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‘Breaking Pointe,’ ‘Bunheads’ help ballet make leap to mainstream

In this film publicity image released by Fox Searchlight Natalie Portman is shown scene from 'Black Swan.' The film garnered

In this film publicity image released by Fox Searchlight, Natalie Portman is shown in a scene from "Black Swan." The film garnered Portman an Oscar for best actress in 2011 for her role as Swan Queen Nina Sayers. (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, Niko Tavernise)

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Updated: August 6, 2012 11:35AM

NEW YORK — “I’m really digging it,” says Ronnie Underwood, a buff, tattooed motorcycle enthusiast, auto racer and former football player who also happens to be a ballet dancer.

Oh, and a reality show star. Underwood, 30, is one of the main characters on “Breaking Pointe,” the CW series about the lives and loves, trials and tribulations of the dancers at Ballet West, a highly regarded company in Salt Lake City.

The season comes to a finale Thursday (7 p.m., WGN-Channel 9), and suspense is high: Will Ronnie, Rex, Christiana and Allison be ready for their close-up? Or will opening-night jitters, not to mention relationship issues, derail their hard work?

What Underwood is “digging” is the broader fact that ballet, often relegated to a dusty, forgotten shelf in the general culture, seems to be having its moment in the sun.

Besides “Breaking Pointe,” there’s the ABC Family show “Bunheads,” starring the Tony-winning actress Sutton Foster. (The title is dance-speak for ballerinas, a reference to their neatly coiled hairdos.) And the hugely popular “Dancing with the Stars” has featured guest turns by ballet dancers including Jose Manuel Carreno, recently retired from American Ballet Theatre, and the ballerina Tiler Peck of New York City Ballet.

A recent big-screen documentary, “First Position,” tracked young dancers in a global competition. But it’s a much more famous 2010 film that gets much of the credit for starting the ballet mini-craze: Darren Aronofsky’s cool and edgy “Black Swan,” which starred Natalie Portman and brought a whole new vibe to that stuffy classic, “Swan Lake.”

“ ‘Black Swan’ really did bring ballet into the mainstream pop culture consciousness in a way it hadn’t been for a while — and that was great for us in the ballet world,” says Rob Daniels, managing director at New York City Ballet.

Daniels says the company sold out its runs of “Swan Lake” for two seasons after the film opened. “And it definitely felt the houses were younger — that young people were coming who’d seen the film and were curious about ballet,” Daniels says.

Adam Sklute, a former Joffrey Ballet dancer and now artistic director of Ballet West, says he gave the OK to “Breaking Pointe” to help outsiders understand the ballet world.

“Because when people start to explore the ballet world,” he says, “they become fascinated. I wanted to depict it as it really is.”

What “Breaking Pointe” does very effectively is show that ballet demands an amazing combination of athleticism, physical strength, endurance and sheer grunt work. “People don’t realize how down and dirty the work really is,” says Sklute.


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