Hoping that ballet for boys takes off

By Maria Prato-Gaines
   CRANBURY — From the backside of the Princeton Ballet School, the chiming of classical music invaded the Monday night’s crisp, cool air.
   A pair of young students remained poised at the barre with eyes trained on their mirrored reflections. As the instructor trotted over, the boys stiffened their backs, puffed out their chests and gathered the energy to endure a single ballet class.
   ”One ballet class is equal to the exertion of a football game,” ballet instructor Edward Urwin said following the session.
   For the first time in years, the Princeton Ballet School has reinstated its all-male boys’ ballet class.
   Mr. Urwin only has three students at present, but the dozen-or-so boys taking the same class at the businesses’ Princeton location is a promising trend that the school hopes will soon spread to Cranbury.
   Not a tutu, a trace of pink or a ballerina’s pointe shoe were anywhere in sight as 10-year-old Dakota Graham and 5-year-old David Montgomerie leaped and twirled, pushing their increasingly fatigued bodies until the last minute of the hour-long session passed.
   Mr. Urwin said that for girls, role-playing may be routine for class, but athleticism is a key factor for boys and his students are no stranger to push-ups.
   ”I think with girls, they can be very focused on themselves,” he said. “With guys it’s about competition.”
   Testosterone was definitely in the mix as the two boys rambunctiously romped around the room, high-fiving Mr. Urwin after a good jump routine and sliding into the corners of the rooms like they were aiming for home base after a skip across the floor.
   The feminine stigma that’s sometimes placed on male ballet dancers is not only undeserved Mr. Urwin said, but quite contrary to the true art of the dance.
   ”With guys it’s about jumping and turning and a huge component is partnering, which is about flipping girls over your head,” he said.
   A former student of the Princeton Ballet School, at 19 years old Mr. Urwin’s driving ambition and slender physique makes him a good mentor for up-and-coming male ballet dancers.
   Mr. Urwin said tuning out all the teasing and taunting by high school bullies was no easy task, but now he’s living his dream of teaching students on the weekdays and auditioning for New York ballet companies on the weekends.
   ”Once I fell in love with the art form, it really didn’t matter,” he said. “With ballet you really have to love it to stick with it. For now I think teaching is great, it’s good to give back.”
   As for his students, when it comes to taking ballet they have their own agendas.
   Dakota’s mother, Lee Graham, said her son’s dancing feet follow him wherever he goes and that ballet is just one of the stepping stones dancers have to take to become well-rounded.
   ”He dances in front of the mirror and the TV,” Ms. Graham said. “He needs ballet to strengthen his legs.”
   Dakota agreed and said dancing just comes natural to him.
   ”I’ve just got the talent,” he said.
   Jean Montgomerie, David’s mother, said her son is taking the class because it is a tradition in certain cultures and nothing could have made his Russian godmother happier.
   But what started as just a hobby is now spilling over into David’s daily life, she said.
   ”He plays soccer and I notice him running and doing a pirouette,” she said.
   A newcomer to the local dancing scene, Ms. Montgomerie said she feels very fortunate to have stumbled onto Princeton Ballet School’s Web site and to have her son dancing at such a reputable establishment.
   ”Only the best will do and that’s why we come here,” she said.
   Mr. Urwin said having a male instructor teaching an all-boys class gives his students an advantage, as their love for the art is nurtured by those who can demonstrating the proper technique.
   "You will probably need, at some point in your career, to have a guy teacher,” he said. “But it’s hard to find guys who are interested in Cranbury. Hopefully (the class) will grow.”
   The Princeton Ballet School in Cranbury offers three levels of classes for boys and men starting with the young boys’ class from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Mondays; the young men’s class from 4:45 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. on Tuesdays; and the advanced men’s class from 6:15 p.m. to 7:45 p.m. on Tuesdays.
   For more information contact the school at 609-921-7758 or log onto www.arballet.org.