Boys in Ballet Q&A Transcript


On 27 July 2020, we were delighted to welcome an esteemed all-male panel to a live online Q&A to discuss all things boys in ballet.

We were overwhelmed with questions and have endeavoured to address all of them on this page for you.

Boys in Ballet Q&A Transcript

#Questions for panel members

Panel Members:


What inspired you to become a male ballet dancer? 

Kohei: I started ballet when I was 11. My father was a ballet dancer, and I always had bad posture and flexibility. My father told me to do something about it. I asked him about ballet and he initially said no. He thought ballet was too hard – I think he thought it would break my heart if I couldn’t do it properly! I ended up trying it for myself, and here I am today! 

Shaun: I started dancing when I was 6. I did a lot of tap and jazz, and when I turned 7 I decided I wanted to do ballet. My Mum took me to class and I came out of it crying, saying I never wanted to do it again. A week later, she put me into tap and I asked her why I wasn’t doing ballet again, and she reminded me that I was upset when I tried it, but I was adamant that I loved it. I continued doing ballet and decided around 13 – 14 that it was something I really wanted to pursue. I was lucky enough to come here and join Queensland Ballet’s Junior Extension Program (now Associate Program), and continued through the Academy until I joined the Company. 

Li: I started training at 11 in Beijing. Ballet found me. I didn’t know much about it when I started. I really fell in love with ballet at around 13 - 14 years old. Before, I had no idea what ballet was, and I thought I hated it at the time. Once I fell in love with it, everything changed. That was my life’s pursuit and that was when the day wasn’t long enough for me to practise to be the best. It was a fantastic journey that took me all around the world. 

Christian: When I was 6, a lady came to my school seeking dance talent. I tried ballet for a few weeks as a result, but did not enjoy it and stopped going. Later, when I was 9, my mother took me to an audition at the national school in Bulgaria. I got accepted, which was apparently very prestigious, but I didn’t know at the time. Four years into the training, I wanted my mother to take me out as I hated it. The teachers were very tough, the days very long, and I wanted to be a normal kid like my brother. But my mother said no, I was to graduate and decide when I could make an educated decision. Eight years later, when I was finishing school, I discovered what it was all about. I saw different methods of training, other dancers, and I couldn’t get enough of it so I kept going. And here I am today. 

Paul: I started tap dancing when I was four in Wagga Wagga, NSW. At 11, I realised I really wanted to pursue ballet. My ballet teacher left Wagga just after I turned 13. For three years I used to travel from Wagga to Canberra for my training every weekend, about a 300km trip every Friday. I’d dance in the afternoon in Canberra on Fridays, and all day Saturdays, Sundays, then travel back home on the bus and get back at about 1am and continue my schooling for the rest of the week. I knew at that time that’s what I really wanted to do. I didn’t have a Plan B. It wasn’t a choice – it was a great privilege. I danced for 25 years all over the world. If you’re a country kid and you think it’s a bit too difficult, think again! There’re so many possibilities out there for you. 


Li, what was one of the most challenging ballets you’ve done? 

Rudolf Nureyev’s Don Quixote, that was really hard! 


Kohei, tell us about your typical day as a Soloist. 

At Queensland Ballet, there’s not a huge difference between the schedule of the Soloists versus the Company Dancers. We do classes in the morning, and rehearsal until the end of the day. As a Soloist, we have more specific roles, which means we get more 1:1 coaching with ballet masters and mistresses. We get more opportunities to dance too. 


Shaun, what's the most satisfying thing is about being a ballet dancer? 

Coming in every day, trying to better yourself as a dancer and person makes life a lot easier. It’s nice to come into a job every day and love what you do. For me, that feeling is something I’ll always appreciate. 


As a professional dancer starting full-time quite young, do you feel you missed out on your childhood?  

It could be seen this way, but at the end it is worth it. The pleasure you will receive from your success in training and preforming will outweigh the sacrifices made earlier.  


How long do you spend stretching each day? 

Shaun: There’s a safe and non-safe way to stretch, especially with a developing body. Our physios recommend dynamic stretching. This involves not sitting in a position before class, but after class when your body is warm, do your stretches for flexibility. Know your body and understand when it’s too much so you don’t injure yourself. 

Li: Stretching is very important. There’s never too much flexibility. We want strength, but as young dancers we recommend getting as flexible as possible.  


What challenges did you overcome as a male ballet dancer, and how did you overcome them?

Shaun: Everyone has individual challenges and things to work on, whether it’s strength, facility, coordination or acting.  

