Why this Jewish dancer turned down Billy Elliott

He snubbed Billy Elliott for a Royal Ballet scholarship. Now he has one - and he hopes his feet won’t touch the ground.


By Jessica Elgot, October 14, 2010
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Esteban Hernandez, 16, has moved from Mexico to London to study ballet.

Esteban Hernandez, 16, has moved from Mexico to London to study ballet.

For a young ballet dancer, the part of Billy Elliott might seem like a dream role. But for 16-year-old Mexican dancer Esteban Hernandez, Broadway fame came second to serious training with the Royal Ballet.

"When I got the role on Broadway, I was still very young, I was 14," he said. "Those years are the formative ones for a ballet dancer. It's so important to have good training.

"If I was dancing Billy Elliott every night, it would be a different kind of style. It wouldn't be so good for my development. Ballet has always been my dream. I love all kinds of dance, but ballet is the most important."

His commitment to training to the highest standards has reaped rewards. This year Hernandez was awarded the first Nadia Nerina scholarship to the Royal Ballet School in London, which helps students from outside the EU to study at the school.

Without the scholarship, Hernandez would not have been able to fund his living expenses in London.

He said: "Coming to London has been amazing. I've never been here before and the culture is very different to what I'm used to.

"But it's obviously one of the best schools in the world - the training is really what I wanted."

Royal Ballet School Director Gailene Stock said: "Estaban is a lovely boy and an extremely talented young man. I've had my eye on him for a while from when I saw him dance in America. He's in a very talented year group who will push him. But he's a hard worker, and he has a great future."

Hernandez clearly has high expectations of himself and trains up to eight hours a day.

Born in Guadalajara, Mexico, Hernandez is the eighth of eleven children. He says his Jewish upbringing was, "very traditional. There are quite a few Jews in Guadalajara and my family takes part in everything, all the community activities."

His mother and father were both ballet dancers and passed on their love of the art to their children. Defying the stereotypes, it was two brothers who took up their parents' love of ballet professionally. Hernandez's brother Isaac is a dancer with the San Francisco Royal Ballet and he names Isaac as his "dance hero" - along with Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta.

Hernandez explains how he envied his older brother's first dance lessons in their backyard. "I was very small when I watched my father training my older brother, when he was eight.

"I was fascinated by it, so I asked him to teach me too. We danced together for four years."

Seeing his son's talent, Hector Hernandez, an alumnus of the Houston Ballet, sent him to train at Philadelphia's Rock School for Dance Education.

"I was 13 when I left Mexico, which was really scary. I was very young to be leaving my family. But I was very excited because I knew it was the right thing. I needed to do it."

Now in London, home is even further away.

"My family is very supportive.
I want them to come and see me dance in London but coming over from Mexico with such a big family is very expensive. I hope if I dance a lead
with the Royal Ballet - then they will come. My dream is to dance Solor in La Bayadère."

Last updated: 2:36pm, November 23 2010