It’s a sunny October morning in London and Eric Underwood, the nonconformist former soloist, is going back to school. The American has managed to dance his way from humble beginnings in Washington DC, all the way to the stage of the Royal Ballet in London. Eric became a role model for those on the unconventional path to success due to his skin color, love for fast food and tattoos. For someone who fell into ballet almost accidentally, his story is an inspiration and proof that dreams can come true. After retiring in 2017, Eric made it his mission to make ballet more accessible and to help kids embrace their creativity. “A dream of mine is to give children the opportunity to see a world that they wouldn’t have seen otherwise.” Today, in the classroom of London Fields Primary School, with the help of Montblanc, Eric is able to fulfill that wish by participating in a workshop to develop a story and dance piece aimed at inspiring limitless creativity.
“For me what’s quite important is to give children the opportunity to express themselves creatively, in an artistic environment.”
- Eric Underwood, former soloist of the Royal Ballet in London.
Friday night dance parties:
Eric’s dance career started within the walls of his childhood home. On Friday nights, his mother would move the furniture out of the way in their Washington DC apartment and they’d dance the nights away to the greats of American soul. His mother told Eric he could do anything he wanted if he worked hard enough. And that’s just what he did. Stumbling across a ballet class in his teens, only light colored ballet shoes were available, so he used dark makeup to color his shoes, not letting adversity get in his way. A belief in his own creativity kept his dream alive. He won a scholarship to the School of American Ballet in New York and his dreams took him across the pond in 2006 to start at the Royal Ballet in London. He quickly learnt he didn’t have to conform to conquer the world of ballet, he just had to be the best dancer.
“I stumbled across dance and it changed my life, and I feel obligated to repay that.”
- Eric Underwood, on his motivation to make ballet more accessible.
“The Eric Underwood Class”
It’s not often a group of fourth graders are silent all at once. Eric is talking about his story to the group of kids who re-named their class after him. Their teacher, Mrs. Gallagher, taught Eric’s inspiring story before reaching out to him to ask if he’d like to send a video message to the kids. Eric suggested he would instead love to stop by in person and now he’s sitting at a desk eye level with the students, his long legs squeezed under the table. In the organization of the workshop, Eric made it clear he wanted to participate too. “Rather than me teaching them something or showing them something about my life, we are exchanging skills” he says. Firstly, the class is asked to talk about an object they’ve brought from home that reflects a personal skill. Eric’s brought his brown ballet shoes with him. Some kids have brought in drawings, others stories and some perform a musical number for Eric. One girl flips over backwards into a bridge then shows Eric how to do the same. In a feat of effortless acrobatics, Eric flips over backwards and elegantly flips back up again. Then the class works on a story together, each member writing two sentences using Montblanc writing instruments from the Le Petit Prince Collection. This story becomes the basis for a performance piece that Eric choreographs and teaches to the kids. Each child proudly puts their own personal spin on the moves, and with plenty of laughter the piece is performed to close out the workshop.
“Rather than me teaching them something or showing them something about my life, we are exchanging skills.”
- Eric Underwood on his time in the classroom
Eric believes dance can deliver a different outlook on life. With the help of Montblanc he’s delivered this sentiment to the kids of London Fields Primary School today in the most inspiring, inclusive and entertaining way. “Not necessarily to become dancers themselves, but to gather the other attributes that go along with dance, like discipline and confidence, all the things you can apply to normal life” he says standing in the school corridor. The bond Eric forged with the kids is much like that of The Little Prince and the fox, making the collaboration all the more meaningful. In both friendships the power to believe in dreams is a central concept, so powerful it can change lives. This holiday, Montblanc is helping other artists to fulfill their wishes, all the way from Florence, to New York to the remote mountains of Kyrgyzstan.