Country’s first boys-only ballet school in Islington is a hit
- Credit: Archant
School is helping to change stereotypes surrounding boys and dance
Standing at the bar on a Saturday is fairly normal for me.
And if you ever told me I’d take part in a ballet class I’d probably say you’d been stood at the bar too long.
But there I was, at the barre, trying to balance and remember how to move my hands and feet, and yet, there was nothing familiar about it.
This time, I was neatly flanked by two rows of boys – some of which at least half my age and others at least half my size – seemingly with double the maturity and sophistication.
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It was my first ballet class, and probably my last – but I can see why the children I was unsuccessfully trying to distract with my poor attempts at imitating them enjoy it so much.
Not just because when you weigh half of what I do it probably doesn’t hurt as much when you jump in the air and land on your own toe – but because it’s actually pretty difficult, and when you do it right it looks rather good and makes you feel warm inside.
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As a young boy, I never really considered taking up dancing, especially ballet.
Firstly, it wasn’t really an option, and secondly, dancing was for girls.
This is the most off-putting prospect I imagine to any boy who wants to try ballet, being surrounded by a group of girls – an ugly duckling hoping to become a swan.
This is a problem that James Anthony, founder of London Boy’s Ballet School, knows only too well.
James, now in his early 30s, grew up in Wales where boys played rugby rather than dance.
Despite his mother running a dance school and his sister going on to perform and teach ballet all over the world it wasn’t until he was 30 that he stepped into a pair of tight white slippers.
It was this experience that led him to open up the country’s first all-boys ballet school in Islington, and after less than a year it’s already proving to be a massive success.
“We started with just three or four boys and now we’ve got about 60 or 70 regulars who come here to dance”, said James.
“Every week we have two or three joining up just through word of mouth alone.
“We’ve got kids coming from as far as Brighton – there are a lot of boys out there that do want to dance.”
It’s easy to see why the classes are so popular.
James’s sister Amelia Jane is a passionate teacher who commands respect from the boys and despite distractions, like clumsy journalists with two left feet, they’re all a vision of concentration, discipline and fun.
“When a boy goes to a ballet class, it’s because he wants to go,” said James.
“A lot of girls will attend classes because their friends do it or because their parents send them along.
“It might look graceful and easy but it requires a huge amount of strength and stamina.
“We’ve got boys who come to dance class and then they’re straight off to football training.”
Having taken part I can see how ballet would help supplement many of the activities boys are more commonly associated with.
Balance, leg strength, coordination. All of which I was lacking.
In fact I was the only one visibly sweating at the end of the class and I was certainly the only one whose joints were clicking throughout.
It’s not just ballet classes that are taught at the school, based at Urdang 2 in Goswell Road, Finsbury. Dancing prospects need everything from contemporary to choreography lessons, all of which are provided on a weekend and evening basis.
After our class there was even a Billy Elliot workshop with the chap who plays the man himself on stage.
My class is like a little community, Sam, a teenager and one of the more advanced students was tasked with helping me with my technique.
The more experienced dancers help out the younger ones who have the upmost respect for them.
I was expecting to be a hindrance but they were happy to have me along and even requested they show me one of their favourite pieces to dance to.
Nobody here is ashamed to be a ballet dancer.
They even said I was a “natural”. Maybe I missed my chance, but if the school continues to grow perhaps “naturals” like myself could prosper where I missed out.