Class: Boys are being encouraged to consider ballet as a form of expression and exercise. Anne Slattery

In a professional ballet company the strong male ballet dancer is every bit as important as the dazzling ballerina, which is why the Westside School of Ballet is encouraging boys to step into the spotlight.

Their small yet mighty team of male ballet dancers train tirelessly and have achieved high levels of athleticism, pre-professional experience and friendship. Now the school is calling more boys to try on some slippers and discover the joy and freedom of dance.

“As a guest artist and now teacher at Westside Ballet, I have observed Westside dancers such as SaMo Freshmen Sawyer Jordan and Dylan Weinstein grow and evolve from young boys into youthful male dancers,” said boys program teacher Evan Swenson. “Their tenacity to improve and flourish is a testament to their dedication and impeccable work ethic when in class. Now, these young gentlemen lead the way, in the studio and on stage, for a younger generation of male dancers at Westside.”

The school offers boys only and co-ed classes and trains students with the rigor of a pre-professional environment, while also being welcoming for students with no previous experience.

The school recently announced a new line up of three divisions of boys only ballet classes that have open enrollment throughout January and February.

The introductory level classes take place on Sunday afternoon with Boys A, for dancers 5 to 7, followed by Boys B, for dancers 8 to 10. Boys C is for intermediate and advanced male dancers ages 12 to 18 and are taken in addition to co-ed classes.

“The Boys A & B program is designed to educate a strong foundation in the ballet technique and give these young men the freedom and opportunity to explore their interest and passion in dance,” said Swenson. “This openness and encouragement, mixed with a sharp focus on technique, etiquette, and performance, allows each young male dancer to find the joy of dance in and for themselves while building camaraderie and boosting self-confidence.”

Although the current boys program is small, it is also very tight-knit and was the place where many of the students first discussed their passion for dance.

“What I love about it is probably the feeling of having your legs be free because, you know, while you’re in public you can’t just swing your legs around willy nilly, but here in Westside you can, which is really nice,” said Heath Olvera, age 9, who has been dancing at Westside since he was 5. “It’s just so amazing how with the freedom of dancing you can do whatever you want.”

Olvera’s mother Kelly used to take Heath with her when she brought her daughter to ballet class and noticed that he couldn’t stand still when he heard the piano music, so decided to enroll him in classes as well. He fell in love with the classes as soon as he tried them out and Kelly is grateful for the lessons ballet has taught both of her children.

“They get lots of help with coordination when they’re younger. I’ve even talked to moms of other boys who took it and they were telling me about how much of a difference it made for playing ball sports,” said Kelly. “The performances really helped both of my kids with their sense of self confidence… and it teaches them hard work and that grit to get where you want to go.”

Boys ages 8 and up who attend a full schedule of co-ed classes are welcome to participate in the annual Nutcracker and spring performances where they get to perform on the Broad Stage in front of a live audience. This is a highlight for a lot of students and something they spend all year working towards.

“Ballet is like my Zen at the end of the day. It grounds me and even though it’s challenging, it’s calming at the same time,” said Christopher Toledo, age 11, who made his debut in this year’s performance of the Nutcracker.

Both Toledo and his sister take classes at the Westside and were extremely happy to be able to dance in-person while their school was remote.

“It’s extremely good for the development of any child and it gives them concentration in order to be disciplined and concentrate on other things including their school subjects,” said Toledo’s mother Virginia. “He’s taken to it nicely and it makes me happy that he also has found a love there.”

All boys are welcome to come try out the Westside classes and might particularly enjoy the program if they have a love of music and movement. More information is available at www.westsideballet.com/boys.

Clara@smdp.com