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.