Modest, a little tongue-tied at times and thinking a lot about his looming GCSEs, Joe Vaughan wouldn’t stand out from a regular group of teenagers.
But put him beside the ballet school barre and he shows a level of grit and determination that is extraordinary.
Joe has impressed teachers at his Portsmouth dance school with his incredible focus and stamina as he combines graceful lines and technical skill with athletic strength.
And the 15-year-old is already reaping the success of his hard work, having landed a place at London’s prestigious Central School of Ballet.
‘When Joe is working on something particularly difficult at the barre, he works to the point where his muscles will judder, and we’ve never asked him to do that. No-one else does it,’ says Catherine Ingram, principal of Giselle Academy of Dance and Theatre Arts in North End. ‘You can see the absolute determination, the sheer ‘‘I’m going to do this’’.’
It’s this kind of attitude that has taken Joe from a five-year-old starting out at the Portsmouth academy to a senior associate of the Royal Ballet School and now a future student at Central.
Amazing as it may seem, the Portsmouth teenager’s iron-will is necessary for success in the tough world of tights, tutus, pointes and pirouettes, where only the elite dance their way to professional careers.
But that doesn’t stop thousands of youngsters dreaming of becoming swans and princes as they form their graceful lines and attempt impressive leaps in Portsmouth’s many dance schools.
For some the dreams are coming true. Twenty-year-old Samantha Bosshardt, who took up ballet at Southsea School of Dancing when she was four, is dancing with the London-based Vienna Festival Ballet.
She has been touring the UK, performing in Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker and Coppélia.
Joe’s future looks promising. The Miltoncross school pupil is studying for his GCSEs and will be heading to Central in September, studying ballet, contemporary dance and A-levels among the elite of the dance world.
‘It didn’t quite register when I found out,’ he says. ‘I don’t think it has now. But it’s really exciting, as well as a bit scary. I’ll be leaving home but usually the people you meet in ballet are really nice. We all seem to get on really well.’
Joe isn’t likely to feel out of his depth as he has already had his performance mettle tested on one of the world’s grandest stages.
He was a mid-associate and is now a senior-associate of the Royal Ballet School and from there was selected by the Royal Ballet to appear in their production of The Prince of the Pagodas.
Playing a page to an eastern king, he performed a dance with other boys – and made his family and teachers in the Royal Opera House audience unbelievably proud.
‘It was amazing. I’d seen ballets there and always dreamed that I’d be on that stage. But you don’t really think it will happen,’ says Joe.
The talented youngster has also appeared on cinema screens across the country in Matthew Bourne’s filmed stage production of Swan Lake.
‘It was a very proud moment. I was thinking ‘‘he’s been with us from five years old and there he is up on the screen looking like a professional,’’ says Catherine.
Another Giselle pupil, Amanda Bishop, is also showing plenty of promise. She has successfully auditioned for Doreen Bird College in south east London, where she will study performing arts including ballet.
A very proud Catherine explains why in a world of hip-hop and street dance, youngsters still have their imaginations sparked by dream roles like Odette/Odile in Swan Lake.
‘I think it’s simply because it’s so beautiful, but also technically unattainable. Only the absolute elite will make it. But it doesn’t mean it’s particularly traumatic when children realise they might not become a ballerina.
‘It has everything really, it’s controlled but expressive. A ballet tells a story and you’re required to act as well as dance. And you can just lose yourself in that wonderful music.’
At her school there are about 12 boys attending ballet classes and striving for their dancing dreams. Giselle Academy runs a boys’ ballet initiative, working with ex Royal Ballet principal Richard Slaughter.
‘I think if it wasn’t for the attitude of some parents and other people, we’d probably have a lot more,’ says Catherine.
‘They want to do it, they’re just not allowed to want to do it.’
Joe’s achievements are already something to which other boys aspire. But determination isn’t enough and he also has plenty of talent.
‘Joe will do big jumps and yet be so quiet when he lands, you don’t get these big thuds,’ says Catherine.
Of course not everyone will make it but all the school’s students take a great deal from their classes.
‘It’s great for posture, fitness and self-discipline and ballet is the basis of other dances,‘ says Catherine.
‘When I was younger I used to think about how some people go their whole lives without leaping across a room, and then practising and turning it into something spectacular.
‘It’s such a wonderful feeling.’
CONTROLLED BUT BEAUTIFUL - BALLET IS AMANDA’S FIRST LOVE
Amanda Bishop has dreamed of being a professional dancer since she was a tiny ballerina practising her ‘good toes and naughty toes’.
So it’s no wonder she burst into tears when she landed a place at the prestigious Doreen Bird College of Performing Arts in south east London.
Thousands audition for the school every year and only about 100 get in. It has a history of feeding students into West End and Broadway theatre, dance companies, television and film.
Amanda, 15, studies several forms of dance at Portsmouth’s Giselle Academy but says ballet is her first love. ‘It’s just so controlled but beautiful and you can really lose yourself in the music.’
But she’s flexible about her future and says she’ll be thrilled with a stage career in other forms of dance if she can’t make it as a ballet professional.
‘It is so tough, you have to be immensely amazing,’ she says, preparing for a possible alternative, even though she has shown considerable talent and skill. Amanda has achieved distinctions in her Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing ballet exams.
The Portsmouth teenager has had plenty to overcome since her first dance classes at the age of two and a half. As a youngster she had asthma, which made her very ill at times. But she says the controlled breathing used in dancing has helped with her condition. She has now grown out of it.
Catherine Ingram, principal of the Giselle Academy, believes Amanda has what it takes to do well.
‘She’s very focused and competitive, she wants to be the best, and you need that. Amanda has to have her legs higher than everyone else’s, but she’ll also be the first to congratulate someone else for doing well.’
SCHOOL OF DANCE
Giselle Academy of Dance and Theatre Arts has been offering dance, drama, singing and music lessons in Portsmouth since 1989.
Children from 18 months can join the Twinkle Toes class and the school also trains teachers and welcomes adults.
Pupils range from those who want to dance for fun and fitness to dancers who want to train and take exams.
Giselle Academy pupils are keen to show the local community their dance, drama and music skills. They perform regularly at charity events, fetes, garden parties and talent shows.
Every two years the school presents a show at the Kings Theatre, Southsea, where every pupil is involved.
There are also dance and drama summer schools available for children and young people aged from five to 21.
For information visit giselledance.co.uk or call (023) 9269 9988.