'Billy Elliot' thrives in N.Y.

Last modified: Sunday, September 26, 2010
Every morning, Peter Mazurowski gets up and runs through his dance routine. For two solid hours he practices in his pajamas, his sock-clad feet tapping on and sliding over the wood floors in his bedroom. Better to make a mistake in the privacy of his Manhattan apartment, he thinks to himself, than in front of the 1,500 people he'll perform for on Broadway that night.

It is part of the erratic, adrenaline-tinged life of a professional dancer, and at 13 years old, Peter is facing the pressure of performance and the challenge of mastering middle school science all in one breath. In June, he left his family and friends in Bow to star as the lead role in the Broadway incarnation of Billy Elliot - the story of a young boy determined to make it as a ballet dancer.

Before auditioning for the role in January, he'd never even been to the Big Apple. Now, he dances - and acts and sings - for thousands each week in one of the performing arts capitals of the world.

'When I saw New York City, I knew this was where I was supposed to be,' Peter said. 'It's a dancer's home.'

His love of dance came just as instantly seven years earlier, when he stepped into his first ballet class at the New Hampshire School of Ballet in Hooksett at age 6.

'I didn't know what to expect, I'd never taken a dance class before,' he said.

His class did floor exercises, then went to the horizontal bar to learn the positions.

'It was just basic stuff. But I remember going home and showing my parents everything I'd learned. I remember knowing that I loved it.'

Peter's sister, who is three years older, is also a dancer, and as the two became more and more involved, their parents began to realize that dance was here to stay.

'It became the family sport,' said Carolyn Mazurowski, Peter's mother. 'I was making costumes; his dad was helping backstage at performances. Dance became life.'

By the time he was 10, Peter was taking four dance classes a week and participating in regional and national competitions. He spent hours practicing in his dance school's studio.

'He would live there if he could,' said Jennifer Rienert, the owner and director of the New Hampshire School of Ballet. 'I could tell early on that he had passion, and that is half the battle.'

Eventually, word got around of Peter's talent. After placing in a national competition last year, Nora Brennan, the children's casting director for Billy Elliot - always on the lookout for talented boy dancers - contacted the school, and Peter auditioned in January.

'He's a beautiful dancer, and he has a strong base of ballet technique. Beautiful jumps, great turns, gorgeous leaps,' Brennan said.

The audition process and subsequent performance schedule can be grueling, she added. 'It's so hard. Without the inner passion, most kids would give up. It's the ones that love it, that can be focused and tackle the challenge, that are able to continue.'

It hasn't always been easy. Just like Billy Elliot, the character he plays, Peter faced teasing for being a male dancer.

'I was teased a little in elementary school, then a little more in middle school,' Peter said. 'Kids would make fun of boys dancing. They'd say stuff like 'Oh, you wear a tutu?' and I used to get really hung up on it.'

A few times he was brought to tears. 'But eventually, I just realized being upset was pointless. When they'd tease, I'd just think to myself, 'I'm not going to let them stop me.' And I didn't.' However, unlike Billy Elliot, whose family initially condemns his choice to pursue dance, Peter's parents rallied behind him.

'I have the opposite of Billy's home life. The complete opposite,' Peter said. 'My parents and sister are the most important people in my life. If I didn't have them, it'd have been hard to go through it alone.'

'He tried his hand at tee ball and soccer, and then wanted to try his hand at formal dance. Within two years, we knew he had something special,' said Jay Mazurowski, his father.

Moving To Manhattan

Leaving his family - and his friends and dance school - has not been easy, Peter said. After finding out in April that he was one of four boys from across the country chosen to play Billy, he left Bow for New York City in June.

His uncle, a dance instructor from Florida, moved to Manhattan to take care of Peter, and the two share an apartment in midtown. Peter has adorned it with pictures of his friends and a poster of his sister from her performance in The Nutcracker, and he is always busy texting or talking to people back home on the phone or through Skype. Still, he said, it's not the same.

'I miss them, especially my parents and my sister,' he said. 'But I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.'

He rehearses or performs four days a week, and in between, he studies with the other boys in the show with the help of private tutors. He has to put in a little extra effort to stay on top of math and science.

Peter's parents both work at Concord Hospital. His father is the director of radiology and his mother is an emergency room nurse. While his dad can usually make the four-hour trek to New York City only on the weekends, his mom arranged to work on a per-diem basis at the hospital, so she's able to be in the audience for most of the shows.

'It's really hard. Parents usually don't see their children leave home until they go off to college, when they are 18 or 19. Peter's only 13. We talk to him every day, but we can't be there with him all the time,' his father said.


The one thing they can share, though, is Peter's performances.

'I was blown away by the whole experience,' Carolyn said. 'I was speechless. I sat in awe watching him perform in front of these hundreds of people, just hoping that he'd be happy with his own performance. When he got a standing ovation, it blew me out of the water.'

Peter said he remembers his debut performance and the butterflies that invaded his stomach as each moment brought him closer to the curtain opening.

'I was so emotional. It was three months of rehearsing all built up.' Another cast member took him aside right before they called the actors to take their place backstage and gave him some advice: Just go out there and show the audience what you can do.

'As soon as I got out there, I was fine,' Peter said. 'I was on stage. I was where I wanted to be.'