Calgary

Male dancers in high demand at Alberta Ballet School

The Alberta Ballet School has been actively recruiting male dancers for several years, and in the past year has doubled the number of male dancers over age 15, from 10 to 20.

Students recruited through scholarships, opportunity and reputation

Alberta Ballet's school is recruiting boys as they continue the fight against a longheld stigma. And it seems to be working, as enrolment doubled last year. 3:17

The Alberta Ballet School has been actively recruiting male dancers for several years, and in the past year has doubled the number of male dancers over age 15, from 10 to 20.

There are 55 dancers in total for this age category, making it a challenge to produce classic ballets such as Romeo and Juliet, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake — all famous for their pas de deux, which generally require a male lead for the ballerina.

"It is very important to increase the percentage of boys in school, said teacher Nathalie Nadeau-Hope. We have pas de deux classes, the girls need partners to dance."

For several years, the school has put a priority on recruiting boys, and has created a set of scholarships to that end.

  • Watch the video above to hear more from the dancers and instructors.

Every year, half of the dancers hired by the Alberta Ballet come from the Alberta Ballet School. It's a great marketing tool for the school to attract students.

"The idea that we can train in a vocational school and that then the company can come to see and employ these dancers, it is also a method that works very well to attract good candidates," said Jean Grand-Maître, artistic director of the Alberta Ballet. "The reputation of the school has also grown. Now we can attract students from all over the world."

Matt Bryce, 17, is one of 20 advanced dancers. He entered the school three years ago and has seen the number of boys increase.

Matt Bryce, 17, is one of 20 advanced dancers. He entered the school three years ago and hopes to pursue a career in dance. (Julie Préjet/CBC)

Bryce started dancing at a young age, when his twin sister got involved, and was quickly hooked. Now, he plans to make a career as a dancer. 

Next year, when he graduates, Bryce plans to apply to different companies and different programs.

Starting young

The school has invested heavily in courses for the youngest students, boys who are just three and four years old. Those classes are all male, so the fledgling male dancers do not find themselves alone in a sea of ballerinas. 

According to the director, it has helped increase the number of registrations.

These students may, in a few years, be candidates for the professional section.

"Often when young men realize how physical it is, what it requires not only athletically but also artistically, they are drawn to this art," said Grand-Maître.

Jean Grand-Maître, artistic director of the Alberta Ballet, says the reputation of the school has grown, allowing it to attract students from all over the world. (Julie Préjet/CBC)

Bryce describes it as a "collaborative art" rather than a sport, but a very physically challenging one.

Grand-Maitre points out that male dancers are always in demand. 

"If young people can see dance, theatre, music, they will understand that there may be jobs that they have never considered. And the rate at which men are hired to dance is also extremely high."

The Alberta Ballet School hopes that all of these new dancers will inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

With files from Émilie Vast