The hit musical, “Billy Elliot,” tells the story of a British coal miner’s son who dreams of being a ballet dancer.
Billy has to keep that dream secret from from his family and most of his friends, or risk their ridicule. Thirteen-year-old Seattle resident Philipp Mergener can relate.
“I used to get a lot of teasing that I was a dancer,” he says. His school friends taunted him: “that I had a tutu on, that I was a little girlish dancer.”
Ballet studios around the country enroll many more girls than boys. About five times more girls than boys take class at Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet School, where Mergener’s been a student for nine years.
Despite the skepticism outside PNB, training with girls hasn't been a problem for this middle school student.
“It felt just fun moving with other people. I had no care if they were a different gender,” he says.
Mergener started dancing at the age of four; he followed his older sister into a class at PNB and loved it. Like many little boys, Mergener also played sports. But if you’re serious about ballet, at some point you have to commit to it.
“I started playing baseball at a young age,” Mergener recalls. “And there came a point where baseball’s schedule conflicted with ballet.”
He chose ballet, and he's never regretted it.
Now, Mergener takes class six days a week. Most weekday evenings he doesn’t get home until 8 p.m., and he still has homework to complete.
When you ask what he does to relax, Mergener’s answer is short and sweet: “Sleep!”
This summer Mergener was one of the boys cast in the Village Theatre production of "Billy Elliot." He had to learn acrobatics, tap and a British accent.
He loved the experience. In particular, Mergener could relate to Billy's hidden desire to audition for London's acclaimed Royal Ballet company.
“My biggest dream is to go to New York City Ballet and dance on the big stage!”
If the fictional Billy Elliot could make that dream come true, Mergener bets he can too.