Special to the Village News
Charley Toscano of Bonsall, an accomplished 10-year-old ballet student who recently placed in the top-six of the prestigious Youth America Grand Prix finals in Florida, has been dancing for a little more than two years
There were 18 boys in the precompetitive finals including numerous international competitors.
Charley has an experienced coach who knows him well, his mother. Cody Toscano heads the pre-professional ballet training program at North County Academy of Dance in Bonsall.
"He's dancing at the level of a 16-17 year old," said the proud mom. "He has the desire to go far with this and he really has the talent."
The dancers in the competition finals often receive invitations from elite ballet schools.
"Charley competed with boys up to age 12 and is too young to enroll, but he's been invited to visit places like the Princess Grace Academy in Monaco," Cody said. "That would be his first choice, but it's a matter of finances, too."
Elmhurst Ballet School in Birmingham, U.K., and two schools in Canada are other possible destinations.
The family has established a GoFundMe page to assist with potential travel and some of the schools offer scholarships. For this summer, tentative plans are to attend Elite Classical Coaching in Frisco, Texas.
In addition to competing as a soloist in Florida, Charley was invited to dance as a last minute replacement partner for a girl from Malta. Fortunately, the girl spoke English.
"He absolutely loved his partner, Ella Pace," Cody said. "They are truly a great little match, and they were inseparable while in Tampa. They hope to see each other again or work together in the future."
"It was an absolute blast," she added. "They connected online before the event and had a couple jam sessions prior to the pas de deux competition. They did well but didn't place. It was a lot of fun."
Charley showed some interest in ballet when he was 3 years old, Cody recalled, dancing in his underwear with foam exercise rollers as his partner, but by the time he was 4 or 5, the interest fizzled out.
He tried soccer, then baseball for a couple years, but a team sport wasn't his "spot." Instead, he was attracted to skateboarding, and still loves visiting the skate park in Bonsall.
A couple years ago, after following his mother when she gave lessons, Charley expressed a renewed interest in ballet.
"I always liked to watch my mom teach," Charley explained last week by phone while visiting his grandmother in Arizona. "It was pretty cool to learn to turn and jump, things that are not normal. It's very cool."
"He's just a natural. You have it or you don't, Cody added. "Part of it is that he's very charming."
Practicing 25 to 35 hours a week during the season has something to do with his success, but his personal coach said a strong aspect of Charley's performances are his showmanship and personality with the confidence he's developed.
The young athlete is just over five feet tall and weighs 82 pounds but could grow into his father Tony's 6-7 frame.
"Charley is like a baby Great Dane sometimes," joked his mom, but when it's performance time he's all business.
"I've learned a lot," Charley said. "It's about choosing to keep your work ethics. My goal is to be a professional ballet dancer."
His favorite artist is Antonio Casalinho, who grew up in Portugal and has been a multi-award winner in every international competition he has entered. Now 18, Casalinho joined the Bayerisches Staatsballett in Munich as a soloist for the 2021-2022 season.
"He's just really, really, really good," Charley said.
"That's his superhero," his mom said. "It's what Charley wants to do, follow in his footsteps. Charley has the desire to continue and feels lucky for the opportunity that can make for a rich life."
Charley watches his Casalinho's YouTube videos as inspiration before competing.
Cody started Charley in the dance studio's home-school program.
"He's good at school, but we can't afford a prestigious college," Cody said. "Dance scholarships may be his path. Schools are saying they want him now."
Tony is "all in" on his son's choice, she said, even if it means moving from Bonsall. Charley has two sisters, ages 7 and 2.
Cody said COVID-19 is partly responsible for Charley's love of ballet. He started being homeschooled because the timing of online classes didn't work. Homeschool was convenient because mom could take him to work. She would have school in the morning and evening, and ballet in the afternoon.
Cody was raised in the Bay Area. She trained in all genres of dance as well as gymnastics, and eventually chose classical ballet as her focus. She worked with the San Jose Cleveland Ballet and other companies, dancing and teaching all over the West Coast.
"I am very thankful for such a long and beautiful connection with the stage through my life," said the veteran of 15 years teaching. "Each artist's journey is different and requires a specific recipe."
"Ballet has given me so much over these two years," Charley said. "I feel so privileged to have these opportunities in front of me. I would love nothing more than to study and grow so I too can one day give my gifts of dance to others both on and off stage."