‘We had to have thick skin’: The Ballet Twins on overcoming the stereotypes of being male dancers

Laurie and Joshua Mc Sherry-Gray spoke to LondonWorld about moving to London from Hull, the experience of being a male dancer and how dance can become more accessible.

They say that good things come in twos and for Laurie and Joshua Mc Sherry-Gray this is certainly the case.

The twin brothers, who are both professional ballet dancers, have been bringing joy to audiences for over a decade and are now branching out on their own.

The 33-year-old dancing duo have both enjoyed careers at lucrative companies, with Laurie spending seven years at the Royal Ballet of Flanders, while Joshua was a company member at English National Ballet for 11 seasons.

Laurie (left) and Joshua (right) are the Ballet Twins. Credit: Andy Weekes

The two brothers have since gone freelance and joined forces as the Ballet Twins, collaborating with choreographers from all over the world.

Laurie and Joshua spoke to LondonWorld about moving to London, the stereotypes of being a male dancer and how dance can become more accessible.

The pair who grew up in Hull started dancing at the age of 12, as they struggled academically at school.

They soon discovered that they both were equally talented and moved to London at 16 to join the Central Ballet School, and then later onto the Royal Ballet School.

Moving to London was an adjustment for the two, being “two Northern boys” from “a family with no money.”

“We were surrounded by the most affluent people,” said Laurie.

“We sounded different, they had different manners to what we were used to.

“We had to have thick skin to just ignore that and to pursue our dreams.”

And pursue their dreams they have, the pair have both danced at the London Coliseum, Sadlers Wells and the Royal Albert Hall and have performed with the likes of Ukrainian-born ballet legend Sergei Polunin.

“The highlight of being a professional ballet dancer is you can go from shaking the Queen’s hand to then getting the bus home,” said Joshua.

Being a male dancer

Growing up in Hull, the dancing duo said that boys doing ballet was not so common but in London it’s a lot more mainstream.

“There’s a somewhat stereotype of what kind of guy you are when you start dancing and that is a hard battle for any individual to go through,” said Laurie.

“The stereotype is that if you’re a male dancer you’re weak or not as manly as a guy that doesn’t dance and I think that’s people in general fearing things that they just don’t know.

“It’s also about the tradition of dance that has had a huge focus towards female dancers and that’s great but I think also in current times anyone can dance.

“When you do become a professional ballet dancer, or you find your community within your dance classes, you are supported, but as a male dancer it can be hard to find that.”

Laurie (left) danced for seven years with The Royal Ballet of Flanders in Belgium, while Joshua (right) was a company member at English National Ballet for 11 seasons. Credit: Andy Weekes

Joshua feels that attitudes are changing in a more positive way and thinks that social media has a part to play in that.

“People are now showing what they eat or how they train, if they’re in the gym doing some crazy session so in that sense the general public can relate to someone doing fitness,”

“What they can’t relate to is a male dancer on stage in tights doing a solo that’s beyond difficult but because they’re not trained in that terminology they don’t understand it.”

“Movies like Billy Elliot and choreographers like Matthew Bourne have opened up ballet in a more commercial way which is super cool,” added Laurie.

Making dance accessible

Part of the Ballet Twins mission is to make dance more accessible and appeal to a wider audience.

The pair have just launched a website that has a range of online ballet and fitness classes to choose from.

They also have their own Youtube channel which shows behind the scenes footage of what it’s really like to be a ballet dancer.

“Dance in a way has no excuse not to be accessible because everyone in their own way can express themselves and move, whether that’s through improv or ballet or whatever genre of dance,” said Laurie.

“Lockdown opened up a lot of doors for people wanting to join amateur ballet because people could access it digitally,” said Joshua.

“There are so many people that avoid going to a ballet studio because they simply don’t like the fact that there’s a whole wall of mirrors and they don’t want to look at themselves, or they don’t know what to wear, or they don’t think they’re good enough.

“That instantly disappears when you go online, it’s more of a private experience but you can have that introductory style to dance.”

“If people haven’t tried dancing before, get yourself into a workshop and just have fun because you’re guaranteed to be encouraged and guided really well,” said Laurie.

“I think it’s a thing that people should experience as its physical activity in a great social environment especially after the times that we’ve just gone through.”

To learn more about the Ballet Twins you can visit their website, follow them on Instagram or subscribe to their Youtube channel.