Tom tapping away at male dancers stigma

Tom, Barbara Benson & Alex
Tom, Barbara Benson & Alex

A ballet and tap dancing Goth is trying to change the stigma surrounding young lads getting into dancing by opening his own dance school.

Tom Roberts (21) has just passed his ballet teaching diploma which is in addition to qualifications in teaching tap and street dance.

Tom Roberts                  Picture: Scott Wicking

Tom Roberts Picture: Scott Wicking

Since moving to Loftus from Coventry five years ago he has been training with local dancing legend Mrs Barbara Benson MBE.

And he has used the experience to step out on his own and start teaching himself.

Among the 25 children, aged between four and 13, on the books at The Roberts Academy of Dance and Stage, which takes pupils from Hinderwell and Loftus, are two boys aged eight and 12.

It is unusual admits Tom, who himself experienced bullying because he was a dancer, and now he wants to change the perceptions of males in the industry.

He said: “It is a very low male ratio and I think it is a lot to do with bullying. I was bullied when I was in Coventry - I was the only ballet dancing goth within about 500 miles.

“I could not be more alternative if I tried but there was habitual bullying and that is why it is so low and another reason why I wanted to start the dance school.

“I don’t agree with it but people will look a lot more if it is a male doing it. I want to say ‘if you want to learn how to dance it is ok and just as valuable a profession - there will be no bullying or stigma on my watch.”

And it is starting to work already.

Just recently the dad of one of the boys said to Tom he had reservations about his son going to a dance school but it had made the lad much more confident.

Tom added: “That made me really happy. It made me feel like I was making a difference.”

He hopes to increase the numbers at the school as well as carrying on with his own training, performing and also acting which he does at the Screen Factory in Redcar.

It was watching an Elvis video that kick-started Tom’s career in dance as a four year-old.

He reckoned it looked like ‘something fun to get paid for’ and after watching Christmas pantos as a kid, he wanted to have a go at that too.

He said: “I met Sylvia Bird who trained me before Barbara. She said to me ‘if you want to do anything in this industry, all I can say to you is do everything and try and be the best’.

“Barbara is like a font of knowledge. If there is a problem, call Barbara and it just goes away.

“Working with someone who has that much experience - little pearls of wisdom rub off on you.”

Tom, who gets married to fiancee Frances on December 27, has just been successful then in obtaining a ballet teaching qualification - even though it’s not his cup of tea.

He said: “Ballet and me don’t see eye to eye but I thought I would go through and learn everything about it.

“Tap - I love. I enjoy performing it and enjoy the versatility. It seems to be as energetic as modern dance and freestyle but a bit more structured.”

Ironically, Tom might have been an electrician but he has never put the qualification to good use prefering to take to the stage instead.

He added: “I get paid to faff about and have fun.

“There is a serious side when doing choreography but sometimes I am dancing about in a basque and wearing tights and that’s it.”