Alberta Ballet School teacher recalls training the real Billy Elliot

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Alberta Ballet School teacher Murray Kilgour has taught hundreds of aspiring young dancers in his ballet career, but only one has had a successful theatre production and a film made about his life.

Alberta Ballet School is proud to partner with Theatre Calgary for their presentation of Billy Elliot, a heartwarming story of a young British boy who had a natural passion for dance that ran so deeply, even his instructors knew he was special from the moment they met him. (Out of consideration for this student’s privacy, we won’t use his real name, so for the purposes of this article, we will call him Billy.)

“He was just a nice young lad, he was very musical, and was always very polite and always seemed to be happy. It was a combination of his musicality and his enthusiasm that drew you to him,” said Murray who taught the student at both the junior and senior schools of London’s Royal Ballet in the mid-80’s.

In the movie, Billy’s father makes him take boxing lessons, but he secretly takes ballet instead. In real life, Murray said, Billy was a twin whose brother was the boxer. Something that was portrayed very accurately in the film and on stage though was his overwhelming love of dance.

“In students, you hope that you see that energy and enthusiasm because that is what is going to help drive them forward,” he said. “He had this in him and that helped to develop himself as a dancer.”

Murray started dancing at a young age, and danced with the National Ballet of Canada before moving to the U.K. He danced with the Royal Ballet in London for 10 years and then taught at the Royal Ballet School for another nine. His wife Nancy also danced with the National Ballet of Canada and taught at the Royal Ballet. They returned to Canada together and became teachers with Alberta Ballet School. Nancy has retired, but Murray continues to train young dancers today.

This boy isn’t the only connection Murray has to the Billy Elliot story. The actor who appears as the older Billy at the end of the film, performing in the all-male version of Swan Lake, was also a Royal Ballet student trained by Murray.

Alberta Ballet School professional division student, Robyn Neumann is performing in the Theatre Calgary production of Billy Elliot as Angela, a Ballet Girl. Robyn, who’s danced for 11 years, is also a member of the elite dance team, YYC Dance Project. She’s performed alongside the Alberta Ballet Company in The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Our Canada.

“It’s very rewarding to watch your students go on to reach their goals,” Murray said. “I am grateful to be teaching at Alberta Ballet School. We are fortunate to have a school of this calibre in this province that is able to produce world-class dancers.”

For more information on professional and recreational classes at Alberta Ballet School, please visit albertaballetschool.com. To learn more about or buy tickets to Theatre Calgary’s production of Billy Elliot, running in Calgary from April 9 - May 12, please visit their website.

Alberta Ballet School teacher Murray Kilgour taught students on an exchange trip to China when he was with the Royal Ballet School in London in the mid-80s. The real Billy Elliot accompanied him on that trip and performed a tap dance routine at the wrap-up celebrations. It was the first time several of the Chinese students had ever seen a tap dance routine, Murray recalled.

Alberta Ballet School teacher Murray Kilgour taught students on an exchange trip to China when he was with the Royal Ballet School in London in the mid-80s. The real Billy Elliot accompanied him on that trip and performed a tap dance routine at the wrap-up celebrations. It was the first time several of the Chinese students had ever seen a tap dance routine, Murray recalled.

Kim Jackson