Share the stage

25th February 2000 at 00:00
Luke Rittner believes the Royal Academy of Dancing is about love of ballet, not just about careers

Teachers of classical ballet now face a very different world from the one in which they grew up. Ballet is all about control and discipline - it's about the way you hold yourself, and about putting yourself through a lot of agony from a very young age. This is popular neither with young people nor even with their parents.

It is a great dilemma for the Royal Academy of Dancing. Do we continue to maintain standards and risk ever fewer young people coming forward to study with us? Or do we say, 'Okay, things are different now, let's drop our standards to entice as many people as possible to join us'. What is the answer?

As it happens, there is a very logical one: we need a two-tier system. We should never forget that when you learn ballet you acquire skills which last a lifetime whether you become a professional performer or not. Most young people who are sent by their parents to learn ballet are not going to become professionals, so why treat them as if they were? You can tell as soon as a child walks into the room whether they are the right or wrong shape - and if it is the latter, why put them through years of misery? Why not say simply, 'Come and enjoy it?' We should give everyone the chance of a goo basic grounding, but we should make it fun and maintain their interest as long as possible. Those who emerge as having real talent - which appears at age seven or eight - would go on to a special vocational route which would be as tough as the demands of today's choreographers require.

Thirty years ago classical ballet and modern dance were two distinct worlds. They didn't talk to each other, and there was snobbery on both sides. That antithesis no longer exists. Modern dance now has its own tradition, and bags of self-respect - it can now afford to admit that there are things in the classical tradition from which it can learn. But this humility is not easy to find on the classical side.

We are in danger of becoming imprisoned in our own academicism, and that would make us the enemy of dance, which, like any other art, is about emotional expression.

If I speak with feeling, it's for a good reason. I ran away from school without any kind of qualification, and had the luck to be admitted to drama school (LAMDA) all the same. I got a place on audition, and a whole career opened up to me. At the end of the day, if the performing arts are not about expression, they're about nothing at all.

Luke Rittner is chief executive of the Royal Academy of Dancing. He was talking to Michael Church

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