Getting boys into ballet will open doors for them beyond the arts — that’s the belief of one Jacksonville instructor who’s taking dance into middle school classrooms.
Jacksonville native Savery Morgan was a professional ballet dancer in New York.
Morgan is teaching dance in an empty classroom Tuesday at the Young Men’s Leadership Academy at Eugene Butler Middle School, west of downtown.
It’s a small class, just four students opted in.
“Once a week they come to me instead of going to gym,” Morgan said.
The dance program, called Breaking the Barrier for Boyz Only, is in four Duval schools with a total of 32 boys taking part.
The middle-schoolers at YMLA are practicing for a March showcase. Seventh-grader Trevon Richardson said it’s his second year, and he likes dance because it’s good exercise.
“My favorite [dance move] is when we have to run, we got to turn back around. We have to do a slice and come back over here," Trevon said before promptly demonstrating it by running across the room and finishing with a sharp spin.
Morgan said it’s a contemporary modern move. He’s teaching them genres ranging from ballet to hip hop to jazz.
Morgan himself used to go to this school. He said he got really good at dance as a teen because he had mentors. And he worked his way up to dancing professionally with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.
“I try to be a sort of a role model, a beacon of light,” Morgan said. “I think that kids aren’t exposed to stuff because they don’t have people that do that thing that they haven’t been exposed to around them.”
Morgan said dance can lead to opportunities like world travel and free college tuition.
Working with him, he said the boys now know, “an African-American male classical ballet dancer in Jacksonville, Florida that they can actually talk to and relate to.”
YMLA Principal Truitte Moreland remembers when Morgan first came to pitch the program, which is an offshoot of the Florida Ballet and funded by the PNC Bank Foundation’s Arts Alive program.
“There were some struggles there finding kids that were first brave enough to kind of step outside of the cultural norm for this environment and to try something different,” he said.
But Moreland said one of Morgan’s students even auditioned to go to the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and may want to pursue dance professionally. Douglas Anderson guidance counselor Shaneka Ferrell said scholarships could be in the future for the school’s male dance students.
“When it comes to male dancers, there’s such a large shortage,” she said. “I would say that it is really common for those kids to receive financial assistance because they’re pretty much the minority in the dance field.”
She said over three years, advising some 1,200 students, she’s had maybe 10 male dancers in her caseload.
But Principal Moreland said even if the students just do it for fun, that’s OK too.
“Kids that are in the arts, our kids that are in dance tend to do better in their classes because of this outlet for creativity and expression,” he said.
For Tuesday, though, these four are focused on their performance in March.
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride