How a dancer from Penrith pirouetted his way into a prestigious ballet school

  • Video report by Lauren Ostridge


A young dancer, from Penrith, whose perfect pirouettes earned him a place in one of the world's top ballet schools, says the Covid-19 pandemic hasn't dampened his spirits.

Toby Walker, 11, is one of a select few who has been accepted to study at the Royal Ballet School in London. Thousands of children from across the globe battle for a place every year  - but only a select few are accepted to the Royal Ballet School in London. 

Not only is he one of just 26 in his class, he is the only young ballet dancer from the north of England to gain a place in the prestigious school this year.

Toby will join the prestigious school in September. Credit: PA

But, like all things, lockdown meant face-to-face learning was brought to a halt. But Toby thought life without ballet would be pretty pointless.

His ballet school, Eden Dance, set up virtual classes to make sure their students never missed a step. Toby has had to get used to working from his home in Penrith via zoom calls.

He said: "Well, it's been stressful and it's been good because I've been doing more dance classes than what I would've been doing through Zoom.

"It was also like a new experience being at home and spending time with my mum and my dad and my brother."

I think there needs to more of a focus on the fact that it's ok for boys to do ballet.

Kelly McClelland
Credit: ITV News

Kelly McClellen, from Eden Dance, has been Toby's teacher for more than five years and has watched him progress into a talented young dancer.

Since she started teaching, Kelly has been passionate about breaking the stigma surrounding male ballet dancers, by encouraging boys from all rural areas to get involved.

She says: "I have around 30 boys in my school now - not all of them study ballet -they mostly study contemporary. But I think there needs to more of a focus on the fact that it's ok for boys to do ballet.

"They are like athletes. By the time they reach 18, in their peak physical condition, what their bodies can do is similar to what an athlete can do.

"And it's taking that stigma away of it being girly and it's really not. I would encourage all the dads out there to do a plié, because I think for male dancers, it's a real tricky thing to go into ballet.

"I think the fact that he's from where he's from, in this rural community, going off to do ballet shows a real strength of character."

And always watching on from the sidelines is mum Alison, who says lockdown has only strengthened Toby's ambition. She said: "This has been his ultimate dream, or his ultimate goal, if you like, is to get into the Royal Ballet School in London. And he's achieved that, so we couldn't be prouder."

Toby will make his way to London in a few weeks time, to take his place at the Royal Ballet Junior School. And, with a little bit of hard work, this talented young dancer could soon have the ballet world at his feet.