Will the hit play finishing in the West End spell trouble for the number of boys donning ballet shoes?
The principal of Tring Park School for Performing Arts, an internationally renowned dance and performing arts training ground for future stars, says that many aspiring male dancers have lost their hero now Billy Elliot has left the West End.
The well-loved story of a boy from a working-class Newcastle family, who goes against all expectations and his miner father to become a successful ballet dancer, has transformed the dance industry.
“Billy has given male dancers the courage to pursue their passion,” says Stefan Anderson, who has been principal of Tring Park for 14 years. The show has been running for 12 years and in that time 4,400 boys have attended open auditions for the role of Billy.
“In total, I expect the show has inspired hundreds of thousands of young boys to get involved with dance,” adds Stefan, “and this has enriched the profession immeasurably.”
And he should know. Tring Park has trained many young male dance professionals over the years, and three of its own dance students have played the role of Billy in the West End.
Other ex-students have made their own mark on the world of dance, such as Drew McOnie, who recently won the 2016 Olivier Award for Best Theatre Choreographer for his work on In the Heights, and is currently choreographer on Bugsy Malone at the Lyric Hammersmith.
Stefan believes that, were it not for Billy Elliot, a sizeable number of these boys would never have dared to follow a career in dance in the first place.
“So many boys in our entrance auditions cite Billy Elliot as their main inspiration”
“We have seen so many boys in our school entrance auditions who cite Billy Elliot as their main inspiration,” he says. “The film kicked it off, but many of the boys coming through the system are more familiar with the show: they are inspired by the fact that a hugely successful West End show stars a boy dancer – and they can relate to the story portrayed on the stage.”
And it is not only dance that he thinks has benefitted: “We offer four main disciplines at Tring: Dance, Drama, Musical Theatre and Commercial Music, and I think more boys have been attracted to all these performing arts disciplines as a result of a seeing a young male role model as a principal part on the London stage,” he says.
Darcey Bussell has also claimed that there were so many male dancers, due to the ‘Billy Elliot effect’, that consequently there is now a shortage of ballerinas.
Stefan is worried the pendulum may now swing in the opposite direction, once again. “It does worry me that we might see a reduction in the number of boys dancing now that the show is leaving the West End.
“I fervently hope that the Billy Elliot UK tour will continue to inspire boys up and down the country to dance,” he continues. “Some of our strongest, most excellent athletes are male dancers and we need a steady stream of boys training as youngsters in order to put on the incredible range of dance-based productions that we have seen over the past decade or so in the West End and throughout the country.”
Tring Park School for the Performing Arts is holding open days on Friday 7 October, Thursday 13 October and Friday 14 October.