A real-life Billy Elliot who was branded GAY by cruel bullies after he took up ballet has had the last laugh – by winning a place at a prestigious dance academy.
Talented William Smith, 11, – who is called Billy by pals – suffered relentless taunts from classmates about his sexuality after he started dance classes six months ago.
The bullying got so bad mum Helen, 48, had to take her son – who also suffers from dyslexia – out of mainstream school.
Determined William, from Nottingham, rose above the jibes and vowed to continue dancing and stunned teachers with his quick progress.
Incredibly, last week he learned that he had gained a place at the award-winning Northern Ballet Academy under world-famous ballet tutor Yoko Ichino.
Yoko Ichino has partnered some of ballet’s greatest dancers including the world famous Rudolph Nuryev.
She now runs the Northern Ballet Academy in Leeds which is one of the most prestigious in the country, attracting dancers from across the world.
William and Helen will have to make the 70-mile trek from Nottingham to Leeds up to four times a week when he joins the academy’s training programme in September.
But mum-of-five Helen – herself a former dance teacher – said she was determined to help her son realise his dream of becoming a full-time dancer.
She said: “William took to dancing at an early age – we’ve always said that he had good natural rhythm.
“I think one of William’s biggest inspirations was watching his sister dance but he has always been quite captivated by ballet.
“He had been bullied at school for quite some time because of his dyslexia but when he took up ballet the teasing got worse.
“They accused him of being gay – which he isn’t – a lot of the usual things.
“His work started to suffer so I took him out of school in the end.
“But through it all it’s never stopped him wanting to dance, he decided he would carry on come what may.
“Since he changed schools his confidence has grown and he’s in a much more accepting environment.
“His dancing has gone from strength to strength and he was ecstatic when the Northern Ballet accepted him.
“We’ve got to drive all the way up to Leeds three or four times a week to go to those classes but it’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make.
“I always knew he’d be a dancer – he’s got lovely long legs. We’d always say to him ‘you’ve got dancer’s legs’.”
William was inspired by his older brothers Alex and Henry, both former competitive gymnasts and sister Juliet, a keen rhythmic gymnast.
He said: “I just love dancing. When I saw it, I just thought ‘I want to do that, it looks really amazing’.”
William currently trains at Rollini School of Dance, in West Bridgford, Nottingham.
Teacher Lesley Rollini said: “He’s a pleasure to teach.
“He’s really really enthusiastic, he wouldn’t be where he is if it wasn’t for his attitude.
“Sometimes in this line of work you worry that mums are pushing their children into it but it all comes from William.
“He’s a very hard-working young man and he’s going to do very well.
“He’s going to be doing around 22 hours a week of training with the classes there and the ones he does with me as well.
“He’s going to be one tired little boy but it’s an amazing opportunity for him.”
William will undertake a government-funded course at the Northern Ballet’s Centre for Advanced Training, which trains young dancers to realise their potential.
Students at the academy regularly go on to perform with the English National Ballet and in other world-renowned dance troupes.
Programmes manager Faye Cardwell said: “He has great ability, showed loads of potential and picked things up really quickly, and even though he hasn’t danced for long, we recognised that he really did have raw talent.”
The academy has won a number of awards including three consecutive audience awards for its annual ballet performances.