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Last Updated: Wednesday, 19 July 2006, 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK
Ballet brothers keep it in the family
By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News

The brothers limber up together at the Royal Ballet School

An 11-year-old boy is set to become the fourth brother in his family to join the Royal Ballet School. The family explains how the youngsters came to excel in ballet.

Any references to Billy Elliott are greeted with a sigh of resignation and theatrical roll of the eyes by members of the Clarke family, who hail from Airdrie in North Lanarkshire.

They have heard it all before.

Ross Clarke, 23, a graduate of the Royal Ballet School (RBS), started what has become something of a family tradition.

Now an established dancer in the US, he began attending ballet classes at the age of four.

His stint with the Ballet Arizona is the latest in a string of jobs with various companies, which has seen him work in Pittsburgh, in the US, as well as Portugal and London.

His three younger brothers have since followed in his footsteps by gaining admission to the school.

Ross says he and his brothers began dancing as a casual pastime, in addition to a variety of other hobbies.

Russell Clarke
I don't know what the ladies think about us wearing leotards
Russell Clarke

Each of them attended a weekly class after school at the house of a ballet teacher who lived near their family home.

"The teacher thought I had some talent and one thing led to another. We weren't forced to do this, we just enjoy dancing. Our parents have been behind us from the start," says Ross.

And the eldest brother says his efforts as a youngster have paid off by enabling him to pursue his passion - although he is quick to admit that the life of a professional ballet dancer can be demanding.

"I love performing, it's the best thing about what I do. We rehearse for weeks, so when we pull it off on stage it is very rewarding.

"Training for hours and hours can be tedious, but it is worth it on stage."

His sentiments are echoed by 18-year-old Russell, who currently attends the upper school at the RBS and is due to graduate next year.

He is keen to follow in his brother's footsteps and says he would like to work with a company in Germany.

Reece Clarke
Reece Clarke will be admitted to the school in September

And 11-year-old Reece will become the latest Clarke family member to study dance at the school when he begins classes in September.

Both he and Ryan, 12, freely admit they have been influenced by the success of their older siblings.

"I definitely look up to my big brothers," says Ryan, who attends the RBS's lower school.

"I started dancing because it looked like a lot of fun - and it has been.

"Sometimes they give me advice when I find something is difficult, and that's really helpful."

Ryan has been rewarded with a busy schedule which has seen him perform at Buckingham Palace and dance in Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker this year alone.

But they all admit that pursuing a passion for a form of dance that is often deemed effeminate by their peers has not been easy.

Ballet bullying

"When I was younger, people used to laugh and make jokes, but no-one was ever violent and it was never serious," says Russell, as the younger boys nod in agreement.

"To be honest, they only acted like that because they didn't understand ballet and didn't know anything about it."

The brothers agree that their wide variety of hobbies, which include more stereotypically male pastimes - such as football and karate - lessened the effects of jokes made at their expense.

And it is the turn of Russell's older brother to nod in agreement when the 18-year-old points out that being an accomplished ballet dancer brings more benefits with increasing age - helping his love life, rather than hindering it.

Ann Clarke
Ann Clarke said there was no history of ballet in the family

"Ballet has meant that I'm always comfortable around girls. All my girlfriends have been dancers - but I don't know what the ladies think about us wearing leotards!"

Their mother, Ann, brims with joy when talking about her boys.

"I'm very proud of each of them," says Mrs Clarke, 45, a full-time mother.

"They're all very talented and just had an appetite for dance, which I supported," she adds, pointing out that there was no history of ballet in the family and no pressure to pursue a dance career.

"They're very active. They all played football, went swimming, attended boys' brigade and did karate. They had a lot of hobbies, but they chose to dance because they excelled at it and were happy doing it."

It's always nice to know you have a Clarke in the college because they are lovely kids
Amanda Moxey
Royal Ballet School

"It is emotional seeing them on stage because I know how hard they've worked to get there. I know how much it means to them to be there."

And their talents have not gone unnoticed by the RBS.

"We have had brothers and sisters, but to have so many from one family through the school is unusual, but very exciting," says Amanda Moxey, the school's communications and marketing manager.

"It's always nice to know you have a Clarke in the college because they are lovely kids."

And what do the brothers really think of the film that everyone associates with them?

"To be fair, Billy Elliott is a good film," says Russell.

"It's particularly good if it has encouraged young boys to take up dancing.

"But I can't really relate to it. And I suppose it'd be nice if people didn't bring it up all the time - but that's life."

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