When Nashville Ballet dancer Gerald Watson was growing up, dance classes were initially a way to keep him out of trouble. “But it turned into something much greater,” he says. Now, he and fellow company dancers Jon Upleger and Judson Veach are spearheading Nashville Ballet’s Young Men’s Scholarship Program, which provides comprehensive training for boys between ages 6–18, of all experience levels. It also offers one full year tuition-free, with merit scholarships awarded throughout subsequent years.
But the program goes beyond financial aid. Students will be in all-boys classes that have a specific emphasis on male technique. “We want to focus on the athleticism as well as the art of ballet, while also introducing it in a way that won’t deter boys from continuing,” says Watson. Male teachers will also lead the classes, with Watson, Upleger and Veach making up the principal faculty. “It’s important to have someone at the front of the room who you trust because they went through a similar journey,” says Watson. He hopes the system will help dispel students’ pre-conceived notions about being a male dancer and help them build confidence and camaraderie.
The year-round program, which runs from August 22–May 6, is divided into four age-appropriate levels with approximately 12 boys in each. Students are encouraged to register by July 29, but Nashville Ballet will be accepting applicants on a rolling basis for the first year. “We want to make dance accessible for all boys,” says Watson, who says the program is not limited to local students. “When they walk into the studio, their finances, their background, how far they came—none of these things will set them apart.”