Male dancers hope to instill faith in aspiring young men

thumb 0Photo courtesy of Paul McGarth

Notes play from the piano — cues for the nascent dancers who are dressed in tight leotards and pale pink slippers.

Pre-pubescent ballerinas, with their hair tied back in tight buns, listen intently to the instruction on relevés.

 Part of the group, but towering over these dancers is 19-year-old Moses Asher Christen.

DSC 0031-1Male contemporary-jazz dancer, Moses Asher Christen, works with performers from Ember Dance Company.

Photo by Bre Brezinski

“I had to start at the bottom… So I did ballet, this 19-year-old guy, with eight and nine year old girls.”

Now almost 10 years later, Christen is a Vancouver-based dancer, focusing in contemporary-jazz.

Christen’s hard work and training paid off when he was accepted onto the TV show, So You Think You Can Dance Canada’s final season in 2011.

Breaking stereotypes

Being a male in a female-based industry was hard at first for Christen. But he thinks that the industry is heading in the right direction with more and more males becoming great role models.

Among those role models is local male dancer, Kelley McKinlay, 29.

McKinlay started dancing at a young age and has now become one of Alberta Ballet’s most prominent males.

“You do it because you love it, not because everyone else loves it,” McKinlay says.

While growing up in Fort Saskatchewan, McKinlay says he dealt with his fair share of bullying because he was a dancer.

“It’s a big hockey town, and naturally it’s inevitable that you will get bullied slightly. But I never let it bother me,” McKinlay says.

“I was just as athletic as these hockey players were. They made fun of me all they wanted, but as soon as we got into the gym to do a sport or something I was right up there with them, if not challenging them or being better at it.”

Now on his 11th season with Alberta Ballet, McKinlay says he doesn’t let the stereotype “of wearing tights for a living and being gay,” affect his life.

McKinlay says that when it comes to male dancers, most people don’t realize how strong and athletic they are.

Hoping to follow in McKinlay’s footsteps is 17-year-old dancer Jonathan Dick.

Dick moved from Mississauga, Ont. to further his dance education because he felt the School of Alberta Ballet is “Western Canada’s leading dance institution.”

“I went to the studio back home, tried a couple classes and I kind of fell in love with it,” Dick says.

Even with the long hours of training and painful injuries associated with a dance career, Christen, McKinlay and Dick never let the opinions of others get in the way of their dreams.

A passion for dance

“I think there are a lot of misconceptions towards male dancers but I don’t think a lot of male dancers let it affect them because once you love something you don’t let someone else get in the way of that,” Dick says.

DSC 0044-1Moses Asher Christen counts out the instructions to dancers while in rehearsal for an upcoming performance.

Photo by Bre BrezinskiIn regards to following his own love, Christen dropped out of university to start dancing.

At first his family was shocked, he says, because he had been raised with the mentality that education was the way to go.

Even so, Christen decided to try and pursue dancing after he participated in a fundraiser for a friend where he copied Julia Stiles’ audition segment from the movie Save The Last Dance.

At the time Christen thought that he was just having fun, but was told after the show by friends and other dancers that he could have a career in the field.

He started thinking of trying the idea and after years of hard work was lucky to find his true calling, he says.

Throughout the years Christen has travelled around Canada taking classes and hosting workshops for other aspiring dancers.

By teaching workshops and classes Christen says his goal is to “tell every young individual that your dreams will come true.”

A piece that Christen has choreographed for local Ember Dance Company can be watched at the company’s show In Transit on May 10 and 11 at the Wright Theatre at Mount Royal University.

McKinlay and the Alberta Ballet will be preforming Balletlujah May 8-11 at the Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium.

Editor’s note: Thumbnail photo courtesy of Paul McGrath

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