Meet the finalists of BBC Young Dancer 2017

Here are two of the fleet-footed youngsters competing in BBC4's talented dancing competition

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This Friday 24 March sees the return of the BBC Young Dancer competition, showing the very best in British dance from competitors between 16 and 21.

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Discover more about two of the talented performers here.

Rhys Antoni Yeomans, 18

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When Rhys was ten years old his mum and grandma took him to London to see the musical Billy Elliot in the West End. He’d been singing and dancing at stage school in Manchester for a couple of years, but little Rhys, who had never been to London or the theatre before, was so inspired he set his sights on being on that stage himself. Two years later he was.

“Weirdly, a few weeks after I went to see Billy there was an audition to play him,” he recalls, “and my teacher at stage school told me to audition for it. I had never had any ballet or tap classes before but she just told me to go along and try. From 400 boys I got down to the last three – although at one point they asked everyone to put their tap shoes on and I was the only one who didn’t have any.

“But I think they saw something in me that they could nurture – some potential. So they asked me to work on my dancing and suggested I go to a dance school in Manchester called Centre Pointe, where some of the past Billys had been. I trained there for a couple of years, with them coming back and keeping an eye on me. Two years later, when I was 12, they asked me to be in the show and I was Billy for 18 months.”

Despite the role involving singing as well as various forms of dance – modern, tap and classical – it was ballet that Rhys really fell in love with and pursued once his time as Billy was up. But getting into a ballet school was harder than he ever imagined.

“When Billy Elliot came out as a film all those years ago ballet was just for girls in pink fluffy tutus, but the film made a huge impact. It made ballet look strong and masculine and it became completely acceptable for boys to do it, which is great. But when it came to auditioning for ballet schools at 16, I would say there were probably more girls than boys auditioning! Luckily I got in, but now that my dream is to get a job in a ballet company, that Billy effect is really working against me – it’s so hard to get a place.”

Now in his final year at the English National Ballet School, Rhys may be nervous about getting a much-coveted place within a dance company, but his talent and passion have obviously already set him apart.

“My director at the National Ballet School asked me if I wanted to audition for BBC Young Dancer. Archie [Sullivan], who won the ballet category a couple of years ago, was also in my school and I really looked up to him, so I went for it. And it is an amazing opportunity because being part of the ballet section of the competition has given me a platform and exposure to directors from big ballet companies, as well as the chance to perform solos and pas de deux on stage, which is just incredible.”

“One day I would love to be a principle dancer, like Steven McRae at the Royal Ballet. To play Romeo on stage would be the most amazing dream come true.”

Anjelli Wignakumar, 20 

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“I started dancing Bharatanatyam when I was five years old,” recalls Anjelli, “because my mum did the same type of dance and put me in a lesson just before hers. All I wanted at that age was to be like her and I was a little attention-seeker, so I loved it! “

Anjelli’s parents are originally from Sri Lanka but came over to London to study and settled here. Her mum still dances alongside her day job at an investment bank in the city, while her dad is a surgeon in America. And Anjelli has taken inspiration from both – as well as dancing she is in her third year of medicine at Imperial College in London.

“Fitting in my medical degree and my dancing is hard, I’m not going to lie – sleep deprivation is crucial! But it’s so nice to have an aspect of both my parents in my life – the medical career from my dad and the passion for dance from my mum.

“If I had to give up one? I don’t think I could give up my medical career, but the fact I have dance as such a big part of my life takes the edge off both. It gives me a release from life in a hospital and at the same time means I can enjoy dancing without the pressure of feeling like I have to make a career or living out of it.

“My parents are probably relieved I’ve decided to divide my time the way I have because dancing full time is always a risk. I admire the people who do it because the amount of training it takes and getting your name out there is so hard.”

Following her performance in the South Asian section of Young Dancer, getting her name out there may not be so hard but as long as there are enough hours in the day (and night), Anjelli will undoubtably continue to be a dazzling dancing doctor.

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BBC Young Dancer 2017 is on Friday 24 March at 8pm on BBC4