LINDA Gallagher said she knew her son, Kalin Eade, was destined for greater things when he begged her to let him take dance lessons from the age of four.
Eventually she relented and sent him off to ballet lessons, with the young boy alone in a studio full of little girls and tutus.
When, as a single parent, she could no longer afford his lessons, she cleaned the studio after hours to pay for his tuition.
Kalin was not particularly popular with the girls when he swept the floor in the Year 3 dancing competitions.
“Winning most of the sections, the girls got a bit cranky about it,” Kalin, 16, said.
“And in Year 3 it’s like the world has ended if something bad goes wrong, so I didn’t have many friends after that.”
Nine years later, Kalin is the captain of the local under-16s rugby league team, the Gunnedah Bulldogs, and a rare NSW veteran of the Broncos training camp, showing enough potential to one day play professionally. But, not long ago, the Year 11 student came to a decision: he wanted to be a ballerino.
“They’re so different – football to dancing. Your body shape’s different and I think it’s to the point where I’ve got to choose either one,” he said.
“It could be life-changing.”
As the only boy in his advanced dancing class and twice a choreographer in the New England Dance Festival competition, Kalin still has to contend with the bullies on the football field.
Recently, a group of boys on the other team ripped his head gear off during a game.
“I scored and they’re like, ‘He’s a dancer, he’s a dancer. Smash him’,” Kalin said.
But the boy from the bush, who hopes to be accepted by the Australian Ballet, is not easily rattled.
“From an early age he never liked to lose,” Linda said.
“He was very competitive, but always did his very best, so whatever he competed in, he just did it to the best of his ability.
“(He’s) always liked music and art and things like that as well as your footy.”
While football runs in Kalin’s blood – his uncle played for Penrith and his father played rugby union – there is no family precedent for dancing or much creativity at all, his mother said.
She would prefer he chose a career with a steady income, but said he must do what he loves.
“He played his football for mateship, really, and then just became very good at that and represented your school, your region, your state,” she said.
“But his heart’s not in it and he wants to pursue dance.”
“He’s got something special in him,” Gunnedah under-16s coach Wayne Griffiths said.
Kalin played with an injured ankle on Sunday and was awarded the best and fairest for his performance throughout the year.
“He just refused to come off, he wouldn’t let his teammates down,” Mr Griffiths said.
He said he could see the dancer in the 16-year-old as he played on the field with his teammates.
“It’s in his balance, his ability to stop on a dime and how he can rotate so quickly,” Mr Griffiths said.
“He’s an amazing player with a lot of strengths.”
Although he said he would miss the captain’s playing prowess, the teenager was chasing his dream and he wished the best for him.
“Kalin doesn’t have any doubts in his mind as to what he wants to do. Isn’t that a great thing for a 16-year-old?” Mr Griffith said.
Kalin, whose room is filled with football and swimming trophies on a small property outside Gunnedah, where a lamb bleats outside his window, said ballet appealed to his inner perfectionist.
“Ballet’s black and white. You do it right or you do it wrong,” he said.
“With all the other styles, you can interpret it in your own way. But ballet’s, like, you’ve just got to be perfect.”