Telegraph & Argus
February 18, 2016


[Bradford, West Yorkshire, England] – A dancer who left Bradford more than two decades ago to pursue his dream career has returned to train the city’s next generation of ballet boys. Lee Smikle was 19 and had only been learning ballet for one year when he auditioned with about 900 hopefuls and won a place at a dance college in Swindon in 1992.

He had been working as a theatre usher at St George’s Hall and was so star struck by all the musicals and dancers he saw on stage that he put his name down for classes at the Wilson Dance Academy in Shipley.

“I am a Bradford Billy Elliot story. I came into dance late. There was nothing like this for me at that time so I am pleased to be here in Bradford now doing this,” Lee said.

“When I started ballet classes I was just surrounded by lots of little girls in pink. It was difficult but I stuck with my dreams. Even if any of these boys don’t make it as a dancer there are skills they can learn through dance that will stand them good stead in life. Dance is about strength and being able to express yourself.”

Lee, who is now 43, lived in Allerton with his father. Since leaving the district, and following more training at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, he has danced around the world with the internationally acclaimed Matthew Bourne’s New Adventure Company.

He has also appeared in a Kylie video and the Billy Elliot film.


Lee Smikle helping train the next generation the boys in ballet (Telegraph and Argus) 2016

This week he is back in Bradford as a professional dance teacher and choreographer working with a group of boys from the city and across Yorkshire. They have been creating a five minute piece to perform in front of a packed Alhambra audience before the curtain raises on a professional performance of Sleeping Beauty on Friday, February 26.

Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures Company starts its five-night show on Tuesday, February 23.

The half-term workshop at St George’s was part of a dance project legacy left from Matthew Bourne’s Lord of the Flies when it came to the Bradford stage one year ago. All the boys at the Sleeping Beauty workshop had parts in the Lord of the Flies and the project is a way of keeping them hooked on dance with mentorship and opportunities.

Lee, who is a resident artist at the New Adventures & Re:Bourne company and founder and artistic director of London’s Shoreditch Youth Dance Company, said he was pleased to be back in Bradford.

The legacy workshop is in partnership with Bradford Theatres, New Adventures & Re:Bourne and Leeds-based Pheonix Dance company.

Lee Smikle (centre) with Ben Van Beelen, 12 (left) and Daniel Burgess, 14 (Telegraph and Argus) 2016

Among local boys being put through their paces by Lee are Ilkley Grammar School pupil Daniel Burgess, 14, from Ben Rhydding and 15-year-old Bradford Academy student Joshua Batty from Bierley who, despite having his arm in a plaster cast after a football clash, will be in the spotlight.


Copyright 2016 Newsquest Ltd.



Carla Körbes and Eric Underwood in Agon. ( Erin Baiano for The New York Times ) 2012

A world-renowned soloist from The Royal Ballet is on a mission to persuade soccer-mad boys from Hackney to swap their football boots for ballet [shoes].


By Emma Bartholomew
Hackney Gazette
February 7,2016


[London, England] – The BBC tracked American dancer Eric Underwood as he went into Berger School in Homerton to inspire the students. He wants to see more kids from less affluent backgrounds – and in particular more boys – give classical dance a whirl.

Eric Underwood, a soloist for the Royal Ballet, talks to boys at Berger Primary School in East London (Hackney Gazette) 2016

He was filmed by regional London current affairs programme Inside Out as he visited the Anderson Road school.

Mr Underwood told the Gazette: “Ballet has a stigma, especially to children, that it’s primarily all about girls dancing around on their toes. Since the beginning of time all little boys think that just girls dance. It’s difficult for boys to say: ‘I want to be a male ballet dancer.’ They are shunned.

“I want to make being a ballet dancer as popular as being a soccer player, and that’s all about having role models you can relate to.”

The 31-year-old grew up in a poor suburb of Washington DC and only started dancing ballet aged 14 when he “accidentally ended up in a dance class”. He later won a scholarship for New York’s School of American Ballet.

Eric Underwood, a soloist for the Royal Ballet, congratulates a pupil at Berger Primary School (Hackney Gazette) 2016

Mr Underwood, who moved to Shoreditch two years ago, showed the youngsters clips of ballet dancers and talked about his life before putting them through their paces, demonstrating spins, splits and stretches.

He picked out two boys he felt had the potential to take on ballet as a career and returned to the school with ballet [shoes] for them.

He found the youngsters at Berger “really receptive”, and “a lot more open minded than adults”.

“I’m fortunate that someone introduced me to ballet,” he said. “I feel a bit of an obligation to return that favour to other boys. I was like them at their age – I didn’t come from a family that was super arts-inclined. Ballet has given me a chance to see the world, I can provide for my family; it’s given me a chance to work with photographers and as a model.

“I definitely think I made a break through. If not dancers, they may become future audience members – posh people go to the ballet whether they are in America or in England, and I’m trying to get it a little bit more acceptable for other people to go, too.

Eric Underwood with boys at Berger Primary School in East London (Hackney Gazette) 2016

“When I come to a school like this and I see so many children who are just like me, I think: ballet changed my life, why not yours?”


© 2016 Archant Community Media Ltd



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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boys’ Club Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benson’s future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If somebody so close to me could do that …

“It made me want to push myself harder.”

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © 2013 Argus Leader

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