Kohei: For me, it was language I was struggling with. Ballets don’t really need speaking, but you need it for rehearsals and classes. If you keep trying, it will work out. 

Li: Every dancer has different challenges. For me, when I went to Beijing Dance Academy, I couldn’t turn. I would experience motion sickness, so I couldn’t even get on a bus without feeling sick. If you can’t turn as a dancer, you’re in trouble. I went through extreme measures to overcome that. I’d go into a dark studio, light a candle and keep turning around the candlelight. I eventually conquered it and became one of the best turners in China. If you work through your weakness, you’ll become stronger in that area. 


For Li, what made you become a stockbroker? 

I wanted to help my family in China and to educate my children.

What brought you back to ballet?

My passion for the artform and a desire to help the new generation to become the best possible dancers.

Would you recommend ballet students studying business as well? 

All knowledge in life is helpful and valuable.


What advice do you have for those boys who might be experiencing bullying on account of being a ballerino? 

Paul: My escape was music. Music would take me on a trip. It was a very important part of my escape from bullying. Bullying can be quite detrimental, so if you believe in something, trust yourself. I realised that the kids who used to bully me were, in a way, envious of me because they knew I wanted to be a dancer so badly and nothing would stop me. Have faith, keep pushing and working hard, because it’s so worth the effort. 

Shaun: I was lucky to have supportive parents. I wasn’t a very confident person socially, so I struggled for a few years. I got more comfortable and I always thought the incidences I experienced from school were more from their ignorance, and had nothing to do with me. I had friends and I was lucky because I was a little sporty and was therefore accepted in a different way. For me, there was a lot to look forward to. Because I enjoyed it so much it meant I could get through. 

Christian: At the Academy, we’re working hard to profile boys and men in ballet, because it’s such an important part of the artform. Through our academic partner, Kelvin Grove State College, there’s a very different culture. Our students are mixed with the general population of the school, and ballet is quite accepted and respected by their peers. In our environment, bullying is not tolerated, and the Academy and College take it very seriously. 


What is your best advice for a young male dancer? 

Follow your passion. It will be hard work. Accept that and keep going. It takes years to become a dancer, but the pain and all the years of hard work will be worth it at the end. The discipline you will gain will stay with you for life.  

#Questions about Queensland Ballet Academy's training programs

How many boys are in the Academy?

Currently, we have 28 boys across the Academy, from our Associate to Pre-Professional Programs. This varies every year, and the numbers are growing. Queensland Ballet's Company has 29 male dancers.  


What programs do you have in place specifically for boys? 

We have a Boys Only Workshop coming up on 14 – 15 August, and have just run a Boys in Ballet Week campaign to encourage more young men to dance. In the Academy, boys have their own classes and training sessions to address the male-specific component of their learning. In addition to dance, this also includes male fitness (weights) sessions. 


Is it still intended to take boys from 8 years old in 2021? If so, what’s the process for auditions? 

Yes, our Foundation Program will be launching in 2021 for students aged between 8 – 11 years old. In lieu of an audition, students will complete a Pre-selection Experience in November 2020. Register your interest at www.queenslandballet.com.au/foundation-program.  


Are boys taught separately to girls? 

Depending on the subject. For ballet training at the Academy, yes - especially in the older levels when the material becomes more male-specific (jumps, turns etc.) 


What are you looking for in a dancer in their pre-professional year at the Academy when considering them for the company? 

We do auditions annually, and students and dancers come from all over the world to audition for our various programs. The main qualities we need to see are passion and good, sound training giving you the required foundation to continue to develop at a higher level. We want to see your potential, and how we can help you to become a better dancer.


Who are the ballet teachers for Levels 2 and 3? 

In 2020, Mr Paul Boyd looks after the Level 2 boys. Level 3 boys have some combined ballet classes with the girls under Ms Veronika Sheremetieva and have male technique sessions with Mr Christian Tátchev twice a week.  


Are New Zealanders given the same opportunities in the program as Australians? 

Yes. Please get in touch with us at academy@queenslandballet.com.au to discuss. 


How do you pick students to visit / exchange with the Basel Academy in Switzerland? 

We have student exchange programs from various schools. There’s an application process and you need to meet the criteria. You need to be healthy, fit and injury-free. We would prefer to send students who have been training with us for at least 12 months. There are various things to consider, and in your application you will need to explain why you think this will be a good opportunity for you.  

We currently hold international student exchange programs with five top schools across Europe and the North America. However, with current travel restrictions in place, we are unable to inform when these opportunities will be available again.  


Do you cast students in the Queensland Ballet Company productions? 

