For first time, National Ballet School has more boys than girls graduating
Published Thursday, September 19, 2019 9:00PM EDT
For the first time in its 60 years of operation, Canada’s National Ballet School will have a graduating class with more boys than girls, the school says.
This year’s Grade 12 class, set to graduate in 2020, is composed of 16 boys and 11 girls, marking a historic moment for the school in terms of the gender split of students.
For Benjamin Alexander, one of this year’s graduating class, this is worlds away from his ballet beginnings. He’s from a small town in southwestern Ontario, and the first time he put on ballet slippers he was the only boy in his class.
“All my other friends were all at hockey practice or baseball practice, and they all had this shared kind of goal,” Alexander told CTV News. “I definitely felt like a sort of outcast.”
He started dancing when he was four years old, moving from figure skating into ballet after he realized he wanted to focus more on dance.
“I was always watching my sister dancing, and so that kind of inspired me to start myself,” he said. “I loved it.”
Then, when he was 10 years old, his dance teacher recommended that he audition for the NBS. It was a turning point for Alexander.
“I immediately felt a sense of community when I got here,” he said. “I felt like I was surrounded by like-minded individuals, and a whole group of guys who just wanted to do the same thing I did.”
This graduating class is “unique, thus far,” according to Mavis Staines, Artistic Director and CEO of the school. However, she told CTVNews.ca in a statement that having more male students than female is “a pattern that I believe will repeat itself at some point in the future.”
Based in Toronto, the NBS teaches students from Grades 6 to 12. It is not just a ballet school: students are given academic classes in accordance with the Ontario curriculum, along with their ballet classes, and receive a regular high school diploma when they graduate to ensure they are prepared for postsecondary school if they choose not to continue with dance.
The school said that overall, 40 per cent of the students enrolled are male.
“This year’s gender ratio matches a growing trend,” Staines said. She said that the growth of their male student population was “really slow for 35 years,” but things began to pick up after that.
“(It) has really been gaining momentum since 2005 when Billy Elliott premièred, and with all the dance shows, social media.”
Alexander also spoke about how social media platforms such as YouTube have helped to shift societal stigmas against male dancers. Before the internet, a person would have to be able to afford to attend a ballet performance in person to learn more about the art form, but now there are thousands of videos of dancers available online.
“People being able to look at these fantastic dancers -- these fantastic male dancers -- soaring through the air and being light and graceful and performing and moving audiences, I think that’s really inspired a lot of people,” Alexander said.
Staines also credited NBS’s community initiatives for public school kids with “bringing the joy and benefits of dance to many more Canadians.”
When asked if the school was happy to see an increase in boys expressing interest in ballet, Staines replied with a smiley face emoji and asked “is this a trick question?”
She said that historical moments such as the gender split of this graduating class show that “ballet is being embraced and celebrated as a dynamic 21st century language for all.”
The artistic staff of the NBS will be launching into their tour around the country for auditions in October, the school said. They will travel to 20 cities across Canada to audition students currently in Grade 5 for the school.
Students who are successful in the initial audition will receive an invitation to a four-week intensive summer program as phase two of their audition. The auditions kick off on Oct. 20 in Vancouver, B.C.
“I encourage all boys to do ballet,” Alexander said.
And he’s not afraid that more boys doing ballet could lead to more competition for him.
“The more the merrier. I still think it’ll be competitive, which it is, but if you have the determination and perseverance, I’m sure you’ll go far.”