Going to Bat for Boys in Ballet

The Pick-Me-Up

Not long ago, I had the “yipee!” moment of discovering a new dance blog. And within this blog, I found a great link to an audio interview with three male dancers in which they discussed their experiences growing up in dance, their thoughts on Billy Elliot, and more.

I found the interview very encouraging. Overall these men, who dance with Mark Morris Dance Group, began as children taking ballet and other dance styles, and received much support from not only their families but people (and other boys) around them. I’ve always felt strongly that boys must be offered a place and space in dance schools that would allow them to feel comfortable, thereby encouraging young men to dance. However, I believe my interest and concern about male dancers increased when I became the mother of a young son. He is still a toddler, having been born not long before I “birthed” this blog, and is therefore not old enough to even know what a dance class is, let alone participate in one. When he is old enough, I hope to find a dance program in which he can explore creative movement. Later, if he wants to continue in other dance styles or forms, I would of course be overjoyed but I have no desire to push my child into dance or any career, for that matter. And I would not refuse his desire to play sports, start a band, or be his own person.

Anyway, it is a great interview, and I highly recommend clicking here or downloading the mp3 to listen to this discourse. (The interview is over 20 minutes long, so you may want to finish reading this post first. Knowing the specifics of their discussion is not necessary in order to continue with this article, and you may need a lift after reading on… sorry).

The Buzzkill

In light of the above statements on motherhood, you might understand some of my dismay when I discovered this blog entry within the Houston Chronicle’s website. I’m not sure I’d even post the link if it weren’t important to see the original statements made. However, it gives me some comfort that this “author” has not posted since she released these thoughts for public consumption in November. Anyway, it is a short entry, so go ahead and read it then please come back.

Done? Now, at first I sort of brushed off what this woman had to say. Her views of dance were obviously limited. It was clear to me that she equated ballet as a pursuit not fit for a boy, and let’s be honest, I had some pretty good ideas about why (although she doesn’t state her reasoning here, her wording about “tights and leaps,” twirls, and pirouettes when accompanied by the picture she chose for her post, do offer some indication that she sees men in ballet as effeminate and possibly ridiculous). As I stated, though, I was prepared to just brush it off. Curiosity killed the cat, unfortunately, and I began reading through the comments. While reassuring that most of the responders were insenced by what they had just read, what flabbergasted and, I’ll admit, angered me were Ms. Randall’s comments to her comments!

When asked to clarify her fears about having her son enroll in ballet (after all it seems, according to her post, that having a daughter in ballet class would have been a dream come true), she replied she had no fears but went on to state that she could “love her child without loving what he does,” and that she did not intend to “facilitate a life of tights and codpieces.” Hmmm, a bit of denial there about any fears she might have. She later asserts her belief that ballet is a feminine pursuit: “I am tired of the whole concept that everything must be unisex for our children. Some avenues are more appropriate for females and others are better suited for males.” Yet, when these statements backfire and the responses are not very friendly, Ms. Randall claims that she has been misunderstood and begins backpedaling, as evidenced by the following:

“…dance is a very hard way to make a living – just like swimming or skateboarding or acting. As he gets older these decisions will fall to him, but at three years old I have the responsibility to guide his interests (to an extent) and I choose not to pay for ballet school just because he likes to twirl in front of the TV when the Wiggles sing.”

“My question was, how do you decide when to support an interest 100% and when do you politely dismiss it as a fad?”

“I stick by my assertion that at three, my son is too young to decide that he wants to take formal ballet lessons – I would be happy though to take him to see the Nutcracker.”

To anyone with reading comprehension skills, it is clear that Ms. Randall never asked or intended to ask in her original post if she should or should not support her son’s interest in dance at the tender age of three. Nor did she ever assert that this age was too young to do so. If this were truly the intent of this article, it would have been stated in some way, shape, or form. In fact, I believe the initial intent of the article was to point out that parents do not mean it when they say that all they want is their child’s happiness (a reasonable topic, perhaps, if the person delivering it did not wear her judgmental nature on her sleeve or in her writing style). Or, if she seemed to encourage independent thought within her family. (See, God help those who don’t like my food…)

It seems Ms. Randall would be happy for her son to be cultured where dance is concerned, as long as he didn’t have any notion of being a participant himself. Her reasons for this continued to reveal themselves in her responses to criticism, throughout which she consistently offered up a thought which she felt dissenters would find acceptable. For example:

I am not yet willing to enroll him in classes to satisfy every passing phase that he goes through. If at 9 he still is passionate I might reconsider and perhaps put him in ballet, tap, jazz; whatever he wants. But my kid is only 3.

…only to reveal some of her true fears and misgivings about pursuits that she would deem emasculating, in the next sentence:

If I give in to ballet now, what’s next? Am I stifling his inner make-up artist by not allowing him to put on my mascara?

…and then (again, in the next line) grasp at straws to find a “masculine” equivalent that, I can only imagine, she felt would “cover up” and make acceptable her irrational fears and stereotypical views.

Or preventing him from becoming the next famous sumo wrestler by not giving him all the junk food he desires? As parents we have to guide them, and not give into their every whim.

Speaking of food and healthy eating, this is Ms. Randall’s topic of choice for her blog and she often implores parents to do the right thing regarding their children. I have no doubt that she loves her son and that part of her fears stem from wanting to protect him from scrutiny or even others who share her narrow-minded views. Her writing is not eloquent, she perhaps does not always think her philosophies through before she posts them publicly (her post on breastfeeding might be a good example of this). I could simply dismiss what she has to say. In fact, posting this rebuttal is possibly a waste of my time and a tad unfair. If I thought Ms. Randall was presenting her views merely for shock value, I would not even bother. However, in a classic example of bigotry, she doesn’t seem to know she is bigoted and is either attempting to be funny or thinks she is helping others.

It is an encouraging thought that many, many readers felt strongly enough to take Ms. Randall to task on her views (some, like trainer, numbersdontlie, yabullar, among others offer clear and relatively compassionate responses). I couldn’t help but feel disheartened and a bit in need of a rant, however, that this line of thinking about ment in dance comes from someone who is likely an educated member of society, and who in many ways probably sees herself as a progressive and enlightened mom. It illustrates, I think, that no matter how many encouraging steps forward we seem to have taken in the U.S. regarding male dancers (and a whole host of gender issues), there is still quite a distance to travel.

It is common for female dancers to feel a twinge of jealousy toward their male counterparts, as it is a common belief that the limited amount of males in dance makes competition for work or opportunities less intense for men. However, it is clear that the pathway to a life or career in dance is not easy for anyone, regardless of gender. What a shame that it is made particularly and unnecessarily difficult for boys and men by prejudices and misconceptions rooted so deeply that parents, neighbors, or bystanders would discourage a three-year-old boy from any type of formal movement experience out of fear that he may want to investigate further, that it might lead to homosexuality, might be seen as effeminate, or be the gateway to a “hard life.”

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Nichelle

Nichelle balances careers as a dancer, instructor, writer, and mother. She is a seasoned performer whose strength lies in bringing dramatic

2 thoughts on “Going to Bat for Boys in Ballet”

  1. I was 5 when I wanted to dance and I was told then that boys don’t do ballet which led me to think that only girls did ballet. 21 years later I finally got the opportunity to start learning and now 2 years after that I am on the way to building myself up for a career in ballet.

    I just feel that parents should never try limiting their child’s potential because of fears of what will lead to it.

    I still wonder though what would have happened had I started ballet at 5 instead of at 26…

    Like

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