Northern Ireland

Boosting ballet: Belfast ballerinas get dance master classes

Ballet
Image caption Many ballerinas in Northern Ireland believe they have fewer opportunities than their London counterparts

Kathleen Williams, 18, takes her place at the barre and rises on her pointe shoes, part of a sea of black leotards and peach-coloured tights.

Kathleen, from west Belfast, wants to be a professional dancer.

"It means everything to me," she says.

"My whole life revolves around dancing. I'd be training about four hours a day - contemporary dance and jazz dance - and then I would do a ballet class based on technique and flexibility, Monday to Friday.

"Two years ago I moved school to do an A Level in dance."

But Kathleen thinks she misses out on the opportunities that young dance hopefuls in London and other English cities would have - the chance to train with working dancers, and professional-level classes on the doorstep.

High costs

Image caption Kathleen does more than four hours of training every day and said dancing is her whole life

Now that she's looking outside of Northern Ireland for dance school places, she finds her rivals have certain advantages.

She says: "I had an experience when I was in an audition where all of the girls were trained from young ages in big schools such as the Royal Ballet.

"It's tough competition and I think it's very hard for somebody from here to go over and try to get in.

"You need training from when you wake up to when you go to sleep. You need a proper school that's going to train you for big conservatoire schools and unfortunately we haven't got that here."

Many young dancers and their families are put off by the high cost of specialist clothing.

Students from Northern Ireland also need to stump up the money for flights and hotels when they pin their hopes on a dance career and start doing auditions.

Some ballet teachers in Belfast have taken matters into their own hands and are bringing top-level tuition from London to Belfast in a yearly master class series.

It is here that Kathleen is learning from a new teacher - stretching her limbs and her abilities.

Bridge the gap

Rana O'Brien was a professional ballerina in her youth in Turkey.

When she moved to Northern Ireland she saw the challenges young people faced and wanted to do something about them.

She says she hopes to bridge the gap for as many talented dancers as possible and set up a youth ballet company.

"It's a big gap and there's so little being done," she says.

Image caption Kathleen Williams (left) said ballet training is intensive and expensive

"I think it's very unfair to restrict ballet only to those who can afford it. Mother nature doesn't decide which income level the talent goes to.

"I teach in west Belfast and there are lots and lots of talented girls there. They deserve it, they have the talent, commitment, passion but they can't afford it and that's not on.

"We have a long way to go but we're determined. We will get there.

"Talent is important. It's the wealth of a community. The wealth of Northern Ireland is the talent it has."

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