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Tag Archives: Encouraging Boys to Dance

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

Note: Nina Amir is auther of My Son can Dance. For years she has written about her son Julian’s experience as a boy dancer. Julian is now 19 years old and a professional dancer with the Semperoper Ballett. Ron Lacey is Julian’s father.

By Ron Lacey
My Son Can dance
April 25, 2013

As a father of a dancin’ boy, my wife asked me to write a blog post from a dad’s perspective on why fathers should support sons when they show an interest in becoming dancers. Here are my thoughts on that subject.

Open Your Mind, Open Your Heart

Julian Amir LaceyFathers so often seem to have a set idea of what they want to see in their sons. The importance and prestige of sports is so ingrained in our society, and the football, basketball, baseball, or soccer star is highly sought and valued—especially by most fathers. However, virtually no one equates the athletic skills necessary for those sports with what it takes to become a great dancer. Many fathers just look at the stereotype of a dancer, especially a ballet dancer…

My son is one of the most gifted athletes I have ever known or seen. He could have done anything—played any sport of his choice—and been among the elite. If he had focused on a sport as much as he did on his dancing, he could have played division 1 soccer, baseball, or lacrosse, though he is probably too small for football or basketball. And yet, he chose to dance, and he will be one of the very few that makes it into the professional ranks of his chosen athletic endeavor.



He Needs Your Support, It’s A Tough Road

So What’s Not To Like (Admire)

A Male Dancer Does Not Equate to Gay

Tips for Getting Dance Dad’s To Support Dancin’ Boys

Read the entire post:

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:

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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

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By Nina Amir
My Son Can Dance
November 15, 2012

Julian-Amir-LaceyNina Amir, one of our favorite bloggers, has posted a three part interview with Wilhelm Burman.

Her son Julian is an apprentice with the Semperoper Ballett in Dresden. Nina and her husband have always support there son’s dream of becoming a professional dancer.

About Wilhelm Burmann

Wilhelm Burmann danced with New York City Ballet for four years, was a Principal Dancer for Frankfurt Ballet and Grand Theatre du Genève for whom he was also Ballet Master. He was a Principal at Stuttgart Ballet and danced for many other companies including Pennsylvania Ballet and New Jersey Ballet.

He has also been Ballet Master for Washington Ballet and Ballet du Nord and has personally coached many of the biggest names in American Ballet. Besides being on the faculty of Steps he has also taught on faculty at the Melissa Hayden School of Ballet, Harkness Ballet School and Ballet Arts in New York. He is a guest faculty member for a host of companies including American Ballet Theater, New York City Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Milan’s La Scala, and Australian Ballet to name but a few. The University of Iowa and Skidmore College’s Saratoga Program also benefit from their association with Wilhelm Burmann.

In August 2011, I interviewed Willy about boys and dance:

Wilhelm Burmann Talks About How Boys Can Succeed as Dancers (Part 1)

Wilhelm Burmann Talks About How Boys Can Succeed as Dancers (Part 2)

Wilhelm Burmann Talks About How Boys Can Succeed as Dancers (Part 3)

By Danyael Halprin
Calgary Herald
November 20, 2012

Content Warning:   Sexual orientation is dicussed

Boys at School of Alberta Ballet 2012Alberta, Canada – For the past four years Kale Lazarick, 12, has been the only boy in a group of girls in his jazz and musical theatre classes at a Calgary dance studio. So when his father heard on the radio that the School of Alberta Ballet was offering free ballet classes for boys, Lazarick jeté-d at the opportunity.

By offering free classes the Alberta Ballet was removing one hurdle for boys who were interested in trying an art marked by stigma. Lazarick was one of 40 boys, aged 8 to 11, who attended the six Saturday lessons in the spring. Half a dozen returned to register for the school’s fall program.

Lazarick was hoping to find a class in which he could share his passion for dance with other boys and with whom he could talk about common interests, like video games and dirt biking, says the Grade 7 student at Nose Creek School. Immediately recognizing his talent and dedication, the instructors invited him to join the School of Alberta Ballet’s professional division where he takes ballet three afternoons a week.

It’s been difficult over the years for schools in Canada to get boys involved in dance. “It’s still seen in Canada as something males don’t do. We’re trying to wake people up to the fact that it is an absolutely legitimate opportunity for men as much as it is for women,” says Murray Kilgour, the school’s artistic director.

