Ex-racing driver among first transgender ballet dancers to sit prestigious Royal Academy of Dance exam

AN IT worker from North Yorkshire has become one of the first openly transgender ballet students to pass a Royal Academy of Dance ballet exam.

Sophie Rebecca*, 35, trained for her "intermediate foundation" qualification, the dance equivalent of an AS level exam, for over a year after quitting dance for a number of years.

She began learning to dance as a man at 17, but was expelled after the teacher learnt of her struggle with gender identity, she told the Times.

The RAD abandoned rules that only people born as women should be allowed to take its female dance courses in 2013.

The dance school, which was founded 95 years ago and is led by Darcey Bussell, also has its first male student who was born as a woman. in recent months the ballet student has undergone hormone treatment which has changed her body shape.

The physical changes made it harder to practise ballet, she said, because they rob her of her muscle strength. She claimed previously: "My muscle size will about halve, which I'm looking forward to. 

"Without testosterone in my system I will have to work twice as hard because I will lose strength way before I lose the weight."

Darcey Bussell performing Credit: Alastair Muir

The hormones mean her ligaments have changed and her hips, which she needs to hold backwards for dance positions, have tilted forwards.

She told the BBC: "I'm not transgender because I dance and I don't dance because I'm transgender. I dance because I'm a dancer. It just happens to be that I'm transgender. It's a passion, it's the way it makes me feel and its perfect. It's me." 

She started dancing around tow and a half years ago under the tuition of Lynne Reucroft-Croome, who has been teaching with the academy since 1977 and runs her own school in Harrogate.

Sophie said that she first began to feel that her male identity was wrong at primary school, where she liked to play girls' games and was "beaten up mercilessly despite being one of the biggest kids at school".

She realised in her mid-20s that she would never be comfortable as a man and sought help from the NHS. "It's safe to say I didn't have a very good experience with the NHS," she said. "I was told no one would ever love me and I would be neither man nor woman. That was in 2006."

Point shoes are commonly worn by ballerinas  Credit: London-Craft-Week

She also revealed she has paid to have laser hair removal, a process which she said proved extremely painful because she was previously "as hairy as a teddy bear".

Ms Reucroft-Croome said that her student would have to work harder than other students because of the impact on her body. "It's going to change everything. The muscle strength will go. We're going to lose strength in adage — the slower, more controlled movements when the leg is lifted off the floor. We're expecting it to diminish and we'll have to build back to it again."

She said that she was surprised when Sophie first turned up to her female group classes but was delighted that the academy's rules were so accepting. "I thought it was unusual because it was a situation that I'd never come across before, but what is strange [about it]I'm not judgmental about anybody."

However Ms Reucroft-Croome said that she could not easily see a day when transgender dancers would perform professionally. "Ballet dancers are a bit like racehorses. They have a specific size, shape, height of legs, flexibility. At the end of the day, [for transgender dancers] it's about people being themselves."

The academy has also approved the tuition of Joe Sandbrook, 14, who was born a girl but identifies as a boy. Joe was not available for interview but is understood to have aspirations to become a professional dancer.

*Sophie is known by her first name as her employer is unaware of her gender preference

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