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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.





Royal Academy of Dance
Press Release
March 13, 2012

Scottish dance sensation Harris Beattie is currently starring as the young Billy in the London West End production of Billy Elliott The Musical, at the Victoria Palace Theatre.

13-year-old Harris, the grandson of legendary Scottish entertainer Andy Stewart is currently a student at Danscentre in Aberdeen where he is taught by Karen Berry (a Trustee, member of the Creative Panel for RAD Syllabus development and an appointed tutor and supervisor for the RAD’s Faculty of Education). Karen spoke of Harris’s achievements: ‘Harris is one of the most modest, unassuming and talented children that I have come across in all my years of teaching. He is an utter delight to work with and coupled with his excellent work ethic – I am sure that he will go very far. Harris is one of over 80 boys who now attend classes at Danscentre, Aberdeen. Dancing is the norm for boys in Aberdeen and it’s just fantastic to have the opportunity to work with so many talented young men.’

Harris received three standing ovations during his first performance on Wednesday 22 February. Speaking about how thrilled he is at this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play Billy, he commented:‘I started ballet when I was seven years old and I now dance at Danscentre in Aberdeen. My teachers at Danscentre have been brilliant, especially Karen Berry who has also been a fantastic mentor to me. Since joining Billy Elliot I have made some great new friends, all of whom have helped to make rehearsals such an exciting and fun experience. I dedicated my first performance to my Auntie Debbie and Uncle Keith, they have done so much for me, I can’t thank them enough.’

Harris has been an active member of the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) since 2007: in 2010 he won the 2010 Genée Dance Challenge in Birmingham with his solo The Enchantment, choreographed by Karen Berry. Later that year, Beattie performed the same winning solo at the exclusive Supper with the Stars gala dinner, held to raise funds for the Genée International Ballet Competition 2010 in London, in front of dance stars Chris Hollins and The Royal Ballet’s Sarah Lamb, Tamara Rojo and Steven McRae.

Harris was also one of the 18 students from dance schools across the UK, chosen to demonstrate a range of exercises from the RAD’s new Grades 1-3 Syllabi in front of over 500 delegates at the Mermaid Conference & Events Centre in London on 3 January 2012.

By Lorne Jackson
Birmingham Post
April 23, 2009

It’s a struggle to get boys to dance, but a workshop in Birmingham set out to change that.



With his proud father roaring encouragement from the sidelines, a stocky lad bounds past, wearing an England rugby top. Then he joins the rest of the boys for a strenuous, sweaty work-out. But there is no fierce scrum in the mud. No ruck. No ripping of ear lobes or wrenching of hair. Not once is an oval ball booted into touch. Rugby isn’t the game being played here today.

Instead, it is an all-boy ballet session, with pirouettes and pliés instead of punch-ups on the line-out. Forty-eight budding Billy Elliots from around the country gathered at DanceXchange, based in Birmingham’s Hippodrome, to participate in the Boys Only Workshop, a rare opportunity for them to practise and perform with their male peers.

Very rare.

Billy Elliot may have been a huge hit, both as a film and stage musical, but it remains a struggle getting British boys involved in dance. Which is why the Royal Academy of Dance subsidised a three-day workshop, using funds raised by a gala performance of Billy Elliot.

It is the first time many of the eight to 16-year-olds have been taught dance by men; the first time they won’t have to be the odd-one-out in predominantly female dance classes.

Gareth Griffiths, a teacher on the course, believes that for dance to have a bright future, more boys must get involved. “There’s still a real problem, as dance is viewed as something sissy, something that only girls do,” he says. “I think that puts a lot of boys off, even now.”

Gareth is one of the tutors at the Elmhurst School for Dance, Edgbaston.

“Because I teach at a dance school, I get a high number of boys in my classes,” he says. “On this course, most of the boys go to ordinary schools. So they will maybe have a ballet class once a week in a draughty church hall, where there will be very few other boys involved. That can be off-putting.

“And, of course, boys can be bullied when they show an interest in dance.

