“Do you take boys?” This is the question I was asked about a month ago when I was handing out leaflets about The Dance Barn. The question was entirely well intentioned and came from a lady who was enquiring about lessons for her grandson, but it took me by surprise. My answer was of course “absolutely yes!” and was followed by a conversation about how fun and rewarding it is to teach boys. For those of us who are heavily involved in the dance world it is easy to assume that the world has moved on from the view that only girls do dance but there have been a number of incidents over the last few weeks that have reminded me that there is still a long way to go.
I like Formula 1 motor racing (yes girls who like ballet can also be into cars) and one such incident occurred after a race this season in which the competition between drivers Lewis Hamilton and Kimi Räikkönen became quite heated. When Räikkönen was accused of deliberately driving into Hamilton to run him off the track his wife jumped to his defence on Instagram posting “If you cry like a girl when you lose, do ballet.” The post has since been removed, but sadly I fear this is because of the insult directed towards Lewis Hamilton and not the ballet dancers of the world.
The other incident that I became aware of was on Twitter when a mother from Bournemouth wrote about how her son was being teased by the boys on his football team for also doing ballet. The dance world rallied round to praise both her and her son and award winning choreographer Matthew Bourne and director of English National Ballet Tamara Rojo also replied to offer them the chance to come and watch their companies’ perform and meet the dancers. It was heartwarming to see the support that was being offered by the dance community but it did make me wonder why in this day and age we are still fighting this stereotype.
The physical and mental benefits of dance are so well documented and align entirely with the benefits of any other type of sport or exercise. But dance has the added benefit of expression and gives people the chance to express themselves in a way that they cannot necessarily do in day to day life or through sport. Awareness and understanding of mental health issues are also growing and with so many young people and young men suffering with poor mental health surely we should be encouraging any activity that is going to help people to stay both mentally and physically well. I would also argue that the dance world has so many good role models who set a far better example to young people than many footballers that we read about in the press.
The contemporary dance school The Place conducted a survey in 2017 to find out what deters men and boys from attending dance classes. 46% of those questioned said that they didn’t dance because of the fear of “being rubbish” and not being able to do it to the expected standard. However, many said that they wished they were able to dance. The second highest reason for reduced participation was to do with peer pressure: 23% of respondents said their friends didn’t dance so they wouldn’t either. However, the survey also received positive responses with one participant writing “I am now a Royal Marine but I will always miss the days of my dancing life. I would encourage any boy to dance, it’s a great sport and a great way to show emotions and feelings and develop a creative mind.”
So what do we need to do to to get more men and boys dancing and to keep them dancing? Like so many issues we face today it requires a collaborative approach. The dance world is working hard to make dance inclusive for everyone but there is always more we can. For parents and educators it simply comes down to teaching young people tolerance and understanding. We need to set the example and teach young people to be respectful of everyone for who they are and whatever they are interested. If we can create an environment where people feel safe to be themselves then hopefully the Billy Elliot’s of the next generation will feel empowered to step into the spotlight. At The Dance Barn we have plans to add boys only classes to our timetable so subscribe to our mailing list today to be the first to find when these are added.
What can you do if you have a boy who is interested in dance?
Look for boys only classes near you which will provide your dancer with additional support and a network of other male dancers.
Show your dancer examples of other male dancers either at the theatre, on TV, online or in books and magazines.