Academy students receive opportunities to perform in Company productions from time to time (for example, child roles in The Nutcracker). Those in the Academy Program will usually get to perform in the Queensland Ballet Academy Gala.  

Once a dancer has reached the Pre-Professional Program, performance opportunities increase and dancers may also integrate further with the Company through classes and rehearsals. 


How long do Academy students spend training each day? 

Detailed information on training hours relevant to each Academy level can be found on our FAQ page, under 'What are they key areas of training and hours per week, for each Academy level?'


It seems that to be a successful dancer, the focus on academic studies is often sacrificed. Is this a reality, or can you have both? 

Queensland Ballet Academy is firm on its belief that all dancers should receive a quality academic education. As such, our partnership with the Department of Education ensures that dancers in our Academy Program (Years 7 – 12) balance dance training with academic studies. All students are required to complete Year 12, in order to graduate, and upon successful completion receive their Queensland Certificate of Education, an ATAR and / or VET training certificate or diploma. The Program is designed to accommodate this and student support to ensure academic success is offered by the Academy and our academic partner, Kelvin Grove State College.  


What is the timetable of a male dancer in the Academy? 

At the Academy, dance training gradually increases annually, from 14 hours per week in Level 6, to 23 - 26 hours per week in Level 1. In short, half day of dance and half day of academic studies. A full-time training load (36 - 38 hours per week) is only introduced in the final year, the Pre-Professional Program. The steady progression is deliberately designed to increase as the dancer matures and strengthens so they are safely building towards being ready for employment at the appropriate age (18 - 20 years).

Detailed information on training hours relevant to each Academy level can be found on our FAQ page, under 'What are they key areas of training and hours per week, for each Academy level?'


How many times a week do you have body conditioning classes? 

Depending on the level, dancers will have 1 or 2 one-hour sessions of body conditioning per week. For boys, this includes a Male Fitness session to prepare the body for partnering work. 


Would you consider having a specific boys in ballet holiday program for younger boys? 

We currently have our Boys ONLY Workshop taking place over the Brisbane Show Day weekend in August. This exciting offering is our first event specifically for boys, however, boys are encouraged to join our Summer Schools and Elite Training Series which take place throughout the year, during school holiday periods.  


Can the Boys Only Workshop also be on Zoom for those in lockdown? 

At this point in time, we intend to keep the workshop as a face-to-face offering, to ensure the most enriching experience for our dancers. 


With the current global pandemic, how will students be able to access facilities if borders are closed? 

COVID-19 is an ongoing and ever-changing situation. Queensland Ballet’s priority lies in the health and safety of those in our Academy, business and community. We are closely monitoring all Government regulations and acting accordingly to ensure compliance. Currently, Queensland is doing really well in the pandemic and our dancers are already back in studios. We encourage students to audition, and while we hope for the best outcome in regard to the pandemic, we will deal with individual situations as they arise and make adjustments for those affected. 

#General ballet questions

At what age would you recommend boys starting pas de deux? 

From 2021, we will be commencing some very basic pas de deux training with our Level 4 cohort (approx. 14 years old). When starting pas de deux training with young dancers, we always need to consider the dancers’ physical development. Everyone has their own pace in terms of growth. The material needs to be appropriate, aligned to the physical development or injuries will occur.  


Is it ideal for boys to train and stay committed to one company? 

You need to be satisfied with the material and challenges you’re given in that company. You need to find the right place for yourself. One can find good and bad things in any place, but no matter where you are, keep an open mind and keep learning.  


What type of ballet do you prefer boys to take up? 

Queensland Ballet Academy is mostly non-syllabus based, however the Vaganova method is used as the base / progression plan in the younger years. As the training levels progress, the curriculum becomes more varied to meet current industry requirements. Our direct link with Queensland Ballet Company and the professional industry allows us to mould our practices in real-time, according to what is currently considered best-practice. 


What are some great pathways for getting into dance jobs and careers? 

In Academy we have a subject called Career Preparation and Planning, which we offer to our Level 1 and Pre-Professional Program dancers. This subject focuses on preparing you for the industry and putting you in the best possible position to succeed. These sessions include discussions with international directors and choreographers.  

Finding the right training provider is key, ideally one with experience, a link to the professional industry and with strong professional networks. Diversity is also very important. Having studied other genres of dance, not just ballet, is always a bonus.  


When do you think is a good time to start auditioning and looking at companies and jobs? 

We encourage you to finish your schooling and training first. Most Companies will not accept anyone under 18 years of age. Most professional ballet schools / academies finish their student training around 18, which is when you’d think about starting to audition for professional employment. 


