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Rilee goes from boots to ballet

When 14-year-old Rilee Scott attended his first ballet classes, he was one of the few boys at his dance school, facing ridicule from his rugby mates, and struggling to point his toes.

Undeterred, the young man kept on dancing: And is now training at New Zealand’s premier dance academy, has studied with some of the top choreographers in North America and Europe, and secured an internship with the Royal New Zealand Ballet [RNZB].

Rilee [20], who grew up in Masterton, is in his third year at the New Zealand School of Dance [NZSD] – known for producing high-profile dance careers with both New Zealand and overseas companies.

He and several NZSD classmates recently represented the school at Assemblée Internationale 2023 [AI23]: A week-long training programme and dance festival for gifted tertiary-level ballet students from around the globe, organised by Canada’s National Ballet School.

At the Toronto-based festival, Rilee got to train under seasoned ballet tutors from some of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies, and showcase original choreography with dancers from the US, Canada and Australia – whom he’d met in person barely a week earlier. He was also the New Zealand representative on AI23’s Student Think Tank Group – representing the young dancers on the event’s planning committee.

Back home, Rilee has had no time to hang up his ballet shoes – having been offered a secondment with the RNZB for its winter season of Romeo and Juliet. As one of the ensemble, Rilee has joined the company on its tour of Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North and Napier, starting last weekend.

A lofty achievement for a former rep rugby player who signed up for dance lessons not even a decade ago.

At age 12, Rilee, an old boy of WaiCol and Kuranui College, started learning hip hop at the Geraldine Inder School of Dance and Drama – and took ballet classes to “gain extra strength”. Though he “fell in love” with ballet, his new passion didn’t come easily.

“It was challenging to keep up with my class. And I was the only boy in my grade and had no other guys to relate to,” he said.

“I spent a lot of time teaching myself the basics – a lot of stretching, learning to point my toes properly, and doing exercises to fix my turn-out. I was often asking the tutors for five minutes of one-on-one time so I could get up to scratch.

“It’s amazing looking back and seeing how far I’ve come. Ballet doesn’t come naturally to me – I’ve had to work at it. So, it’s awesome when I see videos of myself dancing and think, ‘yeah, I worked hard to get here’.

“In this industry, hard work always beats natural talent.”

While in Year 12 and browsing Instagram, Rilee came across photos from the NZSD’s graduation show – and knew exactly what he wanted to do for a career. After a gruelling audition process, he was one of only 24 dancers selected for the school’s classical ballet programme.

“It was pretty intimidating – we had to dance in front of this huge panel of directors and tutors. The audition included a contemporary piece, and I’d never done contemporary dance before – so, in the rehearsal, I just followed along behind everyone else!

“I wasn’t expecting anything – I was auditioning with people who’d been dancing most of their life. When I found out I got in, I was in a complete state of shock.” Back home, Rilee has had no time to hang up his ballet shoes – having been offered a secondment with the RNZB for its winter season of Romeo and Juliet. As one of the ensemble, Rilee has joined the company on its tour of Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North and Napier, starting last weekend.

A lofty achievement for a former rep rugby player who signed up for dance lessons not even a decade ago.

At age 12, Rilee, an old boy of WaiCol and Kuranui College, started learning hip hop at the Geraldine Inder School of Dance and Drama – and took ballet classes to “gain extra strength”. Though he “fell in love” with ballet, his new passion didn’t come easily.

“It was challenging to keep up with my class. And I was the only boy in my grade and had no other guys to relate to,” he said.

“I spent a lot of time teaching myself the basics – a lot of stretching, learning to point my toes properly, and doing exercises to fix my turn-out. I was often asking the tutors for five minutes of one-on-one time so I could get up to scratch.

“It’s amazing looking back and seeing how far I’ve come. Ballet doesn’t come naturally to me – I’ve had to work at it. So, it’s awesome when I see videos of myself dancing and think, ‘yeah, I worked hard to get here’.

“In this industry, hard work always beats natural talent.”

While in Year 12 and browsing Instagram, Rilee came across photos from the NZSD’s graduation show – and knew exactly what he wanted to do for a career. After a gruelling audition process, he was one of only 24 dancers selected for the school’s classical ballet programme.

