San Francisco Ballet principal Benjamin Freemantle. Drew Altizer Photography, Courtesy SFB

In His Spare Time, Principal Dancer Benjamin Freemantle Gives Free Haircuts to San Francisco's Homeless

Back when he was a living in a dorm as an international student at San Francisco Ballet School, Benjamin Freemantle developed a new skill: cutting hair. "Most of us didn't have the financial means to go out and get a San Francisco haircut," he says. So he started cutting his fellow dancers' hair and his own.

"I actually kinda lied to my friend and told him I'd done it before," admits Freemantle, with a laugh. "But it turned out really well!"



Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

To this day, Freemantle, who's now a principal at San Francisco Ballet, continues to do his own hair, in addition to some SFB School students' and company members'. Purely self-taught, he has beefed up his skills over the years thanks to tutorials on YouTube.

But Freemantle's hair-cutting hobby has grown into more of a mission: He's expanded his clientele, offering free cuts to San Francisco's homeless community.

"It started when I had an apartment, like a block from the ballet, and every day there was this homeless man who lived in my alley," says Freemantle. The two became friendly, saying hello to each other. "Then one day I invited him to come up, take a shower and have a beer—just relax out of the cold." Freemantle offered his neighbor a haircut and a shave, and he accepted. "I think it meant a lot to him that someone saw him and wanted to help—even if it wasn't money or food, that's what I could offer at the time."

Freemantle in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem

Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB

So Freemantle thought about how he could build on this experience. "I had the idea—it was a little scary—to go into the Tenderloin, which is our homeless district," he says. He brought a stool, his haircutting set—basic shears from Amazon, combs, a brush and a spray bottle—and a sign that read "Need a Haircut?"

"I cut five people's hair my first day, and the next week I came back again." Freemantle continues to go to the Tenderloin sporadically as his schedule allows.

On a recent visit, he says he ran into some of the people whose hair he'd previously cut. "They were really thankful, just saying how they got a job interview or they're working at Burger King now," says Freemantle, noting how they "felt a little more welcomed back into society."

Reflecting on the experience, he says, "It's reinstilled that they're human—they're someone's daughter, someone's son, niece, nephew, you know? There's a history there and we don't know it." Given San Francisco's large homeless population, it's an especially relevant message. "People tend to throw them to the side without a care, and I don't think that's the way to move forward."

Related Articles From Your Site
Related Articles Around the Web

Latest Posts


Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

The 10 Biggest Dance Stories of 2019

What were the dance moments that defined 2019? The stories that kept us talking, week after week? According to our top-clicked articles of the year, they ranged from explorations of dance medicine and dance history, takedowns of Lara Spencer and companies who still charge dancers to audition, and, of course, our list of expert tips on how to succeed in dance today.

We compiled our 10 biggest hits of the year, and broke down why we think they struck a chord:

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Nichols

I Am a Black Dancer Who Was Dressed Up in Blackface to Perform in La Bayadère

On Instagram this week, Misty Copeland reposted a picture of two Russian ballerinas covered head to toe in black, exposing the Bolshoi's practice of using blackface in the classical ballet La Bayadère. The post has already received over 60,000 likes and 2,000 comments, starting a long overdue conversation.

Comments have been pouring in from every angle imaginable: from history lessons on black face, to people outside of the ballet world expressing disbelief that this happens in 2019, to castigations of Copeland for exposing these young girls to the line of fire for what is ultimately the Bolshoi's costuming choice, to the accusations that the girls—no matter their cultural competence—should have known better.

I am a black dancer, and in 2003, when I was 11 years old, I was dressed up in blackface to perform in the Mariinsky Ballet's production of La Bayadère.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS

Here's the First Trailer for the "In the Heights" Movie

Lights up on Washington Heights—because the trailer for the movie adaptation of the hit Broadway musical In the Heights has arrived. It's our first look into Lin-Manuel Miranda's latest venture into film—because LMM isn't stopping at three Tony awards, a Grammy award, and an Emmy.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
contest
Enter Our Video Contest