A Note to Boys Who Dance…and to Their Teachers and Their Parents

I have been reading a lot lately about boys abandoning their dance training because of social pressures. Their teachers are desperately trying to keep them in the studio…but to no avail. This note is meant for those boys, wherever and whoever they may be.

I was a child who was bullied. I was relentlessly teased and picked on for most of my childhood; and that became a way of life for me. When I was growing up we were told “grow a thicker skin”, “don’t listen to them”, “stop being such a baby”. This was not a time where schools tried to stop bullying. This was not a time when parents or teachers intervened. Those of us who were marked as victims simply dealt with it. And it wasn’t easy.

I was also a child who loved dance. From the first Nutcracker that I saw on television at the age of 5, I was obsessed. I KNEW that this was what I was meant to do. There was no question. My sister was given dance classes. The neighbor girls were given dance classes. I was not. As far as my parents were concerned “boys didn’t dance”. And being that I was always an excellent student, they felt that any career in the arts would simply be a waste. I was in school plays where I would sing and dance. I was in summer camp productions where I would sing and dance. But that was purely recreational and there was no actual training involved.

There was a very careful and deep manipulation that occurred in my family. I was programmed to get good grades, go to college, find a career and make money. And for some reason, as ridiculous as this sounds, I believed that if I didn’t follow this path, if I disappointed them by not following this path, my family would stop loving me. Looking back at it now, I’m sure that wasn’t true; but that’s what I believed.

So I took my first dance class as an adult, when I could finally afford to pay for it myself. And I was “home”. And I would venture to guess that there was never a more serious adult beginner. I arranged my life and my work schedule so that I could study. I found the best teachers in New York…and they were willing to take me on, and take me seriously. I rented a bedroom in someone’s apartment rather than pay actual rent, so that I could afford to pay for all my classes. And I worked harder than I ever thought possible. And I started getting work; not major dance companies, not Broadway, but actual work- off Broadway, regional musical theater, smaller dance companies, music videos, television commercials, etc.. And setting my sights on the Broadway stage or a major dance company I trained even harder and I auditioned for everything. And when I couldn’t achieve those goals, I “retired”. And I will never know what might have been if I had been given the opportunity to train when I was young. And it has haunted me for the rest of my life.

I am now a dance teacher. I started this new career much later than most teachers . And I have worked very hard to make this new career my life. And I now teach in New York City at the Joffrey Ballet School and Broadway Dance Center among other schools. And I travel the world as a guest teacher. And I couldn’t be happier. I do believe that I am the teacher that I am because I started so late. I believe I have a unique perspective on how to make a dancer because I fully remember what it was like to know nothing. But I still look back at my past with regrets, and I wonder…

One of the most wonderful things about children and adolescents is that they live “in the moment”. One of the most tragic things about children and adolescents is that they live “in the moment”. If your passion is dance, if your calling is dance, if your life is dance then some very important decisions need to be made at a very young age. Everyone wants to fit in. Everyone wants to belong. And no one wants to be picked on, bullied or teased because he dances. But I would have happily endured the bullying and teasing if it meant that I had the opportunity to study and to train to be a dancer (I was already enduring it anyway). It is so hard at a young age to look into the future. But please, I implore you, do not go down my path. When I started teaching, I confronted my mother. I told her that I felt that I was manipulated into a career path that I wanted no part of. My mother’s response: “Well you should have been stronger”. And she was right.

So to my “brothers” and “sons”; to all boys who dance. Please learn from my mistakes. Please be strong. You only get one lifetime. You only get one chance to be young. You only get one chance to train for a life as a dancer; and if your parents support your dream you are very lucky. But even if your family is not fully behind you; be tough, be strong and follow YOUR path. Because the pain of the teasing and bulling; the pain of parental disapproval is nothing compared to the pain of wondering what might have been. And I know that first hand. So DANCE.

 

10 thoughts on “A Note to Boys Who Dance…and to Their Teachers and Their Parents

  1. Wow a lovely read
    I’m a mum of a passionate boy dancer age 12
    He however has chosen to dance recreational and continue with full education after turning down a elmhurst uk ballet school simply because he doesn’t know what he wants to do when he’s older
    I’m proud of this very intelligent decision but I worry every day he might regret not pushing the whole dance path ?
    I also worry if he didn’t follow the educational path and did dance what’s his career back up?
    Luke is a scholarship pupil the highest grades in maths English science in his whole school!
    A super intelligent boy who is also very gifted in dance
    As mum I simply feel nervous to advise him either way.
    So at the moment he dances all he can but not at a full time dance school !!
    My plan at the moment is after gcse (age 16) i will have a stronger conversation with him to follow his dreams and at that point he maybe more understanding of his adult path?
    Nervous mum
    Super proud mum
    Thank you for your words it’s interesting to read from your point of view and i want luke to have all options without feeling pressures even if it’s himself placing his own pressures to take the educational route as he’s in a very academic school
    for the record we are a sporty family football netball etc we have no dance in our family Lukes determination to do what he does and not care about other attitude to boys doing ballet etc has made me so very very proud!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • All I can say is that Luke is one very fortunate kid to have you for a mother. I don’t mean to imply that my parents weren’t good parents. When I was growing up, in the 1960s and 1970s, the sign good parenting was raising a doctor, a lawyer, an architect, a schoolteacher… and so my parents did what they thought they were supposed to do. Being a successful earner was equated with happiness. The concept of “follow your dream” , ” do what you love” didn’t exist for them. I’m sure with you as his mother, Luke is going to make the right decision … whatever the right decision is for him.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ahhhh bless I truly hope so !!
        One clever boy his dedication in all he does will carry him through it’s just hard knowing as mum which direction is best when younger x
        Thank you for caring about others ❤️
        I bet your passion to teach has all the more strength due to your past xx

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  2. I think my boy is going through some peer pressure right now….but he won’t tell me. He started dancing at 5 and loved it. He is now 7 and (he won’t admit it but) he still loves it. He glows the entire class. Two and a half hours of dance flies by and he is surprised to see me at the end. But he keeps insisting he wants to quit. I don’t know what to do. He has a natural talent. He adores it. We go to the ballet and he sits on my lap whispering to me the whole time “did you see that? Did you see that?!” But for some reason he won’t or can’t articulate, he is drawing back. Do I push through? Insist he continue for so many months in hopes he overcomes whatever it is? Let him drop out? It breaks my heart to see him drop dance. I am at a loss for how to handle this, especially when he won’t outright tell me what is going on.

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    • 7 is very young. I wish I had all the answers for you, but I don’t. He is not nearly mature enough to understand the points I make in the article. I can tell you that I rarely shared the fact that I was bullied with my parents; partly because I was embarrassed, partly because I thought it would hurt them, and on some level I was trying to protect them. With your permission, I’d like to share your comments with colleagues on a ballet teachers’ website…as well as some teachers groups on Facebook, and I can get back to you with some thoughts.

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    • Another resource: there is a wonderful website called “Ballet Talk For Dancers”. The web address is:

      http://dancers.invisionzone.com

      They have a message board/group specifically for parents of boys who dance. They have very strict rules about posting, and since I am not the parent of a boy, I can not post on that board. The site is strictly monitored, and the moderators are excellent, You would have to join the site as a parent (not sure if there is a specific category of parents of boys). But once you join, you will have access to all the posts made by parents of boys, and you could post exactly what you posted here and get some excellent feedback from parents in the same situation.

      I hope this is helpful.

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  3. Laura Adamson, I’m getting a lot of responses. If you are comfortable, and wouldn’t mind messaging me your email address through the “contact” link in the main menu, I can forward the responses to you.

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