For the first time in its 60 years of operation, Canada's National Ballet School will have a class of graduates with more boys than girls, the school says.
This year's 12th grade class, scheduled to graduate in 2020, is made up of 16 boys and 11 girls, marking a historic moment for the school in terms of gender division among students.
For Benjamin Alexander, one of this year's undergraduates, this is worlds away from his beginnings in ballet. He is from a small town in southwestern Ontario, and the first time he put on ballet shoes, he was the only boy in his class.
"All my other friends played hockey or baseball and they all had that goal in common," Alexander told CTV News. "I definitely felt like some kind of outcast."
He started dancing at the age of four, moving from figure skating to ballet after he realized that he wanted to focus more on dance.
"I was always watching my sister dance, and it inspired me to start," he said. "I loved."
So when he was 10, his dance teacher recommended that he audition for NBS. It was a turning point for Alexander.
"I immediately felt a sense of community when I got here," he said. "I felt like I was surrounded by like-minded people and a whole bunch of guys who just wanted to do the same thing as me."
This class of graduates is "unique so far," according to Mavis Staines, the school's artistic director and executive director. However, she told CTVNews.ca in a statement that having more students than women is "a pattern that I believe will repeat at some point in the future."
Toronto-based, NBS teaches students in grades 6-12. It's not just a ballet school: students take Ontario-based academic classes along with their ballet classes, and receive a regular high school diploma when they graduate to ensure they are ready for post-secondary school, if they choose not to continue dancing.
The school said a total of 40% of enrolled students are male.
"This year's gender ratio is on a rising trend," said Staines. She said male student population growth was "really slow for 35 years," but things started to improve after that.
"He's really been gaining momentum since 2005, when Billy Elliott debuted, and with all the dance shows, social media."
Alexander also talked about how social media platforms like YouTube helped change social stigma against male dancers. Before the internet, one would have to be able to watch a ballet performance in person to learn more about the art form, but now there are thousands of dancer videos available online.
"The people who can look at these fantastic dancers – these fantastic dancers – hover in the air and be light, graceful and performing and moving audiences, I think they really inspired a lot of people," said Alexander.
Staines also credited NBS's community initiatives to public school children for "bringing the joy and benefits of dance to many more Canadians."
When asked if the school was happy to see an increase in boys expressing interest in ballet, Staines responded with a smiling emoticon and asked, "Is this a tricky question?"
She said historical moments such as the gender division of this graduate class show that "ballet is being embraced and celebrated as a dynamic 21st century language for everyone."
NBS's art team will begin their country tour for auditions in October, the school said. They will travel to 20 cities across Canada to audit students currently in grade 5 for school.
Students who succeed at the initial hearing will receive an invitation to an intensive four-week summer program as phase two of the hearing. The auditions begin October 20 in Vancouver, B.C.
"I encourage all boys to do ballet," said Alexander.
And he's not afraid that more boys doing ballet could lead to more competition for him.
"The more the better. I still think it will be competitive, but if you have the determination and perseverance, I'm sure you will go far."