“It was pretty intimidating – we had to dance in front of this huge panel of directors and tutors. The audition included a contemporary piece, and I’d never done contemporary dance before – so, in the rehearsal, I just followed along behind everyone else!

“I wasn’t expecting anything – I was auditioning with people who’d been dancing most of their life. When I found out I got in, I was in a complete state of shock.”

Rilee said being selected for AI23 has been one of the highlights of his career so far. Particularly gratifying was taking workshops with some of the “big names” in ballet – including directors and choreographers from the European School of Ballet, Zurich Dance Academy, Ballet Hispanico Dance School [New York], Paris Opera Ballet School and Royal Ballet School [London].

“It was so good to learn from teachers from other parts of the world – they bring their own culture and life stories which adds to the learning experience,” he said.

“We got to learn other dance styles, like contemporary, traditional African and Afro-fusion to get us out of our comfort zone.”

The theme for AI23 was “dismantling anti-Black racism” – and the students were further pushed beyond their comfort zone by seminars from dancers of colour on creating an inclusive environment for Black performers.

“Hearing what Black dancers have been through was confronting – it’s not something we’ve really considered in New Zealand. But it’s good for us to have that education so we can do things better.”

Another highlight for Rilee was performing in “Noted”, an original piece choreographed by fellow NZSD student Hilary An-Roddie, inspired by one of the school’s accompanists who “lives and breathes through the piano”.

Rilee and the “Noted” cast, including dancers from Canada’s National Ballet School, the Houston and San Francisco Ballet Academies, and Australian Ballet School, spent several weeks learning the choreography via Zoom ahead of the festival.

“It was surreal, but exciting – coming from different parts of the world and knowing the exact same choreography.

“The performance came together really well. It was amazing how close we became and how easily we danced together after only meeting a few days before.”

When Midweek caught up with Rilee, he was in the thick of a demanding rehearsal schedule for Romeo and Juliet – made easier by the collegial environment at the RNZB.

“The company dancers are all really supportive. They’re happy to give you pointers on how to improve – they’ve been in the same position we have.

“It’s unreal to be part of something so big – to be working in the same studio as principal dancers you’ve watched on stage.”

His advice for male dancers in a female-dominated art form? “Push hard and go for it”, and ignore the haters.

“It was stressful at first. People at school definitely gave me s*** – but if you love it, you own it, and do it anyway.

“If someone takes the mick out of me, I take it with a grain of salt. I think to myself, ‘I’m doing something I love, they’re probably stuck in a job they hate’.” When 14-year-old Rilee Scott attended his first ballet classes, he was one of the few boys at his dance school, facing ridicule from his rugby mates, and struggling to point his toes.

Undeterred, the young man kept on dancing: And is now training at New Zealand’s premier dance academy, has studied with some of the top choreographers in North America and Europe, and secured an internship with the Royal New Zealand Ballet [RNZB].

Rilee [20], who grew up in Masterton, is in his third year at the New Zealand School of Dance [NZSD] – known for producing high-profile dance careers with both New Zealand and overseas companies.

He and several NZSD classmates recently represented the school at Assemblée Internationale 2023 [AI2023]: A week-long training programme and dance festival for gifted tertiary-level ballet students from around the globe, organised by Canada’s National Ballet School.

At the Toronto-based festival, Rilee got to train under seasoned ballet tutors from some of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies, and showcase original choreography with dancers from the US, Canada and Australia – whom he’d met in person barely a week earlier. He was also the New Zealand representative on AI23’s Student Think Tank Group – representing the young dancers on the event’s planning committee.

 

Back home, Rilee has had no time to hang up his ballet shoes – having been offered a secondment with the RNZB for its winter season of Romeo and Juliet. As one of the ensemble, Rilee has joined the company on its tour of Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North and Napier, starting last weekend.

A lofty achievement for a former rep rugby player who signed up for dance lessons not even a decade ago.

At age 12, Rilee, an old boy of WaiCol and Kuranui College, started learning hip hop at the Geraldine Inder School of Dance and Drama – and took ballet classes to “gain extra strength”. Though he “fell in love” with ballet, his new passion didn’t come easily.