If you had a 14-year-old child, would you send them abroad to study ballet full-time? 

It would depend on the student’s maturity and readiness. However, you would need to consider the child’s ability to learn a new language, adapt to a new culture, different climate etc. A New Zealander student coming to Australia may not be so challenging, but a 14-year-old alone in Europe would be a different story. The Academy, and its academic partner, Kelvin Grove State College, offer great international student support.  

 

What are your thoughts on burnout? 

It is key that this is avoided. We see a lot of very young dancers pushed too yearly, too many hours per week, too many competitions etc. The result could be anything, from loss of passion for dance to terrible injuries. This is why we have a slow, progressive approach to our training. 

 

Is it better to be in a school with people who have the same interests? 

Diversity is important. Academy dancers are integrated with the general school population of our Academic partner to ensure they form friendships and experiences from outside the ballet world.  

 

What are your thoughts on competing in competitions? 

Competitions are a great way to experience the rehearsal process, additional training, and to self-assess your own skills against your peers. However, it is not at all what the industry is about and competing excessively will mean you are sacrificing your regular training. 

Some competition guidelines are also not as student-focused as they should be, and sometimes the challenging work required leads to injuries. Find competitions that will give you valuable opportunities, such as getting you into a professional school to complete your training. The Academy generally does not send students to compete in competitions as our students are already training at a professional level.  

#Questions about physique, fitness and injury prevention

Is there a specific type of physique you’re looking for? 

The dance industry is constantly evolving, and different dancer’s physiques will be suitable to different roles or genres. The main thing we are looking for is potential. We must acknowledge, that it is difficult to predict how a young person will develop as they grow up. We will work with the student to help them identify where they are most likely to succeed given their physical attributes. Even a very challenging physique could be trained, and the right training will shape body to create the right lines. Poor training can do the opposite.  


Is there a minimum height for male ballet dancers, and if so, what is it? 

No. We want to create diverse works, and different directors and choreographers have different tastes, styles and ways to tell a story. Height doesn’t necessarily matter, as long as you’re a brilliant dancer.  


Does gymnastics help you with strength and dance? 

It would certainly be beneficial for strength and coordination. However, as the muscles are engaged differently, it may affect what is considered a desirable balletic line.  


At what age should you start doing weights?

Every person develops at their own pace, in their own way. We advise you to seek some tailored health advice around this. However, starting to strengthen your body to avoid injury is always a good idea. Often, boys will start doing more weight training around the time they begin pas de deux classes.  

The Academy has a subject called Male Fitness, taken by an experienced professional. It’s not necessarily all weight lifting though, it could be based on exercises with your own body weight too. Be careful while you’re still developing that you don’t injure yourself, and make sure you have a safe and progressive plan to follow.  


How do you avoid back injuries? 

Injuries will happen if there is overuse, or weakness. The main thing is to have the correct conditioning and preparation and to learn to listen to your body. Everyone is different and will develop at a different pace, so make sure your training is aligned with your age and skill.  


What is the best way to deal with severs in the heel for dancing? 

Answered by Zara Gomes, Head of Performance Health at Queensland Ballet.

Sever’s disease (or calcaneal apophysitis) is inflammation of the growth plate in the heel bone. This is common in young people who are going through a rapid growth spurt. It is a self-limiting condition which will settle as growth ceases or slows. Dancers suffering this issue are encouraged to wear supportive running shoes / joggers at school and when not dancing (avoid playing lunchtime soccer in leather dress shoes!) and wearing a heel raise in everyday shoes can be helpful. When dancing, taping the heel and icing at the end of the day can reduce the pain. If very painful, it can be wise to reduce the allegro (jumping) workload in classes, especially when going through a growth spurt.


Do boys have different injuries to girls, and if so, what are they? 

Unfortunately, injuries are part of the career, and where the girls may have more foot injuries due to pointe work, boys may suffer injuries due to lifts in pas de deux. It’s about learning how to look after your body and managing your injuries while getting the best care along the way. The Academy's training is progressive, so you build strength in your body and legs as you develop with age. When it’s time for you to push harder you are ready as you have had the right foundation. We also have a great Performance Health team here for both Company and Academy.  


Do you have any exercises for turnout? 

Our Performance Health team and teaching staff can provide advice on this. We have a subject called Safe Dance Practice, offered in Academy Program Levels 3 - 1 and Pre-Professional Program, where challenges such as this are addressed. It is important to consider each dancer individually, so the right advice is given.


Please note that all comments on this page is general in nature, and we recommend you seek tailored professional advice for your individual circumstance.