Kilgour is an internationally respected dance educator, having taught at the Royal Ballet School in London, China’s National School, the National Ballet of Canada, and the Central School of Ballet in London, where he was head of male dance. One of his students was the talented and enthusiastic Yorkshire boy who inspired the film Billy Elliot.

Recognizing from an early age that dance was something that Lazarick loved, his parents have fostered his interest every step of the way. However, not all families are as open-minded and supportive; particularly fathers who fear that ballet will turn their sons gay. While in the past, some gay boys came to ballet because it was one of the few places where they could be openly gay, nowadays, because of the growing acceptance of homosexuality that has occurred over the past 10 to 15 years, they are coming out in other fields.

Ballet schools want parents to recognize that sexual orientation has nothing to do with it. “The boys who dance, they dance because they love it, despite the ridicule, despite the assumptions,” says Sean Richardson, a Vancouver-based expert specializing in the psychology of excellence, who was a consultant to the Australian Ballet Company in Melbourne for five years. “It’s a physically demanding discipline in a high pressure environment of perfection and you’d be out of there pretty quickly if you didn’t love it.”

Boys training at Alberta BalletHaving attending the Edmonton School of Ballet for six years, 17-year-old Nathan Lacombe recently joined the School of Alberta Ballet’s professional division as a student boarder. Though he played soccer and hockey growing up it was ballet that really spoke to him. “I feel you can say things more with dance than you can with words,” says Lacombe, a strong, confident dancer who stands six foot five inches with a muscular physique. “You can show emotion through dance, physicality, and you can show different shades of yourself.”

Today, in what seems like the height of bullying and cyberbullying it can be difficult for a boy to don black tights and white leather ballet shoes while his buddies are dressing in body armour for their hockey games. Lacombe says overall kids have been supportive but there were times when he was teased and called the “most interesting” nicknames.

Murray had a much worse time and his experience perhaps contradicts the impression that bullying belongs to our times alone. He recounts an incident at his Vancouver junior high school in the late 1950s when a gang came backstage after a ballet performance and beat up Murray and the other male dancers.

Alberta Ballet Boys ProgramIn casting their open net the School of Alberta Ballet was also hoping to draw in boys involved in sports. Its poster campaign featured photos of boys performing ballet interspersed with photos of boys playing hockey and soccer and explained how a child gains strength, co-ordination and agility through ballet, which are advantageous to sports performance. A soccer player and a hockey player turned up for the free classes.

Indeed, a number of athletes have taken ballet classes at some point in their careers to ameliorate their performance, such as NFL players Lynn Swann, Willie Gault, Welsh national rugby player Shane Williams and the South African national soccer team. In fact, the 11-year-old boy who came on scholarship to the Central School of Ballet in the 1990s, and was a student of Kilgour’s, ended up becoming Manchester United star Rio Ferdinand.

In fact, it is the precise point at which ballet and sports collide where there’s a greater acceptance of boys in ballet. Richardson says it was when the ballet dancers were working out in the gym alongside elite athletes that both sides started to recognize that there’s a lot of crossover in what they do. “With the understanding that ballet is a physically demanding discipline came an increased amount of respect and acceptance.”

Says Richardson: “Boys who play hockey think it’s tough and they’re bashing each other up or they’re doing pushups and sit-ups, well, dancers are probably working physically as hard or harder.”

For Lazarick and Lacombe, this is a case en pointe.

© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald

By Jay Harvey
Photograph by Matt Kryger
The Indianapolis Star
November 6, 2012

When preadolescence meets a boy’s dance dreams, the collision can be jarring. “Billy Elliot The Musical” tells one such story, but there are many others in our culture, whenever a youngster resists pressure to channel ambitions of grace, strength and physical discipline into sport and is instead mesmerized by ballet or contemporary dance.

Just as dance itself is a matter of assembling a sequence of steps and positions into an artistic result, so is a male dancer’s search for identity and acceptance a step-by-step process, an education that is woven through specific, rigorous dance training.

First lesson: Interest must be intensely engaged, because later it will be called upon to withstand both the challenges of dance itself and indifferent, even hostile, outside attitudes. “Boys are brought up to play sports, girls to be dainty,” said Luther DeMyer, 13. “I don’t have a big interest in sports.”

