Our band of Billy Elliots: Why our boys do ballet - Features - Health & Families - The Independent

Our band of Billy Elliots: Why our boys do ballet

With three sons, the Kempsey-Faggs might not have imagined that dance would feature in their family life. But all of them have been talent-spotted and selected for elite training. And there’s nothing girly about it, they tell Jenny Hudson

It started with a letter that Oscar Kempsey-Fagg brought home from school. He had been spotted during a school workshop run by Birmingham Royal Ballet and was invited to attend an audition. His parents were intrigued. “Ballet wasn’t on our radar,” recalls Oscar’s father, Joe. “Although we wouldn’t have been consciously against it, we wouldn’t have really thought of taking the boys to ballet lessons.”

Each year, Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB) runs workshops in schools across the city with more than 1,500 children aged five and six. Approximately 200 are invited to audition, with around 60 being offered free, professional ballet tuition on a programme called Dance Track, which aims to identify children with potential to become dancers. At least half of those chosen will be boys. Oscar was selected and subsequently so, too, were his two younger brothers. Now, despite having no previous links with ballet, Jane and Joe Kempsey-Fagg have a whole family of ballet-dancing sons and dance has a central place in family life, opening up new possibilities for the boys.

While ballet classes are a routine part of childhood for many girls, boys can find the classes off-putting. “Often, in ballet classes for that age group, the class will be full of girls and the activities geared around them, such as running around being fairies,” says Rachel Hester, a Dance Track teacher. “The boys don’t want that and you’ll lose them. We made a conscious decision to have white shoes and blue tops on Dance Track. There is no pink.

“At first, I don’t use the word ‘ballet’ – I talk about dance and movement and challenge them to see who can jump the highest and furthest. I give out gold medals because boys like that competitive element.”

The whole family, with mum Jane and dad Joe The whole family, with mum Jane and dad Joe After his first year with Dance Track, Oscar was selected to join a smaller group for another year then, at the age of eight, won a place on the prestigious Royal Ballet Junior Associate scheme, a three year elite training programme for eight- to 11-year-olds with the potential to become professional dancers. At the same time, it was the turn of Oscar’s younger brother Marlo to take part in a workshop at Colmore Junior and Infant Schools, which the boys attend. He, too, was selected for Dance Track.

“It isn’t unusual for siblings to be selected,” says Rachel. “When we see children at the age of five and six, a lot of what we are looking for in children is the physical facility for dancing. We are looking for natural ankle flexibility, the ability to turn the hips out naturally, very straight legs, co-ordination and, particularly in boys, the ability to jump. The Kempsey-Fagg boys have ‘magic feet’ – they are physically perfect for dance, as well as having great musicality.”

As well as the rounds of lessons, the boys would regularly see performances by BRB and the Royal Ballet, being given free tickets as part of their training schemes. They talk knowledgeably and enthusiastically about whether they prefer classical or modern styles of ballet. If some people express surprise at the place of ballet in a family of boys, their parents feel it all fits perfectly.

“The boys race BMX bikes competitively,” says Joe, an architect, who is 42. “I suppose that might seem to be on the opposite end of the spectrum to ballet, but you can see that their ballet helps them in terms of their balance, strength and stamina. They do all the ‘boys stuff’ – they are out in the garden, making ramps for their bikes and climbing, then they will go on the trampoline and practice their ballet. It’s all part of the mix.”

Not surprisingly, many of the boys who are selected for Dance Track also excel at sport. Several on the ballet programme have also been selected for academies run by professional football clubs. “You imagine that if ballet is up against football on a boy’s schedule, it might seem inevitable which one they will choose,” says Rachel. “But it’s not always the case. When classes clashed for one boy recently, his mum told me he was desperate to keep up ballet, so his coach allowed him to come to football training late.”

The way that boys see ballet does seem to be changing, fuelling a new interest in participation. In March 2014, the London Boys Ballet School was established by James Anthony. “It was clear that more boys wanted to try ballet, but there was nothing for them,” says James.

“They would be lucky to find a ballet class with just one other boy taking part and the image would be very pink and fairy-like.” Creating boys-only classes, focusing on strength, jumping and athleticism, the number of participants at the new school quickly grew to more than 30 with ages ranging from four to 14.

“Many of the boys want to try ballet after watching a performance – not only Billy Elliot but other musicals featuring dancing, or seeing dance shows on TV,” says James. “There is certainly less stigma around ballet – it is recognised as a foundation for all dance forms and for its athleticism.”

The footballer Rio Ferdinand, who trained in ballet, and the street dance crew Diversity, are influential figures who have praised the benefit of the discipline for boys. And at the highest performance level, Balletboyz, the company formed by former Royal Ballet lead dancers, is shaping the re-branding of ballet from a male perspective.

Equally now, if boys do express an interest in ballet, they are more likely to be supported by their parents. “This generation is different,” says James. “Dads are proud to bring their sons to our ballet classes; there is no sense that ballet is ‘girly’.”

If the Kempsey-Fagg brothers do ever hear occasional comments that ballet is “not something for boys”, it is not off-putting. When considering this, Marlo quickly fires back, saying: “Ballet is awesome.” Beaming with pride, he adds: “I’m the only one in my class who is in it.” Like his older brother, Marlo, now aged nine, won a place on the Royal Ballet’s Junior Associate programme and has just completed his first year. His younger brother Arlie, six, has recently also been selected for Dance Track.

Oscar has just taken a major new step with his ballet, having been awarded a scholarship to attend Elmhurst School for Dance, the internationally renowned associate school for Birmingham Royal Ballet.  “I am so proud of them,” says Rachel.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
The programme sees four specialists creating what they believe are three perfect couples, based on scientific matchmaking. The couples will not meet until they walk down the aisle together
tvUK wedding show jilted
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artWhat makes a smash-hit art show
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke and Pharell Williams in the video of the song, which has been accused of justifying rape
music...and he had 'almost no part' in writing it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior QA Engineer - Agile, SCRUM

    £35000 - £50000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior QA Engineer (Agil...

    Marketing Executive - West Midlands - £28,000

    £26000 - £28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive (SEO, PP...

    Retail Business Analyst

    £40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

    Senior C++ Developer

    £400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week