Ballet star inspires young dancers to follow in his footsteps

SUITLAND, Md. -- To the ballet students at Suitland High School in Maryland, Eric Underwood is a legend. That's because Underwood -- a graduate of Suitland High -- has risen to stardom with the Royal Ballet of London.

With the ballet company touring the U.S., Underwood wanted to visit Suitland. And his first stop was to thank Barbara Marks, the teacher who discovered him -- moments after he flunked an acting audition.

"And I left out and I saw those girls stretching before their ballet audition and I thought, 'Oh, my sister does splits at home. I think I can do one. I'll try that,'" Underwood recalled.

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"I saw a darling little boy who really wanted to work," Marks told CBS News.

To Underwood, that meant "everything."

"I think when someone -- when you feel someone invest in you like that, it's beautiful. It's beautiful."

He returned that investment with a message for the students to ignore anyone who says black dancers can't succeed in ballet.

"But there's no reason you couldn't be there either," Underwood told them. "It's not like, you know -- I'm not a super hero. I'm just like you."

The dancers told him what they face is high school peer pressure not to try so hard.

"And when you're different, you're the boy who dances, a lot of fear comes along with that," Underwood acknowledged.

But the way to handle the doubters, he told them, is to turn everything they say into resolve. To students like sophomore Kiya Snow, his advice was a shot of courage.

"If you want to be a dancer, be a dancer. Be who you are; don't listen to the negative comments," Snow said.

By the end of this visit from the boy who dances, the class learned more than his approach to technique. They'd learned his approach to life.

  • Wyatt Andrews
    Wyatt Andrews

    Wyatt Andrews is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Washington D.C. He is responsible for tracking trends in politics, health care, energy, the environment and foreign affairs.