Every year we need to raise £90,000 to pay for our Dance Track initiative which works with 40 primary schools and more than 2,500 children. From this pool Birmingham Royal Ballet identifies those with the potential to be the ballet stars of the future and provides a free two-year training programme of ballet training and mentorship to enable children to win places at the most prestigious ballet schools in the country. Among many, our donors have helped transform the life of a child from Cannon Hill. Jakob is a ten-year-old Dance Track participant who has appeared on stage with the Company in The Nutcracker. Here, we speak to him and his mum, Jacqueline.
‘When Dance Track first came to our school I took to it straight away’, says Jakob. His mum explains, ‘Music was always playing in the house when he was growing up. He plays the violin and the recorder so in many ways I suppose ballet was a natural step. Ballet has helped him to become more focused and disciplined. We’ve just come from an audition for Elmhurst [School for Dance] actually’. Jakob elaborates on his experience: ‘I was nervous at first but I enjoyed it’, he says.
Jakob and Jacqueline are from Cannon Hill, an area she says is, ‘not known for its ballet dancers!’ Indeed this is the purpose of Dance Track – to give young people access to ballet where they wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity. We enhance the confidence, communication skills and creativity of participants through schools’ workshops, and we continue to work with those who display a particular talent in preparing them for auditions at the best ballet schools in the country – Elmhurst School for Dance and the Royal Ballet School.
Jakob has enjoyed participating in Dance Track classes with our Department for Learning over the last three years, but this year he was able to perform with the Company, when he was cast as one of the children in The Nutcracker. ‘It was scary at first but I got used to it. And after I’d gotten used to it, we performed at The O2 and it started all over again! It was quite different from class. I had to know where to stand and how to dance with props. I got on really well with Brandon Lawrence and Kristen McGarrity. They made me feel less nervous and we had a lot of fun’.
Jacqueline admits that sometimes she was more nervous than her son. ‘I was so proud, but I didn’t want him to know when I was coming to a performance. I wanted him to focus on the job in hand rather than looking out into the audience and trying to find me! He had the opportunity to perform in front of 7,000 people every night at The O2. Training doesn’t get much better than that. I am so pleased that funding from Birmingham Royal Ballet supporters has given us this opportunity, and prepared Jakob so well for his dream of securing a scholarship at ballet school, and the next step of his fledgling career.’ ‘I want to be a dancer. Definitely!’ says Jakob emphatically, and with that he’s off to another class.