Ballet dancer Fernando Montaño has recently been described in the British Press as the “Colombian Billy Elliot” but, as I discovered when I attended his talk earlier this term at Wolfson College, he is so much more than that.
Born in a small town in Colombia, as a young boy Montaño first saw ballet on the TV and was inspired by this to take it up himself. Like many young boys he initially dreamed of being a football player, and his family only realised that he should focus on his dancing when he won a scholarship to the only ballet school in Colombia. When, aged 14, he won a place at the prestigious National Ballet School of Cuba, his family uprooted their lives and risked bankruptcy by moving there with him to support his dream.
Throughout his training in Cuba Montaño says that his fear that the school would take away his scholarship drove him to work harder than the other students, and when he graduated he gained the opportunity to tour with the company to Italy.
It was in Italy that Montaño’s career took off, but not everything ran completely smoothly. To stay there training at two of the most prestigious ballet schools Montaño had to stay with a friend who was at a convent. Every morning he had to sneak out of the convent in case the nuns caught him and, incredibly, he managed to keep up this lifestyle for months before he was found out. Whilst he admitted that with hindsight this was funny, at the time, it was a pretty scary situation. Yet his dedication to succeeding pushed him to go to such great lengths in order to continue his dancing training.
Since then Montaño has become a first artist with the Royal Ballet and said that his mentor, Carlos Acosta, has been of particular help to him with navigating the language barrier that he has come up against in the Royal Ballet. Another of his famous friends today is Dame Vivienne Westwood, for whom he has danced, modelled and choreographed on countless occasions.
Perhaps Montaño does fit the title of the “Columbian Billy Elliot”. His is a rags-to-riches story inspired and driven by his love and dedication to ballet. What makes him more than just a story is that he has recognised how lucky he has been and supports charities in his hometown. He was inspired by watching ballet on TV at a young age and so has decided to give children in poorer areas the opportunity to experience art, music and dance to inspire them too. He is a patron of the “Children of the Andes” charity, which helps to improve conditions in his hometown and is putting on his second gala event this summer to fundraise for it.