At age 10, Hudson Galardi-Troy changed the course of his childhood. He traded in his jersey, sneakers and quit basketball — for one reason.
He wanted to dance ballet, a secret he kept from his friends for years.
Those days of hiding are over.
“For a long time, nobody knew. Actually, a few of my friends just found out this year,” he said. “It just never really came up.”
He paused, reconsidering. “I kept it mainly hidden for a couple years,” he admitted. “I never got picked on and that wasn’t really why I was hiding it. It’s kind of stupid that I did that, thinking back on it. I wish I hadn’t.”
After all, the 15-year-old Pierson sophomore is not just a hobbyist dancer. He was one of 60 students accepted to the New York Summer School of the Arts, where he beat out nearly 12,000 other kids to study with the New York City Ballet — twice. He has danced in summer intensives with the French Academy of Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet, the American Academy of Ballet and he even took a dance class in Paris, for fun.
Now, he is the first student to ever take on the role of Snow King, dancing opposite the Snow Queen — split by Lauren Gabbard and Sedona Silvera — in the Hampton Ballet Theatre School’s annual production of “The Nutcracker,” staging this weekend at Guild Hall in East Hampton.
“I wanted it,” Hudson said of the demanding principal role. “For the first few weeks, my back hurt from all the lifting. I was just waddling around in pain. It’s a lot more partnering than I’m used to, but it’s getting better.”
The pain will be worth the gain, he said, as his entire dance and theatrical career has built to this moment. By age 8, he had his Equity card in hand after portraying Dill in “To Kill a Mockingbird” at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor, and not long after, his mothers Susan Galardi and Beth Troy had enrolled him in dance.
“Even as a 3- and 4-year-old, he danced. He would dance everywhere,” Troy said. “I found a class at Ross Lower School with Kate Mueth and, after two or three classes, she said, ‘Beth, he seems to really love to dance. Why don’t you put him with HBTS and Sara Jo Strickland?’ So that’s what we did. Hudson will sometimes say that I forced him to do it, but he loved it.”
Troy’s intuition was correct — “Of course, me being an 8-year-old boy, I was like, ‘No! Ballet’s for girls! I’m not doing that,” Hudson had said 10 minutes earlier with a laugh — but he soon found a family at the Hampton Ballet Theatre School in Bridgehampton, and with its director Sara Jo Strickland.
“Just like when the ballerinas get pointe shoes — that’s always a big step — the next step for a young man is partnering,” Strickland said. “I like to challenge my dancers, in terms of raising the bar for them, so for him, the next step was partnering, and partnering in a bigger role. He’s developed the strength and knowledge to tackle this.”
In “The Nutcracker,” the six-minute piece called “Snow” is a test in endurance, thanks to its sheer length alone, the choreographer said, not to mention the signature lifts — and making his partners feel comfortable throughout.
“The ballerinas are the ones being lifted; they tend to get a little nervous,” Strickland said. “So he’s really being a gentleman and very calming, and also keeping it light, which I appreciate. There are a lot of things he is being challenged to do — dance, lift and have a stage presence — and I think all his friends are starting to come to his shows and realize what he does and how hard it is. I think they respect it. And I think he has evolved.”
When a young boy decides to dance, the community can react one of two ways, Strickland explained. Inside the studio, Hudson’s comrades are nothing but supportive, she said. Within his high school theater social circle, his friends are also on board, he said.
But the outside world is a different story altogether.
“Some of my friends are non-theater people, and at first they’ll joke around — but not in a mean way,” Hudson said. “I wouldn’t be friends with them if they were going to make fun of me or anything. No one does really, and even if they did, I wouldn’t really care.”
When Hudson speaks, there is no sense of false confidence about that. His mental strength is as strong as his physical, according to Galardi, and she has watched it grow through his training.
“For a kid in middle school, there’s the whole pressure to fit in and be like everybody else. Boys move in an amoeba,” she said. “When he quit basketball, I remember one mother said to us, ‘Oh he’s gonna take a hit socially.’ It was like, ‘He’s 11! Jesus!’
“He made a decision that took him out of his little group and he found a tremendous social life at HBTS,” she continued. “He had to make a choice and he didn’t think twice about it. I am just so incredibly proud of him, just to see how gorgeous he is, and how he’s stuck with something. He’s beautiful to watch on stage. It all comes together — this teenage masculinity, his aesthetic sense, his love of performing. I’m just really proud of him. I love him.”
According to Galardi, there is a larger cultural issue at play. The arts are not as highly regarded as sports in the traditional educational system, she said — and male dancers in the United States are not viewed in the same way as they are in places such as Europe, where they are revered, Strickland noted.
“The more you get away from a city environment, the worse it gets,” she said. “People just think a male ballet dancer is … I don’t even want to say the word.”
“But Hudson, he doesn’t really care if people don’t respect what he does. He’s going to do it anyway,” she said. “Snow King, for a showcase of a role, it’s a big deal for him. He’s really stepping up. And I do think he can be a role model. I do think he could be a leader. On stage, he’s going to shine.”
For now, Hudson says he is embracing the challenge that ballet provides, but does not see himself pursuing a professional dance career. He thrives on its athleticism and discipline, and hopes other young boys on the East End are embracing it, too — no matter what others say.
“Don’t over-think what you think people think about you — because most of the time, people don’t really care,” he said. “You’re probably making a bigger deal of it in your mind than they would be in real life.”
Hampton Ballet Theatre School will present Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” on Friday, December 7, at 7 p.m. at the John Drew Theater at Guild Hall, located at 158 Main Street in East Hampton. Additional performances will be held Saturday, December 8, at 1 and 7 p.m., and Sunday, December 9, at 2 p.m. Advance tickets range from $15 to $45, or $20 to $50 at the door. For more information, call (888) 933-4287 or visit hamptonballettheatreschool.com.