Yes, Boys Can Dance

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It’s 2019. I can’t believe I have to say this, but here it goes: BOYS CAN DANCE. 

One day after releasing a podcast episode with the creator of #MyBoyCan, a international movement founded by Sassy Harvey after her 4-year-old son was told he must be either “gay” or “a girl” because he attended dance class, Good Morning America anchor Lara Spencer ridiculed Prince George — Prince George! — for taking ballet. George is 6 years old. Lara is 50.

In the segment, Lara says the word “ballet” with a fancy flourish that suggests and invites ridicule, then laughs along with the audience, further encouraging their laughter. Then she adds, “Prince William says George loves ballet. I have news for you, Prince William: we’ll see how long that lasts.”

Statistically, she’s right: Boys often drop out of ballet. That’s one reason why there’s such a shortage of male ballet dancers, especially here in the United States. (In 2015, the San Francisco Ballet, American’s oldest ballet company, has just one US-born male principal. The remaining male dancers were from Cuba, Spain, Brazil, Estonia, Australia, Armenia, France and Russia.)

Some boys legitimately lose interest in the art form, but far more boys quit because they have been told, time and again and in so many ways, that ballet is not “manly.” Boys quit because, in most places, it is not physically and emotionally safe to be a male ballet dancer — even in 2019. Consider these stats:

  • 93% of boys involved in ballet report “teasing and name calling”
  • 68% experience “verbal or physical harassment”
  • 11% were victims of physical harm at the hands of people who targeted them because they study dance

Physical and emotional violence is routinely used to force boys to conform to traditional masculine stereotypes. We don’t often acknowledge that fact and we almost never say it out loud, but it’s the truth our boys are living. In fact, I believe that one reason so many dads are still opposed to dance lessons for young boys is because they are well aware of the danger of dancing. They know that dancing places a big target on their boys’ backs, so rather than enthusiastically supporting their sons’ interests, they discourage formal lessons and subtly — or not-so-subtly– imply that their sons would be better off restricting that particular interest to home. These dads aren’t trying to quash their sons’ motivation or self-esteem; they’re trying to keep them safe in a world that hasn’t yet fully deconstructed the Man Box.

The good news is that things ARE changing. A whole lotta people are speaking out on Twitter and elsewhere, demanding that GMA And Lara issue a formal apology. On Facebook and Instagram, people are joining the My Boy Can community and posting photos of their dancing boys with the hashtag #MyBoyCanDance.

boy dancing tango with girl

But this about more than dancing. Ultimately, this is about enlarging our boys’ worlds and recognizing their full humanity. Collectively, we’ve busted the stereotypes that said women can’t wear pants or work or be mechanics or engineers. Today, you would never hear a news anchor laughing about a girl taking STEM classes. It’s time to bring that kind of equality to our boys also. Stop saying “boys can’t” and instead says #MyBoyCan.

#MyBoyCan founder Sassy Harvey is helping parents & boys bust through outdated stereotypes that limit boys and their behavior. Hear her describe her mission & how you can help in a special ON BOYS podcast episode.

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