“It was challenging to keep up with my class. And I was the only boy in my grade and had no other guys to relate to,” he said.

“I spent a lot of time teaching myself the basics – a lot of stretching, learning to point my toes properly, and doing exercises to fix my turn-out. I was often asking the tutors for five minutes of one-on-one time so I could get up to scratch.

“It’s amazing looking back and seeing how far I’ve come. Ballet doesn’t come naturally to me – I’ve had to work at it. So, it’s awesome when I see videos of myself dancing and think, ‘yeah, I worked hard to get here’.

“In this industry, hard work always beats natural talent.”

While in Year 12 and browsing Instagram, Rilee came across photos from the NZSD’s graduation show – and knew exactly what he wanted to do for a career. After a gruelling audition process, he was one of only 24 dancers selected for the school’s classical ballet programme.

“It was pretty intimidating – we had to dance in front of this huge panel of directors and tutors. The audition included a contemporary piece, and I’d never done contemporary dance before – so, in the rehearsal, I just followed along behind everyone else!

“I wasn’t expecting anything – I was auditioning with people who’d been dancing most of their life. When I found out I got in, I was in a complete state of shock.”

Rilee said being selected for AI23 has been one of the highlights of his career so far. Particularly gratifying was taking workshops with some of the “big names” in ballet – including directors and choreographers from the European School of Ballet, Zurich Dance Academy, Ballet Hispanico Dance School [New York], Paris Opera Ballet School and Royal Ballet School [London].

“It was so good to learn from teachers from other parts of the world – they bring their own culture and life stories which adds to the learning experience,” he said.

“We got to learn other dance styles, like contemporary, traditional African and Afro-fusion to get us out of our comfort zone.”

The theme for AI23 was “dismantling anti-Black racism” – and the students were further pushed beyond their comfort zone by seminars from dancers of colour on creating an inclusive environment for Black performers.

“Hearing what Black dancers have been through was confronting – it’s not something we’ve really considered in New Zealand. But it’s good for us to have that education so we can do things better.”

Another highlight for Rilee was performing in “Noted”, an original piece choreographed by fellow NZSD student Hilary An-Roddie, inspired by one of the school’s accompanists who “lives and breathes through the piano”.

Rilee and the “Noted” cast, including dancers from Canada’s National Ballet School, the Houston and San Francisco Ballet Academies, and Australian Ballet School, spent several weeks learning the choreography via Zoom ahead of the festival.

“It was surreal, but exciting – coming from different parts of the world and knowing the exact same choreography.

“The performance came together really well. It was amazing how close we became and how easily we danced together after only meeting a few days before.”

When Midweek caught up with Rilee, he was in the thick of a demanding rehearsal schedule for Romeo and Juliet – made easier by the collegial environment at the RNZB.

“The company dancers are all really supportive. They’re happy to give you pointers on how to improve – they’ve been in the same position we have.

“It’s unreal to be part of something so big – to be working in the same studio as principal dancers you’ve watched on stage.”

His advice for male dancers in a female-dominated art form? “Push hard and go for it”, and ignore the haters.

“It was stressful at first. People at school definitely gave me s*** – but if you love it, you own it, and do it anyway.

“If someone takes the mick out of me, I take it with a grain of salt. I think to myself, ‘I’m doing something I love, they’re probably stuck in a job they hate.’” When 14-year-old Rilee Scott attended his first ballet classes, he was one of the few boys at his dance school, facing ridicule from his rugby mates, and struggling to point his toes.

Undeterred, the young man kept on dancing: And is now training at New Zealand’s premier dance academy, has studied with some of the top choreographers in North America and Europe, and secured an internship with the Royal New Zealand Ballet [RNZB].

Rilee [20], who grew up in Masterton, is in his third year at the New Zealand School of Dance [NZSD] – known for producing high-profile dance careers with both New Zealand and overseas companies.

He and several NZSD classmates recently represented the school at Assemblée Internationale 2023 [AI2023]: A week-long training programme and dance festival for gifted tertiary-level ballet students from around the globe, organised by Canada’s National Ballet School.

