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Tuesday, 16 January, 2001, 18:02 GMT
Royal Ballet seeks Billy Elliots
Royal Ballet teacher with class
Royal Ballet hopes to counter ballet's elitist image
The plot of the hit film Billy Elliot is being lived out in London. As the BBC's Riz Lateef reports, a Royal Ballet project to provide free dance tuition for inner-city children is a runaway success.

Marianela Nunez has just taken over the lead role from Darcey Bussell in The Nutcracker, currently showing at Covent Garden's Royal Opera House.

She took the conventional route by taking dance lessons from the age of three and has risen to become one of ballet's brightest young stars.

Ballet has often been criticised for being elitist and inaccessible to anybody outside this system.

But the Royal Ballet is looking to widen its net to attract ballet dancers of the future, aided by films like Billy Elliot which break down stereotypes.

In the film, a working class boy disobeys his traditional-minded father to take up ballet dancing.

pupil at a Royal Ballet class
A Ballet star of the future in the making
Darryll Jaffray, director of education and access at the Royal Ballet, runs a scholarship project called Chance to Dance aimed at children from different economic and ethnic backgrounds.

She said: "From the very first instance we want them to experience dance, to find the confidence that comes from developing physical skills, control, developing creativity, and working as part of a team."

The scheme offers free weekly ballet classes and kit to children from 50 schools in the London Boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark, Hammersmith and Fulham.

We want them to experience dance to find the confidence that comes from developing physical skills, control, developing creativity and working as part of a team

Darryll Jaffray, Royal Ballet

Some of the children and parents had never seen ballet before dancers arrived in their schools to give a demonstration.

One class full of seven year olds at the Marcus Lipton centre in Brixton is typical, in that there are more boys than girls.

As with all the classes, the children are lucky enough to be taught by professional ballet dancers Katie Walker and Patrick Lewis.

Even though the children are young Katie believes there is much for them to learn.

"We try to instil a love of dance and an enjoyment of movement.

Jamie Bell
Actor Jamie Bell who played Billy Eliot is an inspiration
"And within that comes posture, and things that they would need to do as a ballet dancer - how to stretch, work their feet, how to work their bodies and understand what they're doing and why they're doing it."

The children are certainly enthusiastic about the class.

The confidence the children have is evident and when asked what they wanted to be when they grow up, a number of them said "a ballet dancer".

Chance to Dance is bringing ballet to a wider audience and aims to show that it can be for everybody to enjoy.

Of course, the project aims to discover stars of the future for the Royal Ballet but in doing so, it is also helping to shed its elitist image.

See also:

04 Jan 01 | Entertainment
London critics back Billy
26 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Film boss defends Elliot decision
16 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Ballet's 50th birthday gala
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