There’s a boy from Inverloch who can fly. He doesn’t look like a superhero in fact he looks pretty much like any other 18 year old, shaking off the last vestiges of adolescent shyness. He is smart and articulate and he’s humble. Especially for a young man who has wings. Xavier Pellin is a ballet dancer and it’s not a passing phase. His skill, strength and athleticism has been shaped through years of training. His mental toughness enhanced through the self evaluation that accompanies a departure from stereotypical male career choice. And, his gratitude is founded in a family that sees the possibilities and not the obstacles.
Billy Elliot (2000) has a lot to answer for. The popular film set in a Northern English coal mining town in the early 1980’s tells a tale of a young man who challenged the feminine stereotype and fought the social conditioning that prescribed his life choices. The story, which chronicles gender prejudice, class discrimination, social upheaval and family disfunction also beautifully expresses the magic that is created when destiny finds its true path. Billy Elliot was a boy who discovered a passion for dance and fostered his dream to be a professional ballet dancer.
The success of the screenplay and its subsequent adaptation to stage gave rise to a renewal in the conversation about boys and ballet. The performances laid bare the pointlessness of emotional vilification, the purity of a sculptured physical effort and the determination necessary to succeed: Billy Elliot put masculinity in tights on centre stage before a global audience of ten million people.
Xavier Pellin was among those watching and he felt more than a fleeting interest in Billy Elliot. When the stage production first opened in Australia, the seven year old already understood that his legs were designed to dance.
Another boy whose life was changed at seven years old was David McAllister AM. In 1970 he saw Rudolf Nureyev dance (in a TV documentary) and that was the moment that set the trajectory for his career. McAllister, who danced with The Australian Ballet from 1983 until 2001 and since July of that year has held the position of Artistic Director, says that “inspired by movies such as Billy Elliot and reality TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance, 40 per cent of students at The Australian Ballet School are now boys”. [Daily Telegraph, March 2013).
competition for places at the The Australian Ballet School are strongly contested and the higher number of male enrolments has led to higher standards.
King Louis XIV of France loved dance. He in fact loved it so much that he demanded that all who attended his court should be accomplished dancers. Upon his insistence the first western world dance institution was established in Paris in 1661 after which he went on to found the first academy of dancing. From there, ballet developed into a true theatrical art and produced the first professional ballet dancers.
All of them were men.
The young and slim males played female roles and the dancers became superstars of their day. These dancers were in demand throughout the world, commanding large salaries and the friendship of kings.
It took 20 years from the opening of the academy for the first professional female dancers to appear and over the following 300 years women gradually dominated the stage. (adapted from A brief history of ballet, California Ballet Blog 2010).
It’s unlikely we will see again, a scenario where there are more boys than girls on the stages of dance. Perhaps particularly so in Australia where the male gender associations are primarily around aggressive sports such as AFL and Rugby. Jamilla Rosdahl is a Lecturer in Gender Studies at the University of the Sunshine Coast, she points out “ In Australia, male-dominated sports are often exaggerated through narratives on aggression, body-punishing violence and confrontation. Rugby league (and AFL) are popular sports where the men often display physical and verbal aggression.”
Sadly in some smaller towns, there is still a fear that boys who take up dancing will be teased
To Learn more about Xavier, his remarkable story and how The Bass Coast Community Foundation were able to help him get closer to his dreams please download the free case study guide below - it's a great read :-)