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EDITIONS
 Wednesday, 27 September, 2000, 12:26 GMT 13:26 UK
Who wants to be a boy dancer?
Darshan Singh Bhuller [Photo: Anthony Crickmay]
Darshan Singh Bhuller now works for Sadler's Wells
Billy Elliot, a film about a young northern lad who dreams of becoming a dancer, is tipped to be the hit of the year. But how true to life is it? Darshan Singh Bhuller, a real-life Billy Elliot, reflects.

I started dancing as a boy of 12 at a comprehensive middle school in Leeds.

It was described as dance-drama on the timetable and it was compulsory for everybody to do it.

Most of the people in the class were on the football team - and I was the captain

Until then, it hadn't even crossed my mind that dance existed, except in the films my parents used to take me to at a young age in India.

There was never any stigma about boys dancing at the school - quite the opposite actually, because the teacher [Nadine Senior, who went on to found the Northern School of Contemporary Dance] managed to get most of the boys interested.

She really inspired us and touched our imaginations. She never taught us technique; it was all creative work.

Billy Elliot
Jamie Bell as wannabe dancer Billy Elliot
We didn't run through any of those prejudices of males teasing each other because most of the people in the class were on the football team - and I was the captain of the side.

You have to realise the school had a large population of Asian and West Indian people, and we didn't care about such perceptions. We didn't realise how special and unusual our classes were until years later.

My friends on the streets who went to other schools all knew I danced and they thought it was cool.

Even if they had tried to call us namby-pamby dancers, we would have been able to take care of ourselves quite comfortably because most of us studied martial arts.

Family life

My mother and father are both Indian, from a very traditional Punjabi Indian background, and I was born over there. We emigrated when I was very young - five or six years old.

Ballet
Tights and tutus put off many a young lad
Once in Leeds, my father worked on the building sites, my mother worked as a machinist in the sweatshops.

I wasn't taken to any dance classes outside school - my parents didn't move in those circles.

I'm the eldest of five, and none of the other kids took up dance after me - I was the first and only and last. I don't think our family holds any artistic aspirations, not even in India in any of the extended family.

When I started dancing, it didn't bother my parents too much - I was just 12 and still having fun at school.

They became a little concerned when I was accepted for the London School of Contemporary Dance.

But who wouldn't be? Dancing is such an unstable profession and the pitfalls are huge if you don't make it. But they were encouraging, and obviously very proud.

If they had tried to call us namby-pamby dancers, we would have been able to take care of ourselves

I trained for two and a half years then joined the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, which was attached to the school.

I started choreographing almost as soon as I joined the company. I did a piece in a dancers' workshop; the director really liked it and he put it in the repertory.

So suddenly I became a professional choreographer at age 18 - I'm now nearly 40.

Since giving up dancing about four years ago due to injury, I've got back into football.

Because I wasn't allowed to do it when I was a dancer, I've had to re-learn how to play. Now I'm down in the park every weekend.


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"Most of the hype is falling on the young star's shoulders"


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