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Billy Elliot and the London riots

August 14, 2011

Yes, I manged to shoe-horn the London riots into an article for a local newspaper in Mexico:

Local Dancer Loving Life in London

London is burning. Cars, buses, homes and businesses have all been laid to waste. Flames illuminate the streets at night as police officers do battle with hundreds of frenzied looters intent on causing havoc.

The sudden violence that erupted in the English capital this week shocked a young Tapatio who recently returned from studying at London’s renowned Royal Ballet School. These images of wanton destruction could not jar more with 17-year-old dancer Esteban Hernandez’s perception of the city and its residents.

“I like London a lot. Everyone there has been so nice to me. They are all really well mannered and very polite.”  Not a description that would apply to the gangs of looters but certainly one that sums up the vast majority of resolute Londoners who are now working to clean and rebuild their torn communities.

At the height of the unrest Hernandez met with the Reporter to discuss life in London. His story is an overwhelmingly positive and inspiring one. It is more than a little reminiscent of the British film “Billy Elliot”: a young dancer fulfills his dream of attending the Royal Ballet School – “one of the best schools in the world.”

It almost didn’t happen for Hernandez. Having been accepted into the famous academy he found himself lacking the funds to pay for London’s expensive living costs. But after lodging an appeal in the Reporter last August, a generous reader from Ajijic offered to help him out.

“I met her for the first time at a show in Guadalajara last week,” he says of his American benefactor, who would rather remain anonymous. Hernandez says he will be eternally grateful  – “the money she has sent me, at times it has saved my life.”

The Guadalajara native has just completed the first of three years at the school in London. He says living in England has been “very different” and at times “difficult,” but he is enjoying it very much.

“Normally I wake up at 7.20 a.m., get ready and catch the train to Covent Garden, which takes about half an hour. I’m at school from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., taking dance and academic classes, six days a week.” It is a tiring routine, he admits. “On Sundays I rest and recover because the classes are very demanding both mentally and physically.”

These classes require a certain versatility, says Hernandez. “For a ballet dancer it is important that you can dance to anything. Not just classical, but jazz and contemporary music too, whatever you like.”

After passing their first year, Hernandez and his classmates “put on a week of shows in July at the Royal Opera House,” including a “big performance at the end of the week on the main stage.”

Hernandez is delighted to be fulfilling his long-held ambition. “When I was six years old I wanted to be a soccer player, but once I took my first dance class it was all I wanted to do,” he says. Yet in Mexico’s macho society this is not widely considered an acceptable aspiration for a boy.

“It’s difficult but luckily I was home-schooled, so I didn’t have to worry about what other people would think,” says Hernandez. “My parents have always helped and supported me,” he adds.

“People think ballet is only for girls, but it’s not true. Dancers have to take every step perfectly and it demands great physical strength. In this aspect it’s more difficult than almost any other sport,” he says. “People are curious but they are scared to go near ballet because of this machismo, but if someone sends out the message in a strong and convincing manner then I think this attitude can change.”

Back in Guadalajara for the summer, Hernandez performed last Thursday at the closing ceremony of the “Pirouetteando” (Pirouetting) summer school organized by his parents.

Hernandez belongs to a talented family, who seem to have ballet running through their veins. His father Hector Hernandez “organizes the summer school and gives classes along with a teacher from Russia and another Mexican jazz teacher,” while his elder brother Isaac is a dancer with the prestigious San Francisco Ballet.

Once he has finished school, Hernandez says “the idea is to join the Royal Ballet Company.” But if he decides to leave England, the Mexican “would like to live anywhere in Europe. In general there is a lot of culture there and a greater emphasis on the arts and ballet.”

Hernandez will be returning to enroll for his second year in the Royal Ballet School in September, by which time any disturbances in London will surely have long since passed.

Unfazed by this week’s events, Hernandez’s only criticism of life in London is regarding the weather. “I had heard that it’s very grey in London and it rains a lot, but I thought ‘it can’t be that bad.’ But then I arrived and it really was that bad,” he says, laughing.

Referencing that reliable English rain, Hernandez may have just touched on a short-term solution for London: a heavy overnight downpour is sure to disperse any lingering rioters.

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