A 'Billy Elliott' Syndrome?

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On the fringe of London, but light years from the hurly-burly of the city, is a Royal deer park that provides the setting for one of the world's most exclusive schools.

To become a pupil there, you don't need money or connections, or the right address. You just need raw talent and a burning ambition to become the best in a uniquely demanding profession — a ballet dancer.

"I think it's the best thing that you can be," said 11-year-old William Bracewell from Wales. He beat out thousands of boys from all over the country to win a place at the Royal Ballet School.

"It's sort of making other people happy, but you're happy," said Bracewell. "But then you're happy as well. So, it's making lots of people happy, including yourself because when you're on stage, you just get an adrenalin rush. It makes you feel so good."

Normally, there are more girls than boys pressing to get into a school that paves the way to ballet stardom. But this year, for the first time anyone can remember at the Royal Ballet School, there are more boys.

"I thought anyone could do it," said Jamie Litser. Lister says he doesn't believe ballet is a "girl thing." He has wanted to dance ever since he saw the Gene Kelly movie "Singing in the Rain."

"It's not just a girl thing … It's just a thing that I do," said Litser. "Not just a girl thing or just a boy thing. If they like doing it, then they may do it, cause' many girls do football, then just the same many boys should be able to do dancing, in particular ballet."

They're calling it the "Billy Eliott" syndrome, based on the film about the working class boy from Northern England who gave up sports and defied his father to become a ballet dancer.

"I think the film made young boys feel it is acceptable to say to their peers and colleagues that they can say, 'I learn ballet,'" said Gailene Stock, Director of the Royal Ballet School. "And that's the big difference … and not get beaten up."

But it's not just Billy Elliott, it's the dancing in music videos and television commercials that have made dance more acceptable to boys.

"If you want to be a dancer, go and be a dancer, cause' it's really good," said Hope Keelan, a ballet teacher. "Even if people keep going up to you and picking on you, just ignore them, if that's what you want to do."

Keelan says her pupils still need to be treated like ordinary 11-year-old boys.

"I want to see that they're happy. I want to see that they're enjoying what they're doing. It would be nice if they stayed a little bit individual and had a sense of fun," said Keelan. "You can only do so much tedious work and then you need to let them run around the room."

The Royal Ballet School nurtures this talent, but the drive to reach the top comes from the boys themselves. Keelan says he has a few students that may one day be the next Nureuev or Baryshnikov.

As an extra bonus, the male graduates had 100 percent employment immediately after graduation.

  • Rome Neal

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