James Anthony: Meet the Royal Academy of Dance teacher who has set up the UK's first ballet school for boys

The London Boys Ballet School has just signed up its 100th student and has plans to open branches in Manchester, Edinburgh and Swansea

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The Independent Online

James Anthony was desperate to take ballet classes at his mother’s dance school in Wales, but put his dream on hold because he was frightened of being bullied at school.

He finally took up ballet at the age of 28, incredibly qualifying as a Royal Academy of Dance teacher within a few years, and has now set up the UK’s first ballet school for boys.

The London Boys Ballet School, in Islington, north London, has just signed up its 100th student and has plans to open branches in Manchester, Edinburgh and Swansea.

“It’s clear to see that lots of boys do want to dance,” says Mr Anthony, 34. “A lot of boys start dance classes when they are younger but get discouraged when they get older.

“This [the school] is not just about being with other boys and the camaraderie that brings. Our image is very masculine. A lot of the other schools will have everything in pink. Our school has changed the image of ballet completely.”

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Young dancers at London Boys Ballet School, including Ross Black, at front (Teri Pengilley)

Alfie Theobald, 16, travels two hours from Newbury, in Berkshire, every Saturday to spend all day at the school. He has been taking classes there since it opened a year ago, and wishes to pursue a career in dance after finishing his GCSEs.

“My sister used to do ballet and I wanted to start at a younger age but my four older brothers persuaded me to wait until I was really sure I wanted to dance,” he says. After being persuaded to take GCSE dance by a teacher who saw him perform, Alfie developed a passion knew this was what he wanted to do with his life.

However, he was reluctant to join a class with girls his own age who were more advanced because they had been taking classes since they were young. “In the boys’ ballet school, the others have also just started so we really encourage each other,” he says.

“My parents are astonished by my capabilities and have been really supportive. My aim is to audition for dance schools, and keep auditioning until I get in.”

Ross Black became the school’s 100th pupil last week. The 12-year-old from Dorking, Surrey, comes by train with his mother for four hours of dance and, like Alfie, hopes to make a career out of performing.

Ross started performing in musical theatre at the age of seven and began ballet three years ago but in a class of mostly girls. “I didn’t mind being with the girls as I am with lots of boys at school,” says Ross. “But I think it will be much better to be with the boys because I hope to be able to do lots more spins and jumps.”

His mother Ceri said other ballet schools tend to focus more on the girls’ syllabus. “Ross is very keen so it can be frustrating,” she says. “It’s good that he will be able to dance with other boys that he’s got a lot in common with. Ross goes to lots of auditions, and there are always lots of boys there dancing so it is clear there is a need. I’m surprised this didn’t happen before. Billy Elliot was years ago – this has been a long time in coming.”

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Alfie Theobald travels two hours from Newbury every Saturday to spend all day at the school (Teri Pengilley)

Mr Anthony said it was “against all the odds” that he got his vocational qualifications given that he started so late. He practised for three hours a day to pass his examinations.

He knew that it was too late at 28 to launch a career as a professional dancer but thought that there must be other boys out there who wanted to dance, just as he did.

He started teaching at the family school in Wales which his mother founded and where his sister still teaches before setting up London Boys Ballet School last year. He now divides his time between London and Swansea.

“I do think there has been a change in attitude to boys dancing,” he says. “You have television shows like  X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing that have had an impact.

“It can still be difficult outside of London, but the school started with just a few students through word of mouth and is now building momentum, so hopefully the same will happen around the country.”

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