Rugby lads tackle ballet challenge

Wigan Warriors academy players taking part in Pianos, Pies and Pirouettes

Wigan Warriors academy players taking part in Pianos, Pies and Pirouettes

Young rugby league players taking part in a pioneering dance programme will swap boots for ballet shoes when they visit a top London venue.

Wigan Warriors academy players who are part of the Pianos, Pies and Pirouettes scheme will spend time at the Royal Ballet School learning from some of its elite young dancers.

Karaoke and dance workshop at Sunshine House Community Hub
 - organiser Alan Gregory

Karaoke and dance workshop at Sunshine House Community Hub - organiser Alan Gregory

The rugby players, aged 14 to 19, have been attending weekly ballet sessions at the club’s Central Park HQ under the innovative programme started by Ince-based dance pianist Alan Gregory.

Having got their heads around the concept of pointe as well as points and dance techniques in addition to tries and tackles Alan has now arranged for the Wigan dancers to head to the capital to see the artform’s finest young performers in action.

He said: “It’s the creme de la creme of ballet and rugby league, two completely different worlds and backgrounds meeting. It’s almost unheard of for the Royal Ballet School to invite people down to see the kids in action, but they’ve agreed to this.”

The young dancers and sports stars will spend the day surrounded by the capital city’s greatest cultural institutions as the Royal Ballet School is opposite the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Alan formed Pianos, Pies and Pirouettes to try to tackle the chronic shortage of young men taking up ballet and to open up the artform to a wider range of backgrounds.

He decided to act after seeing suggestions that film and stage show Billy Elliot, contrary to some hopes, had completely failed to open up the traditionally-elitist world of ballet and encourage more boys and working-class dancers to start out.

His idea to bring together ballet and rugby league has certainly created a fair few headlines and is also gaining interest in the 13-a-side code itself.

Alan says Salford Red Devils are among the clubs looking to follow in Wigan’s footsteps and long-term ambitions include a Pianos, Pies and Pirouettes performance at a future Super League Grand Final.

The move has also attracted the support of one high-profile Wigan-born icon of stage and screen.

He said: “I travel all over the north of England playing at workshops and competitions and every time there’s only one boy, usually the same one. I thought that can’t be right, we need to get more boys into ballet. I thought if I could get ‘real men’ to do it that might help so I approached Wigan Warriors.

“I thought I would be laughed out of the building but they considered it and we’ve been running it since last November. In the last month it’s all erupted into a media frenzy. We’ve got support from Sir Ian McKellen too. He told me he wished there was something like this when he was a lad.”