The Worthing ballet school for aspiring Billy Elliots
Frustrated with the lack of boys only ballet schools in Sussex, two mums decided to take matters into their own hands by starting their own.
The aim of the Boys Ballet Academy in Worthing is to provide a fully inclusive, supportive and enjoyable setting for boys who love to dance and for those who take part in sports.
The two women behind the school are Lea Smith, mum to two boys, and Claire Jones, who has four boys.
“I was frustrated that there weren’t opportunities down here for my sons to dance,” reveals Lea, the academy’s business manager.
“I was talking to Claire about it and we started talking about the concept.”
At this time Claire was taking her second eldest son Ellis from Rustington to a boys only ballet school in London every weekend.
“I would travel to London for my son to attend an all male ballet school and found people from Newcastle and the Isle of Wight were travelling there as well so I could see there was a need for a boys only dance school,” explains operations director Claire.
“I worked as a secretary at the school as I was there while my son danced and worked my way up to operations manager over the four years he attended.”
The classes in Sussex are aimed at those aged four to 16.
“In mixed classes boys can be put off by the tutus and all the pink while playing fairies,” says Lea.
“In the classes we run they can be superheroes or soldiers, we just want it to be more neutral and less feminine.”
Claire adds: “It isn’t about separating boys and girls as they will dance with each other eventually but it is giving boys a space where they can learn the moves they need.
“In a mixed class there are moves that girls use more than boys and vice versa but in a mixed class because there are usually more girls they tend to focus more on the female moves.
“For boys it is about strength and stamina as they don’t go on pointe and do a lot of the lifting.”
The academy also have BBA sport training aimed at young athletes who want to improve their athletic ability in other sports using ballet conditioning.
“It can be great for those that play other sport like football or rugby as it looks at balance, coordination, strength and stamina,” explains Claire.
“Many footballers have come out saying they have done ballet to help improve footwork. Which has been great boys seeing their football idols talk about doing it.”
A shift in attitudes when it comes to ballet is something the pair has seen more and more in part thanks to Sir Matthew Bourne OBE the choreographer behind the all male Swan Lake featured in the 2000 film Billy Elliot, dancers like Carlos Acosta and the news that Prince George is taking ballet at school.
The all male classes are also good for those taking it up when they are a bit older.
“A 14-year-old may want to do ballet for the first time and be put off going into a mixed class with girls who have been dancing since they were young,” says Claire.
“This gives them an opportunity to dance, or if they want to do extra ballet to enhance their skills or just want to do a single sex class.”
Classes are taught by Alex Cowie who began dancing from the age of six.
He then went on to train at the prestigious Royal Ballet School White Lodge and then it’s Upper School. Alex is also a sports and football coach - he will be teaching the BBA Sports Training classes.
Alex states “Ballet is very beneficial for boys, particularly those who take part in team sports, as it helps to develop and improve numerous skills such as strength, balance, speed, agility, flexibility as well as mental focus.”
A taster day will be held on January 13 with a Q&A session with teacher Alex Cowie and a performance from male ballet dancers.
Term starts on January 20. Classes are currently held on a Sunday and you pay per term.
For more information, visit boysballetacademy.com/