“I didn’t start dancing until I was 16, which is quite old. That meant that I knew my own mind and couldn’t be influenced that much by peer pressure. But for the younger boys, declaring that you are interested in dance can be a difficult thing to do. Hopefully, this course will show them that they are not alone in their passion for dance. That there are other boys in similar situations, who are also getting involved.”

Gareth adds: “It is also important that we have had an intensive three days working with these boys.

“In the Elmhurst School, the kids are dancing all the time, which means they progress rapidly. But most of these boys only get dance lessons once a week. It’s like learning to drive. If you only get behind a wheel every seven days, driving can be a struggle. But if you are out on the roads all the time, there is a more rapid improvement.”

The students at the Boys Only Workshop may still be wearing their L-plates. But during their final-day performance in front of parents, it is clear that they are all anxious to stamp down hard on the dance accelerator and shift into top gear.

The rugby-top lad, and all the other smooth-movers, do their thing with great aplomb.To the delicate tickle and trickle of piano keys, they shape their arms into elegant Grecian urns; then it is up on the toes and leaping through the air. Through it all, they exhibit posture, poise, poetry of movement.

However, posture, poise and poetry of movement are all dumped, for one nanosecond, by a lively youngster flashing his dad a cheeky wink. Which is acceptable – these are boys, after all.

Parents are then treated to a fine display of Indian dance, which whets the appetite for a scene from Swan Lake.

Jack Brownhill, a 13-year-old from Willenhall, is one of the best of the bunch. He comes from an ordinary background and his prison officer mother grins while watching him go through his immaculate moves.

“I’ve always loved getting up on stage,” Jack tells me, once his performance is over. “I got into dance about five or six years ago, when I went to see a panto at Christmas. I cannot remember who any of the stars were, but it was just incredible, seeing all these people up there, in front of the lights. From then on, I knew I had to get up there with them. There is nothing else for me.”

Jack now learns street dance and tap, but ballet is his major passion. “I definitely want a career in ballet when I’m older,” he says. “It’s not easy, and there is a lot of hard work involved, but that doesn’t bother me, because I really love it so much. I’ve always been willing to work at it. Although it’s hard to see it as work, because it’s just what I like to do.”

But, of course, hard work isn’t the only hurdle that has to be jumped. There is also the scorn of other youngsters, who often dismiss dance with sneers and snarls.Luckily that has not been too much of a problem for Jack, who is not the kind of child easily bullied by the mob.“I do kick-boxing as well,” he smiles. “So that stops anyone at school trying to have a go.

“When I first started dancing, there was some ribbing. It was a big thing that I was doing ballet. But now everyone is being very supportive. Even if they weren’t, I wouldn’t let anybody put me off. Because I love dance and it’s what I want to do with my life.”


© 2009 Trinity Mirror Midlands Limited

Tuesday 12th May 2009
Tewkesbury Admag
By Daniel Fawbert Mills


Jacqueline School of Dance RAD 2009 A COUPLE of Evesham boys have proved ballet is not just for girls by competing in an all-boys dance event at the Hippodrome in Birmingham.

Oliver Gould, Charlie Watson and Jack Dempsey, who all go to the Jacqueline School of Dance, in Willersey, took part in ballet, contemporary and South Asian Kathak classes which culminated in a short performance in the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s studios.

The event was spearheaded by the Royal Academy of Dance who, following the success of the musical Billy Elliot, wanted to build on the renaissance ballet and other dance forms found with a new generation of young male dancers.

Ballet teacher, Louise Gould, from Evesham, said: “The trio were part of a 50-strong group of boys from dance schools all over the country.

“The teachers were ex-professionals, and it was an opportunity to get some top quality lessons with the aim of promoting dance particularly for boys.

“It was also a chance for them to dance with their peers as most boys never get taught by a male teacher, or dance with other boys in the same class. It was a new experience for them, and they absolutely loved it.”

”It would be great if more boys would come forward and enroll in classes, there is still a bit of stigma attached to it, but I’m convinced that is going.”


© Copyright 2009 Newsquest Media Group



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