Good Morning America’s Lara Spencer created an uproar among the dance community recently when she laughed on air about six-year-old Prince George taking — and loving — ballet lessons. Spencer has since apologised, but the mocking nature of her words struck a nerve among professional male dancers who say the bullying they had to endure makes many boys quit an art they love.
Spencer then met with three influential male ballet dancers — a Broadway star, an Emmy-winning choreographer and a principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet — who described their experiences pursing their passion for dance despite the prevalent stereotype that dancing is only for girls.
“I teach young kids, and boys just drop because of the stigma, the social stigma around the form,” ballet dancer Fabrice Calmels told Spencer. “Children should be entitled to experience things without being bullied.”
Take an interest in their passion
Most boys who dance ballet face tremendous resistance — from their families, from friends and from society at large. I’m proud to be in a minority, too: according to Doug Risner, a professor of dance at Wayne State University in Detroit, only 32 per cent of male dancers say their fathers support them dancing.
Risner’s research shows that mothers play a critical role in their sons initial exposure to dance and then in supporting their dance training. But most boys who dance do so without the support of their fathers.
Because of the bullying they’re almost certain to get from their peers, taking extra efforts at home to support their passion is vital. Encourage dance within the home by creating a special dance space, even if that just means pushing the furniture back temporarily to allow room for practice.
You might also host ballet movie nights complete with a big bowl of popcorn and a selection of dance movies (this list will get you started). Watch So You Think You Can Dance together as a family. And if possible, take them to a live performance in your area.
Find a role model
“I wouldn’t be where I’m at without Singin’ in the Rain in the VHS, watching on the TV,” Fairchild says. “That was a pivotal moment; I was like, ‘He’s doing what I’m doing — what I want to do — and he’s making it so cool.’”
Kids need someone to look up to — someone cool like Gene Kelly or Robbie Fairchild — or even a male instructor at your local ballet school. A role model can help your child visualise how dance can continue to be a part of their future.
Although all of this support is crucial for boys who want to dance, it really can be applied to any sport, art form or activity, particularly if your child’s interest is considered non-traditional for their gender.