Birmingham Royal Ballet is hoping to recruit stars of the future from across the city in a unique schools programme. Zoe Chamberlain reports.
Samantha Mian was surprised when her son Ethan came home from school saying he wanted to take up ballet.
He had been given a taster by Birmingham Royal Ballet, who had held a workshop at his school, James Watt Primary in Handsworth – one of 35 schools visited by the prestigious ballet company as they delivered workshops to 2,500 children.
Ethan, six and from Handsworth, was invited to audition at BRB studios and went onto become one of just 80 children selected to start classes at The Lighthouse in Aston and Queensbridge School in Moseley last September.
“It was a big shock to learn he had got through as so many kids went for the auditions,” says Samantha, a full-time mum to Ethan and his siblings Ruben, four, and Mia, one.
“There’s just Ethan and one girl that got through from his school.
“It’s a big opportunity and it’s very exciting.
“Ethan has always shown an interest in dancing but not ballet, simply because he’d never had the opportunity to see it before.
“Now he loves everything to do with ballet.”
Since 1997, Dance Track has enabled key stage one pupils to access ballet, opening BRB’s doors to those who might not ordinarily be introduced to the art-form.
In Billy Elliot, a film about a young boy with a passion for dance, the father doesn’t like the idea of his son dancing until he sees him in action.
“We get that all the time,” said Pearl Chesterman, BRB’s director for learning.
“But we’re actually finding we generally have a 50/50 split of girls and boys taking part.
“There’s one class of year three and four children where there are 10 boys and only six girls, which is really lovely.
“In these instances, the boys’ competitive nature really comes out.”
Samantha adds: “Ethan and I watched Billy Elliot and he loved it.
“It made him want to dance even more. Maybe before, he might have thought ballet was a girly thing to do but it doesn’t feel like that at all now. I think it’s something he wants to carry on doing when he’s older.
“His friends are really excited for him and his teachers are very supportive.
“He’s always coming home and showing me different moves, pointing his toes and stretching his feet.
“I’m taking him to the ballet soon to see Aladdin.
“It’s given him more confidence, especially as he didn’t really know anyone when he started so he’s mixing with other kids.”
Dance Track continues to work with students who display a particular talent by preparing them for auditions to top ballet schools in the UK, including Elmhurst School for Dance, the Royal Ballet School and English National Ballet School.
For Amber Cooke, aged six and from Lozells, it’s given her the chance to fulfil her dream. Last week was the first time parents got to see their children perform.
Her mother Nikki Wilkes said: “Amber has always been interested in dance but I didn’t know where I could take her so it was brilliant when BRB came into her school.
“She really looks forward to her classes every Thursday, and she’s made new friends through it.”
According to Pearl, the BRB teachers can instantly spot if a child has the potential to be a dancer.
“When we go into schools, we’re looking for posture, physical ability and concentration,” she says. “With some you can identify that as soon as they walk through the door, with others it comes out during the workshop.
“Some of the children come in a bit hesitant to start with, as do their mums and dads.
“When they come to the BRB studios they’re often excited and a little bit overwhelmed, which is also the case for the parents too.
“Many are shocked that their child has been chosen. Some have mixed emotions, asking what’s it all about, what are they going to be doing? It’s about confidence building, team building, about working with each other.
“It’s about giving the children another perspective to their world, a way of meeting new people from a different background to them.
“Some of their teachers have said it’s given the pupils more focus too. They’ve found they have concentrated better in school after taking part in the ballet classes.
“It also brings families together to celebrate their child’s successes and be excited for them.
“So it’s turned out to be about a whole host of things we might never have expected at the start when Dance Track set out to teach ballet to children.”
Students come to Dance Track from a wide range of white, black and minority ethnic groups, irrelevant of their social and economic background.
Christopher Barron, BRB CEO, added: “The initiative sees BRB developing home grown talent through more equitable routes, opening doors to young people irrelevant of their social and economic background.
“We are delighted by its success and long may it continue.”