It has been nine years since Billy Elliot, the story of a ballet-dancing miner’s son struggle for acceptance, was shown in cinemas.
Since then there’s been awards, a novel and a smash-hit musical written by Sir Elton John, but one thing hasn’t changed: Boys taking dance classes are still very much in the minority in Britain.
As Tamworth-based ballet teacher Errol Pickford, aged 42, explained: “If you go to countries like Russia, ballet dancers have pop star status. It’s just us with this strange attitude to dancing.”
In a bid to encourage budding Nureyevs not to be disheartened, the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) is holding a three-day ‘Boys Only’ workshop in Birmingham next week.
Around 50 boys from across the UK are expected to descend on the Dance Xchange to take part in ballet, South Asian and contemporary classes.
Errol Pickford, a former principal dancer with the Royal Ballet Company, is hoping to inject the boys with an enthusiasm for dance that will see them through the lonely teenage years.
“Some of these boys have never been in a lesson with other boys,” he said. “It really matters for them to realise they’re not weird, they’re not strange and ballet is a good thing for guys to do.
“We don’t want to lose them. We don’t want to lose their interest.”
Errol started ballet at 12 because he was a gymnast and wanted to improve his fitness and stamina.
“I was lucky in that I had three male teachers who really showed me what it was to be a male dancer,” he said. “Male dancers don’t do pointe work. They do a lot of lifting and have to be extremely fit.
“I can guarantee the first thing we’ll get these boys doing is push ups,” he added.
Among the 50 boys attending the class will be seven-year-old breakdancer Tyrese McKenzie, from Handsworth, whose mum Doreen has enrolled him secretly.
“He doesn’t actually know he’s on the course,” she said. “I thought if I mentioned it was ballet he’d think it was girly and not want to go. Once he gets there and realises it’s all boys, he’ll be fine. I’ve just had to be a bit sneaky.”
Also signed up is Andrew Smith, aged ten, from Sutton Coldfield, who said he was looking on the course as a chance to make new friends and learn new moves.
Mother Wendy, an assistant head teacher, said she wished ballet dancing for boys was more acceptable in this country
“It’s sad really,” she said. “Andrew’s had a lot of sad things happen to him because he loves dancing and he hates football. The more boys are encouraged to dance, the more understanding there will be.”
RAD is subsidising the programme thanks to funds raised by a Gala performance of Billy Elliot so the course has only cost £30 for the boys attending.
It runs from Tuesday to Thursday and will culminate in a show.