Luther takes classes at the Indianapolis School of Ballet, which, like many other schools and companies across the nation, is now preparing its annual production of “The Nutcracker.”

His interest began with tap dancing, going back further than he can remember. “My mother says I was so ecstatic when I saw tap dancing,” and that form gave him a direction that would lead to ballet training. Since third grade, the teen has been committed to dance.

Second lesson: Learning how to build on the support for dancing a boy gets from people close to him, usually at home. “My parents were my biggest supporters,” recalled Zach Young, 28, who is in his fifth year as a member of Dance Kaleidoscope, Indianapolis’ durable contemporary-dance troupe. As he grew up in Columbia, Mo., both parents were involved in the arts, “so I always felt I was doing something important.”

Luther’s mother suggested he take ballet, and his father is the one who builds up his morale when he doesn’t feel like going to class. “They’re really supportive of me,” the Center for Inquiry (School 84) student said.

Some parental support emerges from nowhere, however, and has an element of surprise about it. Nora Brennan, casting director for “Billy Elliot,” has met many supportive parents who are mystified by their son’s interest. “They’ll say, ‘I’m a teacher and my husband is a truck driver, and he just loves to dance all the time. We don’t know where this comes from; we just keep helping him find good teachers.’ “

Third lesson: Pushing aside challenges — and loneliness — as the boy becomes a man. “The attitudes are out there,” said Brennan. “For every 20 girls in a dance school, there’s one boy.” In their “other” schools, they may encounter bullying, “and some have to pretend they don’t dance.”

Young once taught at a dance school without a single boy in his classes. “I had friends that didn’t care what I did,” he said of his teen years, but he recalls that “the response was negative in general. It’s better now because of shows like ‘So You Think You Can Dance.’ “

“I think it’s different with the mothers of girls,” Brennan said. “No one ever says: ‘I hope my son is a dancer.’ ” This greatly reduces the kind of pushiness you sometimes hear about whenever auditions for “Annie” are announced. At “Billy” auditions, “they meet other boys that dance, they exchange phone numbers and become Facebook friends.”

Fourth lesson: Using the toughness that develops from doing something unusual to persevere. “There is a kind of grit — enormous determination that they all have in common,” said Brennan, who heads a four-person “Team Billy” that’s often on the road going from audition to audition. The team looks for solid dance technique above all, honed through at least four years of training, but there’s always the probing question that Brennan puts like this: “Is this the kind of boy who gives up quickly?”

Because many of the aspirants have never acted or sung before, this appetite for learning is a must. The show requires the boys to do gymnastics and master training in styles they might not have known, like hip-hop.

Having started at 9, Young gave up dancing his junior year in high school, casting his lot with the varsity golf team. He talks vaguely about his swerve away from dance, saying it was a matter of “politics.”

“It’s hard to start when you are 9 years old,” he said, suggesting that “very few who start that young continue.” In his case, he missed dance so much that he returned his senior year and never looked back.

Fifth lesson: Getting dreams realized, or at least moving in that direction, with a growing sense of reward. “I was a professional at the age of 19,” said Young, who was in a company that traveled and competed. “At first I was interested in the competition, then I did it just for the art of it. I got to see different professional dancers and could be inspired by them.”

“Most of them just want so badly to play the role, and they work so hard to do this,” Brennan said. “It comes from within. It’s not because it’s encouraged and it’s not for any kind of approval from parents. They just love to dance.”

Luther, who would like to dance and choreograph professionally when he grows up, is among that number. He savors the satisfaction of getting nondancing friends to appreciate what he does. When he was in Butler University’s “Nutcracker,” “they came and saw all of the boys dancing, and they thought it was cool.”

Copyright © 2012

By Thandi Fletcher
Photograph by Ted Rhodes
Calgary Herald
March 23, 2012

A photograph of a male ballet dancer soaring through the air stirred a desire in a then eight-year-old Braden Falusi to sign up for his first ballet class.

“I was just looking through some flyers one day, and I saw this picture of male dancer pulling off a really, really big jump,” explains Falusi, a student at the School of Alberta Ballet in Calgary. “It just blew my mind, really. . . . I was really drawn to it.”

Falusi, now 14, is still dancing at the school, but there aren’t many others like him.

Boys doing ballet is not a common sight in Canada, especially Alberta, says the school’s artistic director, Murray Kilgour. There are just five boys enrolled in the school’s professional division compared with 95 girls.

