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Hobbs Waters, 11, is trying to raise $4,000 to follow his dreams to attend ballet camps in Tennessee and Connecticut.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Hobbs Waters, who dances at Southeast Portlands' Classical Ballet Academy, has found himself in ballet, rising above  prejudice and a lack of resources to earn a place in the national spotlight.If you have any assumptions about what a ballet student looks like, does in their spare time or can afford, you'll want to put those away.

Hobbs Waters has no time for your stereotypes.

The 5-foot-7, size 11-shoe Arbor Lodge neighborhood resident is only 11 years old but already has the talent and drive to move in national ballet circles.

Any other kid might stop at the up to 25 hours per week of dance practice it takes to succeed, but Waters has many artistic passions and a get-it-done approach.

One of his biggest side projects — a clothing line called City Troll, featuring original designs he screenprints by hand — is being used to help fund his dance pursuits.

He needs to raise $4,000 by June 3 in order to go to two elite dance camps at the Nutmeg Conservatory in Connecticut and the Nashville Ballet in Tennessee this summer. He has full scholarships for the classes, but needs funding for plane tickets, lodging and replacements for his worn-out ballet shoes.

"It's expensive. Dancing's really expensive," says Sarah Rigles, director of the Classical Ballet Academy in Southeast Portland. Rigles says Waters is one of her best students. "We need more artists like Hobbs."

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Hobbs Waters, an 11-year-old Arbor Lodge resident, doesn't just dance — he also runs a design business and runs many other side projects.

Bullied over ballet

Unlike other ballet dancers, Waters has had to overcome negative perceptions to keep finding joy in dance.

After bullying started up in fourth grade, he went through three schools in two years: Chief Joseph and Sabin elementary schools and Trillium Charter School. Waters says he was bullied for liking ballet, for being gender-questioning (at the time) and for his race. The bullying continued until his mom pulled him out to "unschool."

Unschool is a branch of homeschooling in which children direct their learning with guidance from adults. Waters initiates and completes projects for his school work.

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Hobbs Waters wears an original-design T-shirt, part of his City Troll line. Waters is selling the artwork and clothing to afford ballet camps this summer. He now has art gallery openings, cello lessons and 182 people on an email list he started as part of a community clean-up day project. He continues to send emails inviting folks to his projects and to support his endeavors.

"He's a hard-working dude. He keeps the whole mother thing interesting," says mom A.J. McCreary. She adds that ballet has given him a badly needed physical outlet for his energy. "I'm glad he's found a lot of peace in it. He's found himself in it."

Rigles, his instructor, says Waters is different from other kids.

"What I think is kind of cool about Hobbs is he has tons of ideas," Rigles says, "and he actually does them."

TRIBUNE PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Hobbs Waters' ballet shoes need replaced. Dreams of dermatology

He doesn't want to unschool forever, though. Waters plans to pick back up in public school, and, after a dance career, he's thinking of becoming a lawyer or a dermatologist.

Skin does seem to be something the boy thinks of more than most his age. At a recent dance competition in New York, the Youth America Grand Prix, Waters says he got "stared at a lot" and felt different for being African-American.

Despite his drive, Waters doubts if the ballet world will ever fully accept him. He says he is involved with the International Association of Blacks in Dance but still doesn't even dream of dancing with the top ballet companies.

"I was thinking that's probably not going to happen because of who I am and what I look like," he says.

His instructor tries to derail that train of thought, though. He is tall, flexible, has long limbs and the "right knees" for ballet, Rigles tells him. "That matters a lot more than skin color."

For his youth, Rigles says Waters is remarkably driven and mature. He is able to slow down and do things right. Rigles says she expects him to go far with the right support.

"Ballet has always been this elite thing," Rigles says. "It's just really important to break that down and make it accessible to everybody."

Shasta Kearns Moore
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