See how long you can talk to a male ballet dancer from the North East before the conversation turns to Billy Elliot. When we interviewed 17-year-old Connor Scott, who won the BBC’s Young Dancer competition earlier this year, it took 2 minutes and 42 seconds.
‘I was at a charity event for my local dance school and someone saw me dancing and said I should audition for Billy Elliot,’ explains Connor. ‘So he set me up with an audition and I remember going through the audition process. I think at the end of the auditioning day the Artistic Director came down to speak to my mum and dad and said unfortunately I was getting too old and too tall – they thought they wouldn’t get enough years out of me. So they suggested I do the Dance City CAT programme.’
That turned out to be good advice. The CAT programme (Centre for Advanced Training) is run by Newcastle’s Dance City (the North East’s top dance school) and Gateshead College. Elite young dancers do about eight hours a week of training and work one-on-one with a choreographer, as well as doing performances, and it was there that Connor’s dancing reached the level at which he could win a national competition.
Not that he wasn’t good before he got there. Connor grew up in Blyth and started dancing when he was just three years old, when his mum (an amateur dancer) would take his sister to dance lessons. Initially Connor would sit at the side and watch, but he soon started joining in, and very quickly he was able to do ballroom and latin dancing.
‘I was about 11 or 12 when I started at Dance City,’ he tells us. ‘I had never done contemporary or ballet ever before. I didn’t know much about either style. I had done ballroom and latin as my main styles between the ages of 3 to 11, and I tried different styles like street, breakdancing, house, rock, and a few others.
‘I actually hated ballet at first, which is quite surprising to some people, but I didn’t like the music and I didn’t like the way you had to hold yourself. It wasn’t me. I liked contemporary dance, I was veering away from latin and ballroom, but after about a year, when I was a bit older and a bit more mature, I realised ballet was actually really helping me, it was making me stronger, it was helping me in other styles, and that’s when I started to really grow.’
It was at Dance City that he first heard about the BBC Young Dancer competition – 2015 was its inaugural year, and just in case you didn’t see it, it’s a televised national dance competition for contestants aged 16 to 20 which was broadcast on BBC Four and BBC Two. The final in May was at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London, and it was hosted by Zoe Ball and Darcey Bussell, and broadcast live on BBC Two.
Connor first heard about the competition during a contemporary dance class at Dance City – one of his teachers mentioned it. He didn’t think much about it. Other people on his course mentioned it and he still didn’t think much about it. Then he joined London’s National Youth Dance Company (a part-time course comprising training days in London and performances around the country), and while in London it came up again.
‘I was away for my very first residency with National Youth Dance Company,’ says Connor. ‘I had just got in, so I was concentrating on that, but they brought it up. They were going to film the required dance that was needed to enter and send it in for us, so I thought, I’m not going to lose anything here, I might as well give it a go. At worst I won’t get through to the next round.’
But he did get through to the next round, which was at Northern Ballet in Leeds. Then he got through to the next round in Newport in Wales. And he got through to the final, at Sadler’s Wells in London. Even then though, even once he was through to the final, it didn’t seem to cross his mind that he might actually be on course to win.
‘Definitely not,’ he laughs. ‘I remember about a month before the performance, I was really busy with other things and I was like, right, okay, I need to get a move on here, I’ve really got to knuckle down, I’m going to rehearse every day. And I did. I was concentrating on getting everything sorted and it wasn’t until about a week before, when the press releases were coming out about the final, and it was becoming a bit more of a big deal, that’s when I realised I really did want to win this.’
Which is exactly what happened. Though he still doubted it. He found out he had won while he was backstage, with the other dancers, waiting for someone else’s name to be called. Yet it was his name they had said, and he couldn’t quite believe it.
‘I was still just so happy to be there at the final,’ he explains, ‘And when they called my name – I’ve watched it back – I just laughed, because I really didn’t expect it to be me.’
After picking up this award on national television, he headed out to celebrate with his friends, the other contestants, his sister who flew over from France (where she’s working as a choreographer), his family and his college tutor. Now though, it’s back to work: he’s about to start studying at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in London.
Then there’s the more distant future. One of his big ambitions was to perform on the stage at Sadler’s Wells, which he’s already ticked off. In July he performed at Latitude Festival in Suffolk. Next he wants to travel, see the world, and perform in a long list of countries (the United States is top of his list). It looks like he’ll fulfil that ambition, and maybe one day he’ll be even more famous than that other ballet dancer who came out of the North East.