A Scottish ballet star has been appointed as the first male dance ambassador by a prestigious dance body to help inspire a new generation of ‘Billy Elliots’.

Iain Mackay will also be working with rugby players and footballers as part of the inaugural role with the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD), the UK professional body which sets standards for classical ballet exams.

New figures from the RAD suggest more boys are taking part in ballet – with the numbers taking exams growing by 16% in two years, from 1,127 in 2013 to 1,316 last year - but that's only a fraction compared to girls.

The success of the film Billy Elliot in 2000 – which charted the battle of a miner’s son to become a ballet dancer against the wishes of his father – has been credited with helping remove some of the stigma around boys taking ballet lessons.

The popularity of reality TV programmes such as Strictly Come Dancing in recent years is also believed to have helped fuel interest in dance classes in recent years.

Mackay, who will be holding a masterclass for boys in Edinburgh today to mark the start of his male dance ambassador role, said he believed it was important to try to encourage boys into ballet by teaching them in a way they can relate to.

He said: “Ballet is so disciplined and young girls at the age of seven or eight like the discipline of it – boys don’t, for them it is very boring at that age.

“I try to get them jumping about and work in the ballet steps later – they can play at being a superhero and if they start learning to stretch their feet while jumping, that is the same as what they will do when they start to take on a more structured approach to ballet.”

He added: “I was really pleased and honoured when I was asked to take on this role and it will be putting out a message to try and encourage more boys to get into ballet, who possibly have either never thought about it or have been too scared of the stigma attached to take the next step.

“It has always got this stigma of being an effeminate art form - but it is really not, it is physical and a lot of fun.”

Mackay, 35, who grew up in Lennoxtown, East Dunbartonshire, had his interest in ballet sparked at the age of seven after being roped into accompanying his older brother to classes.

He trained as a junior associate at Scottish Ballet and is now Principal at Birmingham Royal Ballet, currently playing the role of Romeo in Romeo and Juliet.

“My brother was obsessed with the TV programme Fame and wanted to jump like (the character) Leroy,” he said. “My mum found a local ballet teacher for him, but he was the only boy, so I was roped in to keep him company.

“I had never even seen ballet on stage, but I enjoyed jumping around. We also did karate, gymnastics and football – but for me, ballet was one of the most fun and it was as physical as the rest of them.”

Mackay has also been working with footballers and rugby and tennis players to show how ballet techniques can help improve co-ordination and prevent injuries.

He said: “Ballet dancers have amazing core strength and amazing balance with flexibility – rugby players are big guys, but sometimes really stiff which leads to injuries.

“As a dancer you learn from a very young age how to best coordinate the body to make movement the most efficient.”

Mackay also said he believed attitudes were changing to dance in general, thanks to the popularity of programmes like Strictly Come Dancing and So You Think You Can Dance.

“I think people are a lot more open to the idea of men in ballet than we used to be,” he said. “I know a lot of colleagues who said Billy Elliot was their story – they wanted to dance, but their dad didn’t want them to. But once the parent saw what it was going to offer them they supported it.”

Melanie Murphy, spokeswoman for the Royal Academy of Dance said: “Our numbers of male students are steadily growing but we want to make a bigger impact.”