At the age of four, Daniel Dolan had two equally consuming passions: rugby and ballet. His father introduced him to the former and his older sister led him to the latter.
Now 16, Daniel's abiding love of the performing arts – encouraged by his first dance teacher who foresaw a glittering career for the boy – has prevailed. He made history this week by becoming only the third British male dancer to be accepted by Russia's prestigious Bolshoi ballet academy in its 236-year history.
The gifted dancer from Widnes in Cheshire won his place at the Moscow school – regarded by many as the most rigorous ballet training ground – after, on a whim, he sent in a DVD of a performance he had given.
Speaking about his shock at being accepted by the Bolshoi, he said: "To be honest, I didn't believe it at first and had to keep re-reading it and then I showed it to my mum. I am very excited. I have worked hard but at the same time it doesn't feel like hard work because I am doing something I really love. My dream is to complete my training and dance with the best companies in the world."
Daniel's father, Peter, said he had originally wanted his son to play only rugby. "He started off with a dual career. He was a potential rugby player and played at his local club but got fed up after about six months and got into ballet after going to his sister's dance class.
"I remember after his very first dance lesson his teacher, who was a stern lady, said to me, 'You must never let this boy stop dancing.' He was only four years of age and she said he moved his feet beautifully and that he would go far," he said.
As well as being admitted to the Bolshoi academy, Daniel was accepted by elite US ballet schools in Miami and San Francisco.
The teenager, who is head boy at the Hammond School in Chester, hopes to raise £15,000 in funding to start at the Russian academy in September, following a three-month summer school at the prestigious Juilliard dramatic arts academy in New York.
He said: "British Airways have offered me sponsorship as part of their BA Great Britons Programme, where I can get up to 180 free flights a year. It will certainly help with the cost as it is incredibly expensive to train at the Bolshoi. I am hoping to find as sponsor as without one I can't go."
Daniel, who trains for nearly 10 hours every day, will follow in the footsteps of two former British dancers, Henry Perkins from Yateley in Hampshire, who joined the Bolshoi academy in 2006 and is now in his third year, and Ralf Pickering, whose entry to the school the previous year was marked by having his picture hung at the National Portrait Gallery.
He is believed to have left a few months after he began participating in the company's gruelling daily training regime. The Bolshoi ballet academy, the oldest theatrical school in Moscow, was founded as an orphanage in 1763 and started teaching pupils a decade later. It is the affiliate school of the Bolshoi Ballet company, which has nurtured such giants of dance as Rudolf Nureyev, who later left to join the Kirov Ballet company.
Traditionally, and particularly before the fall of the Soviet Union when dance was a relatively-privileged career, the Bolshoi's male dancers were the giants of the ballet world, known for their immense strength, power and athleticism.
Daniel has much to live up to, but his rugby background may help.Reuse content