Boy from hurling heartland makes the leap into ballet's big-time
HE'S heard all the 'Billy Elliot' jokes before, so save yourself the effort.But Christopher Furlong is unrepentant: the teenager from Co Offaly wants to be a ballet dancer.
"In Rhode it was all girls in ballet," the 15-year-old said with a shrug yesterday. He just got on with it.
In London, where he starts at the prestigious Central School of Ballet next month, things will be a little different.
"I had to do two rounds of auditions earlier this year," he said.
"The first round was mixed: boys and girls. The final audition, which you had to be called back for, was just an all-boys audition.
"They only take 15 boys and 15 girls for the year, and as far as I know a couple of hundred got to the first audition."
For a young man who took up the discipline at the relatively late age of 11, Christopher's progress has been hugely impressive.
He knows of only one other Irish male ever chosen to train with the top London ballet school.
After three years' training at the school, he hopes to be invited to one of the world's best-known ballet companies.
But it's a hard road ahead.
"It's very tough, but you just learn so much while you're there. It's six days a week, and I think it starts at 8.45 in the morning and ends around four.
"And then I have my A-levels study in the evening. So very long days ahead. But it's something that I really want to do. I don't want to do anything else but dancing."
And Christopher, who turns 16 next month, is used to the road less-travelled.
"It's not very popular for guys down here to be doing ballet -- it's mostly GAA and hurling that the lads are interested in," he said.
"Classes started up here in my home village, and my sister started first. When they were putting on a show, they needed someone to play Aladdin.
"I'd already done some ballroom and Latin dancing in the village so the dance teacher asked me if I would take the part. I said yes, and I just loved it from the start."
From there he made rapid progress, first to the National Irish Youth Ballet, then on to the College of Dance in Monkstown, Dublin, and now to London.
But Christopher kept it under wraps for some time.
"My friends were fine because most of them did some sort of dancing too," he said.
"But I wasn't really open about it for a long time. Eventually it all came out and it was grand; it has got much easier.
"There have been jokes about 'Billy Elliott' but it's great that they've all accepted that this is what I want."
Christopher takes his latest 'grand jete' towards stardom in London on September 13.