WRITING + VIDEO: Boys getting in step with ballet

Billy Elliott
Billy Elliott

By Shelby Reynolds
The Wichita Eagle
July 3, 2015

When he’s not wearing a camo hat, muddied blue jeans and worn boots, Maylon Tibbets wears tights and ballet shoes.

A native of Newton, Tibbets, 17, said he can relate to the star character of the 2000 film “Billy Elliot,” who traded his boxing gloves for ballet shoes despite his family’s disapproval.

Toward the end of the movie, Billy’s family watches him dance for the first time.

“He does his leap and the dad and brother are like, ‘Whoa, what happened?’” Tibbets said. “That’s cool because as a young guy … dancing wasn’t always the cool thing to do. When you can impress two working men with your ability, that’s cool.

“I can relate to that, too, because I’m from the farming community, the working community. That was cool to me.”

When most people think of ballet, they think of women in pink tutus, but dance teachers in Wichita say boys are a “treasured commodity” in the studio. And movies like “Billy Elliot” are making dance more interesting to boys. The stage version of the hit movie is making its way to Wichita for the first time. Music Theatre Wichita’s production of the Tony-winning “Billy Elliot the Musical” begins Wednesday and runs through July 12.

Jill Landrith, artistic director of Ballet Wichita, said anytime a movie or show showcases ballet, there’s an uptick in interest. “This cultural influence reminds everyone that, ‘Oh yeah, this is hard work,’ but as opposed to being on the football field getting beat up, you’re in front of applauding people with spotlights on you,” Landrith said.

Landrith said about 90 percent of her students are women.

Although Tibbets never started as a boxer like Billy, he and his three siblings grew up on a farm outside Newton. Tibbets also has his own contracting company that does landscaping, home repair and other “handyman” type jobs, he said. The flexible hours allow him to dance about 25 hours a week.

Unlike 11-year-old Billy Elliot, Tibbets said he’s never dealt with any harassment from friends or family.

“People were always surprised because when I’m not (in the studio), I put back on my jeans and work boots and go back to work,” he said. “Whenever I tell people ‘I do ballet, that’s why I have to leave early,’ they always take a double take … and their response is ‘that’s interesting.’”

After watching a theater performance of “Cinderella,” Tibbets got into dance when he was 5 years old. At 14, his dancing became more serious when he joined Rogers Ballet Inc., which is owned by Sharon Rogers, associate professor of ballet and regisseur for Friends University. Rogers is Tibbets’ second mom, he said.

Ballet “is a constant challenge,” Tibbets said. “You can never perfect it. There’s always something you can work on. … It’s not just lifting weights and constant brute strength. There’s an emotional side to it as well.”

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