Boys Can Dance Ballet Too

Photo by Colleen Proppe via Flickr
Photo by Colleen Proppe via Flickr

What if your son told you he wanted to dance?

Not hip-hop, not jazz, not even ballroom — ballet. What would you say? More importantly, what would you think?

Ballet remains, in most people’s minds, a girl thing. And because of that, most professional male ballet dancers come from outside of the United States. In 2009, six out of the eight male principal dancers hailed from other countries. In 2015, three of the company’s principal male dancers are from the US; four are from overseas. The San Francisco Ballet, American’s oldest ballet company, is home to just own US-born male principal. The remaining male dancers hail from Cuba, Spain, Brazil, Estonia, Australia, Armenia, France and Russia.

Part of the problem is funding. In Russia, promising boys study ballet at publicly funded schools that combine academics and dance. No wonder so many top male dancers have come from Russia!

The larger problem, though, is stigma. Here in the United States, dance, especially ballet, has been stereotyped as a female thing, and God help the young boy (or teen) who says he wants to study ballet.

My oldest son, Boy #1, took ballet. He was four when he said he wanted to dance, and given his natural inclination towards performance, his father and I agreed to a dance class. Boy #1 loved it.

He quickly noticed, however, that he was the only boy in the class. Through two years of lessons, he remained the only boy in his class. Eventually, I think, he internalized the lesson: dance class is for girls. He quit when he was in first grade.

Thankfully, he hasn’t lost the will to dance all together. He’s an independent minded person and natural entertainer who’s found a home on the stage. Numerous musicals and, now, show choir, fulfill his urge to dance.

I wonder, though. How many other boys give up and suppress an essential part of themselves? How many boys (and men) would live happier, fuller lives, if only dance was recognized and accepted as a male activity too? Yes, progress has been made. So You Think You Can Dance is a top-rated TV show; Dancing with the Stars regularly showcases jocks and famous actors putting on the ritz. But we have a long way to go before parents think twice about signing their sons up for ballet class.

I know.

Why do you think ballet is viewed almost exclusively as a “girl thing?” Has your son ever taken dance lessons? Did he get any flak?

The Building Boys Bulletin

The Building Boys Bulletin Newsletter gives you the facts, encouragement, and inspiration you need to help boys thrive. Written by Jennifer L.W. Fink, mom of four sons and author of Building Boys: Raising Great Guys in a World That Misunderstands Males, Building Boys Bulletin includes:

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“I learned a lot about helping boys thrive over the past 20+ years — most of it the hard way! I’m eager to share what I’ve learned to make your path a little easier.”   – Jennifer

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9 Responses

  1. My son was into so many things: basketball, baseball, dance, singing, acting, drawing. What he wasn’t into much was school. It was really hard for me to get him to read. So comic books were his staple. Whatever worked. But he didn’t take flak for any of this, that I’m aware of. He did get teased for his size, though. He was tall and skinny. To compensate, in elementary school, he would put on about five or six shirts to make himself feel bigger. I always wondered why he had so much dirty laundry every week. He told me that story when he was in high school. Sad, huh?

  2. My 11-year-old loves to dance — he’s the go-to guy at school dances because he knows how to two-step. If he had the time, I think he would take ballet because he knows that some football players use it for strength and balance. He’s a confident kid, so he could take a good amount of ribbing before giving up, but I don’t know exactly how much.

    Here’s a quote I love: “If ballet were easy, everyone would do it.”

  3. At the Y, the only class for 2-year-olds to take sans parent is Beginning Ballet. I was ready to sign Max up and Dave said not on your life. I have to admit (to my own embarassment), I didn’t push it too hard.

  4. I am a huge fan of dancing, and I actually have Billy Elliot rented right now, from Netflix! It’s rated R, which only makes my boys want to watch it more!! I wish they would take an interest in dance, other than the unstructured flailing they prefer right now.

  5. I offered my son dance lessons when he was a little guy, but he opted for karate instead. But this year he asked for tap lessons to help him in musical theatre (he is very involved with the community theatre). He’s great!

    I think the “ballet is for girls” attitude depends on where you live – we move a lot, and when we live in a large city, my daughter’s ballet classes have several boys. We live in a small town at present, and my son is the only boy in the entire studio. They love having him, but yes, he has had to deal with some teasing by people in our own family. He’s man enough not to let it get to him, though. 🙂

  6. My son is 7 1/2 and he and his twin sister are in their third year of dance. Both last year and this year, he has had second thoughts about continuing (he’s the only boy in class, and has had to deal with a few kids at school who question why he’s in dance). It’s got to be hard for him. But he loves it and ultimately he decides he wants to continue. When I tell other moms he dances, they always follow with “hip hop?” and I tell them “that along with ballet and tap.” On ‘bring-a-friend day’ at dance class, his friends’ parents felt uncomfortable with allowing their son to go, so he didn’t have a buddy with him. I’m proud of my son for doing something he loves even though it may not be popular. Sad, though that a 7 year old has to tap into his courage to do so.

    1. I just came across your blog while looking for videos of boys dancing. I have two boys, 3 and almost 6. My older son is very much into dance and performing, has gone to dance camps and taken Jazz and now wants to do Tap. However, so far he has been the only boy and it’s taking it’s toll on him. He is getting discouraged and I feel close to giving up on it. I’ve got to find other ways to encourage him before he starts Grade 1 in the Fall and is possibly teased about it…which so far, he thankfully hasn’t been.
      Looking forward to reading more of your blog 🙂

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