But according to the school, it’s time to wipe the stigma of male ballet dancers off the dance floor. The school is launching a free, boys-only ballet program this spring to encourage boys to take a break from shooting pucks and have a go at plies and pirouettes.

“When you think of ballet, you think of pink and tutus and pointe shoes,” says program co-ordinator Sarah Rusak, who came up with the idea for the class. “But something that’s not as well known is the strength and how these dancers are really great athletes. They need to be so strong and have so much endurance.”

The program, geared toward dancers between the ages of eight and 11, gives boys a chance to see if they like dancing without committing to a full, year-long program. The hope is that they will stick with it in the future, Rusak says.

The concept of professional athletes trading in their skates or sneakers for a pair of ballet slippers is not a new phenomenon. “A lot of hockey players and professional athletes have used ballet training to increase flexibility, strength and endurance,” Rusak says.

For instance, during the 2011 National Basketball Association lockout, forward Michael Beasley of the Minnesota Timberwolves decided to skip the bar, instead taking to the barre, to help build a stronger, more limber body during the off-season, the Minnesota Star-Tribune reported last October.

Also on the list of professional athletes who once ditched their jerseys for leotards include former NFL players Lynn Swann, Herschel Walker and Barry Sanders.

Kilgour isn’t surprised that so many professional athletes have improved their physical abilities through ballet. While girls are taught the elegance of standing en pointe, using specially reinforced pointed ballet slippers, “boys don’t do that,” he said.

“For boys, it’s more about the athletic side. They still have to look grand, to have a poise, but they also physically have to be very strong,” he explains. “It’s as physically demanding as a sport.”

The physical benefits of ballet have helped Falusi, who also practises karate. “It helps me with strength and flexibility and stuff like that,” he explains. “When you’re talking about the leg coming up, in karate we do have very powerful kicks that we have to do, and ballet really helps with that. You have to extend your leg out really far with lots of power.”

Despite its popularity among the athletic set, male enrolment in ballet schools across Canada remains low, Kilgour says. “In Europe, it’s not a problem. It’s an accepted thing,” says Kilgour, who in the 1980s taught at the Royal Ballet School in London. “But because it’s looked down upon (here), then boys who are even interested in it are afraid to partake, and that’s a shame.”

Among Kilgour’s students while teaching at the Royal Ballet School was a boy from Yorkshire, in northern England, whose perseverance to study ballet against the odds inspired the Hollywood film, Billy Elliot.

It was that film, now adapted as a Broadway show, that first put the idea of ballet in the mind of 15-year-old Quinn Lazenby of Calgary. “That movie sort of inspired me,” Quinn says. “I was always dancing around the house, and I grew up going to the Nutcracker.”

After that first class, there was no looking back for Quinn, who will be studying this summer at Montreal ballet school, L’Ecole superieure de ballet du Quebec. Quinn started ballet at 11 at the School of Alberta Ballet, but now takes private lessons so he can also focus on other pursuits, like drama.

Quinn says the firm self-discipline required to practise ballet has improved his academic studies. “Sometimes some of my friends consider school teachers really strict, but I don’t really see where they’re coming from because I’ve had ballet teachers where it’s almost like the army sometimes. At times, that can be frustrating, but I think it’s a good lesson.”

Although he has confided in some close friends, who he says are “very supportive,” about studying ballet, Quinn’s penchant for pirouettes is still not something he usually shares with strangers. “There’s a bit of a stigma with male ballet dancers in Canada,” he says. “Sometimes people are like, ‘I didn’t know guys can do ballet.’ They think you have to wear tutus and stuff like that.”

But the image of men in tights couldn’t be further from the reality of what it feels like to be a male ballet dancer. “When I jump, I feel so powerful,” he says. “You feel invincible, like you can do anything. It gives you a lot of energy, and it’s really satisfying.”

And if the many benefits of ballet weren’t enough to persuade more boys to try it, Braden adds there’s always the perk of being the single boy in a sea of girls.

“Do you meet any hot girls there?” is a question Braden said he often gets from friends at school.

The answer?

Yes. Yes, he does.

For more information about the School of Alberta Ballet’s free Introduction to Ballet program, visit or call 403-245-2274. The program runs Saturdays from April 14 to May 26.

© Copyright 2012 The Calgary Herald

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