At the Toronto-based festival, Rilee got to train under seasoned ballet tutors from some of the world’s most prestigious ballet companies, and showcase original choreography with dancers from the US, Canada and Australia – whom he’d met in person barely a week earlier. He was also the New Zealand representative on AI23’s Student Think Tank Group – representing the young dancers on the event’s planning committee.

 

Back home, Rilee has had no time to hang up his ballet shoes – having been offered a secondment with the RNZB for its winter season of Romeo and Juliet. As one of the ensemble, Rilee has joined the company on its tour of Dunedin, Christchurch, Palmerston North and Napier, starting last weekend.

A lofty achievement for a former rep rugby player who signed up for dance lessons not even a decade ago.

At age 12, Rilee, an old boy of WaiCol and Kuranui College, started learning hip hop at the Geraldine Inder School of Dance and Drama – and took ballet classes to “gain extra strength”. Though he “fell in love” with ballet, his new passion didn’t come easily.

“It was challenging to keep up with my class. And I was the only boy in my grade and had no other guys to relate to,” he said.

“I spent a lot of time teaching myself the basics – a lot of stretching, learning to point my toes properly, and doing exercises to fix my turn-out. I was often asking the tutors for five minutes of one-on-one time so I could get up to scratch.

“It’s amazing looking back and seeing how far I’ve come. Ballet doesn’t come naturally to me – I’ve had to work at it. So, it’s awesome when I see videos of myself dancing and think, ‘yeah, I worked hard to get here’.

“In this industry, hard work always beats natural talent.”

While in Year 12 and browsing Instagram, Rilee came across photos from the NZSD’s graduation show – and knew exactly what he wanted to do for a career. After a gruelling audition process, he was one of only 24 dancers selected for the school’s classical ballet programme.

“It was pretty intimidating – we had to dance in front of this huge panel of directors and tutors. The audition included a contemporary piece, and I’d never done contemporary dance before – so, in the rehearsal, I just followed along behind everyone else!

“I wasn’t expecting anything – I was auditioning with people who’d been dancing most of their life. When I found out I got in, I was in a complete state of shock.”

Rilee said being selected for AI23 has been one of the highlights of his career so far. Particularly gratifying was taking workshops with some of the “big names” in ballet – including directors and choreographers from the European School of Ballet, Zurich Dance Academy, Ballet Hispanico Dance School [New York], Paris Opera Ballet School and Royal Ballet School [London].

“It was so good to learn from teachers from other parts of the world – they bring their own culture and life stories which adds to the learning experience,” he said.

“We got to learn other dance styles, like contemporary, traditional African and Afro-fusion to get us out of our comfort zone.”

The theme for AI23 was “dismantling anti-Black racism” – and the students were further pushed beyond their comfort zone by seminars from dancers of colour on creating an inclusive environment for Black performers.

“Hearing what Black dancers have been through was confronting – it’s not something we’ve really considered in New Zealand. But it’s good for us to have that education so we can do things better.”

Another highlight for Rilee was performing in “Noted”, an original piece choreographed by fellow NZSD student Hilary An-Roddie, inspired by one of the school’s accompanists who “lives and breathes through the piano”.

Rilee and the “Noted” cast, including dancers from Canada’s National Ballet School, the Houston and San Francisco Ballet Academies, and Australian Ballet School, spent several weeks learning the choreography via Zoom ahead of the festival.

“It was surreal, but exciting – coming from different parts of the world and knowing the exact same choreography.

“The performance came together really well. It was amazing how close we became and how easily we danced together after only meeting a few days before.”

When Midweek caught up with Rilee, he was in the thick of a demanding rehearsal schedule for Romeo and Juliet – made easier by the collegial environment at the RNZB.

“The company dancers are all really supportive. They’re happy to give you pointers on how to improve – they’ve been in the same position we have.

“It’s unreal to be part of something so big – to be working in the same studio as principal dancers you’ve watched on stage.”

His advice for male dancers in a female-dominated art form? “Push hard and go for it”, and ignore the haters.

“It was stressful at first. People at school definitely gave me s*** – but if you love it, you own it, and do it anyway.

“If someone takes the mick out of me, I take it with a grain of salt. I think to myself, ‘I’m doing something I love, they’re probably stuck in a job they hate’.”

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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