Education & Family

'Billy Elliott' free school to boost boys' ballet

Boys' ballet class
Image caption Many boys drop ballet once they reach secondary school

The uniform would be tracksuit bottoms and T-shirts and pupils would do a dance class every day.

This would be no ordinary school. In fact it would be no ordinary ballet school.

The Class Free School would be aimed at boys aged 11 to 16 who may have taken ballet classes while at primary school and want to keep dancing into their teens.

The Class application is led by Tim Stirrup, a former inner London maths teacher, whose interest in dance education stems from the experiences of his son, now a pupil at a vocational boarding school for young dancers.

If given the go-ahead, the school would open in London in September 2013.

It is one of two ballet free schools in the current round of applications, along with others which would specialise in sport and drama.

Decisions on which will go through are expected in July this year.

Squeezed out

Mr Stirrup believes that for a variety of reasons, many boys are forced to drop ballet once they reach secondary school.

Peer pressure to do something more conventionally macho can be one factor, as can sheer lack of time, he says.

Mr Stirrup says that ballet particularly gets squeezed out of the lives of teenage boys.

"If they are offered a dance option at school it will more often be a form of street or contemporary dance," he says.

At the other extreme are the vocational boarding schools such as the one his son attends. These are extremely selective and highly focused on turning out professional dancers.

Mr Stirrup perceives a need for something in the middle ground and says parents of young boys with a passion for ballet are already emailing him about the school.

"I want Class to offer a broad and balanced academic curriculum. So some pupils might well go on to join the Royal Ballet School at 16," he says.

"But someone else might decide instead perhaps to go off to the local sixth form college and do A-levels in maths, physics and chemistry instead."

High aspirations

The name Class is drawn from the book, The Everyday Dancer by Deborah Bull, former principal with the Royal Ballet.

She writes: "It's what we do. The ignition key that starts every day. Without class nothing else happens. It is our daily bread, both rigour and ritual to the dancer."

Mr Stirrup wants the discipline of the daily dance class to permeate the school.

He also quotes academic studies which show that dance can boost brain power. So he has high hopes that students would have high academic as well as artistic aspirations.

Natalie Evans, of charity New Schools Network which supports free school applications, said groups supporting applications for specialist free schools were still a minority.

"There are a handful of specialist applications in the pipeline for areas like dance, sports and theatre. The process is quite rigorous. Groups need detailed plans for how they would run their school and also have to prove parental demand," she said.

The proposed boys' ballet school has been welcomed in the dance world.

Lucille Briance, artistic director of London Children's ballet said: "One of the biggest reasons for boys to drop out of ballet classes is that they find themselves alone in a sea of girls. For every 10 girls who audition for us, we have only one boy.

"We hope Class will produce a much needed steady stream of boys to audition for London Children's Ballet."

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