In the original, British version of the ballet tale “Billy Elliot,” an 11-year-old perseveres with his dream of dancing despite the derision of his coal miner father and older brother.
Israeli ballet dancer Arnon Herring, 15, is living out his own version of the “Billy Elliot” dream.
Herring was recently accepted to study at the Royal Ballet School in London. He only began dancing when he was 12 years old.
Herring never had to deal with any kind of bullying. But like the Billy Elliot character he once played onstage, he initially shunned theater and dance because he thought the kids in his class would make fun of him.
“I saw that all the kids were playing soccer, so I went to do that,” said Herring. “I didn’t love it. But I didn’t have the courage to do what I wanted to do.”
At the age of 12, he saw an advertisement for a performance of the musical “Cats” and asked his mother to buy him a ticket.
“It was amazing and I told my mother right away that I wanted to dance. I didn’t care anymore what anyone would say,” said Herring.
He began attending ballet class in his hometown of Shoham a couple of times a week. Within a few months he saw that a local production company was putting on “Billy Elliot” in Hebrew, auditioning boys for the main role.
“I didn’t have much experience at all,” said Herring, “but I went to audition and I got the role.”
He spent a year rehearsing and in seventh grade he performed in “Billy Elliot” all over Israel. Herring’s parents quickly realized that twice-a-week ballet classes weren’t going to suffice and transferred him to Ironi Aleph, a public arts school in Tel Aviv. Within another year, they moved the entire family to Tel Aviv after seeing how tough the commute was on Herring.
Arnon also began private ballet classes with Rose Kassel, a top ballet instructor who took him under her wing.
But it was a trip to South Korea for an international ballet competition that changed Herring’s life.
He won third place and one of the other coaches said to Kassel that Herring needed to attend a professional school in Europe.
“He’s still young,” said Kassel to the other coach, according to Herring.
The school that was suggested was London’s Royal Ballet School, considered a center for classical ballet training.
“My parents didn’t really believe it was possible in such a short time,” said Herring. “It’s crazy, but it happens.”
Despite their disbelief, the family sent an audition video in order to save money on flights, and waited a month to receive a long letter that congratulated Herring on passing the first hurdle of auditions.
A few days later, Herring and his father went to London for the second stage of the auditions, which included physiotherapy, a personal interview, a written exam and a long ballet lesson.
After returning home, Herring received a letter written in “very royal, posh English” saying the Royal Ballet School could see a future for Arnon Herring in its august surroundings.
“I yelled and jumped so much,” he recalled.
Herring was one of two students to be accepted out of 230 in this round of auditions.
He’s still in shock, and said he dreams every night about missing his parents or not being good enough for the academy.
School begins on September 1, but now Herring has to figure out how to pay for the boarding school, which costs some NIS 175,000 (£35,000) annually. There are government grants for British citizens, but not for foreign students like Herring.
He and his parents set up a Facebook page to raise funds for his tuition, setting their sights for this once-in-a-lifetime educational opportunity, where he’ll train to become a professional dancer, in a class of just a dozen kids his age.
“They develop our artistic selves,” said Herring, describing the days spent swimming to lengthen muscles, studying math and science as well as theater, music and drawing, followed by hours of ballet practice in the afternoons and evenings.
“I literally can’t wait,” he said.