Ballet Training

A Letter to Danseurs: ABT's Patrick Frenette Shares What He’s Learned With the Next Generation of Young, Male Ballet Dancers

Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT

When I was 14 years old, I placed in Youth America Grand Prix's final round and was offered a scholarship to the Royal Ballet School's summer intensive. As overjoyed as I was, I couldn't help but realize just how hard I'd had to fight to get to this point. Despite the years of tears, bullies and constant exclusion that I'd faced, I hadn't given up—and it was paying off.


A young Frenette in black tights and a black and gold velvet jacket kneels onstage with one hand on the hip and the other in the air. He looks to the side, as if defiantly at the end of a variation.

Frenette at age 14, competing in YAGP

VAM Productions, Courtesy Frenette

I started dancing at 3, following in the footsteps of my older sister Emma. By the time I left for my first summer at the Royal Ballet School, both ballet and bullying had been a part of my life for 11 years. Today, I am in the middle of my seventh season with American Ballet Theatre. Looking back on my own experiences, I want to offer guidance to my fellow danseurs, because I know your struggle. I know how hard it is to be excluded from birthday parties, or to come home from school with a black eye. I know what it's like to keep dancing in the face of adversity.

Two couples dressed in elaborate gold and orange outfits stand side by side. In both, the man and the woman look at each other. They both stand in a fourth position and hold hands with the other hand held behind their back.

Frenette (third from left) with Stephanie Williams in ABT's Swan Lake

Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

Communicate

No matter how many times my family tried to stop the hostility I faced at school, no number of meetings with principals could change the toxic culture I was subjected to. Eventually, I enrolled in an online high school. Many of my bullies' parents supported their children's hatred towards me, and it was through this experience that I learned not everyone is going to like you.

Communication is key. Be it your parents, close friends, ballet instructors or school teachers, these people can help and protect you if you let them know what's going on. Being a victim of bullying or discrimination can take a serious toll on the mind and body, but expressing how it affects you is the first step in reclaiming your well-being and happiness.

A very young Frenette stands in first position in front of a barre in black shorts, white tee and white shoes with socks. He looks serene and holds a small Canadian flag in his hands.

6-year-old Frenette after a Royal Academy of Dance exam

Kimber Frenette, Courtesy Frenette

Keep Dancing

When I was in the thick of dodging bullies, I started dreading ballet class. My inspiration to dance was dwindling, and I was constantly exhausted. One day after class at the Goh Ballet Academy, Alex Wong (yes, that Alex Wong, dance superstar), who was an older student and a mentor to me, noticed that my usual positive energy wasn't the same and pulled me aside. After I shared what was going on, he gave me some advice that has stuck with me every day since: "Keep dancing, no matter what."

For the past five summers, I have had the privilege of teaching at Boys Ballet Summer Intensive in Cary, North Carolina. I co-founded the program with my mother, Kimber Frenette, and International Ballet Academy director Christina Fannéy. Last summer, over 80 students ages 12 to 19 joined us for two incredible weeks. Some of the boys are victims of extreme prejudice and exclusion, much like I was. My goal is to show them that by dancing through their hardships, they can build character that will assist them in overcoming their naysayers, and help them become more confident no matter what path they choose to follow.

Frenette and Holloway, dressed in patterned grey and red capri pants and yellow and red tops stag leap through the air.

Frenette (right) with Connor Holloway in Alexei Ratmansky's The Seasons

Marty Sohl, Courtesy ABT

Find a Hobby

Ballet has a way of enveloping our lives. While my happiness was in constant flux throughout my childhood, my outside hobbies were crucial and helped fuel my passion for dance. I couldn't wait to get home to my Legos, GameCube and sketchbook. I would dream up comics about Spider-Man rescuing me from my classroom to take me to New York City to fight bad guys. Though my ballet school was always a safe haven, I had to find ways to stay afloat in the parts of my life that did not include dance. Today I continue to rely on creative outlets like drawing, photography and playing video games with friends online to keep me inspired.

Frenette in a black jacket and grey tights kneels at Crymble's feet, holding the hem of her skirt against his cheek. She stands in a romantic tutu very upright on pointe with her hands held in the classic Giselle formation.

At age 15, dancing Giselle with Thalia Crymble

David Cooper, Courtesy Frenette

It Gets Better

Growing up, the more I talked about ballet at school, the fewer friends I had. Pretty soon I was picked last for sports teams and was the only one not getting a valentine. On my 9th birthday, only one girl stood up to sing "Happy Birthday" to me while the rest of the class sat silent. If my experiences sound familiar to you, I want you to know that things get better.

When I was 17, I moved to New York City to attend the School of American Ballet. This freethinking city and classroom full of danseurs was exactly what I needed. I made long-standing friendships at SAB, and later at ABT, that I did not think were possible when I was stuck in the trenches of my middle school years. If you are being bullied or excluded, I encourage you to remain hopeful. Continue to pursue dance, surround yourself with like-minded people who understand your commitment to the arts, and leave those bullies behind.

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