FOOTBALL AND BALLET
Recently an article came out about a West Virginia University football player who is also a dance major. This isn’t shocking news in of itself, and it shouldn’t be. Every so often a news story will come out about a football player taking ballet classes. Stories go all the way back to Hall of Fame Wide Out Lynn Swan, who started ballet in High School, and credited it for helping his football career. Then you have Dancing With The Stars winners, Emmit Smith, Apolo Ono, Helio Castroneves, Donald Driver, and Hines Ward (honorary mention to Jerry Rice). All Male Athletes. Boys in dance is something we discuss quite a bit here at the studio. We try our best to work through the stereotypes that dance is only for girls. So I figured I would share our thoughts on boys in dance classes.
DANCE IS MORE THAN TUTUS
Being a male, and growing up with 2 brothers, dancing was probably the last thing on my mind. I played sports like football, baseball, basketball, and track. Dance was something I did at prom or homecoming. I didn’t really grow to understand dance until I met my wife, Jana. When we started dating, I went to performances, competitions, watched classes, and eventually took a few dance classes myself. Through my experience I can tell you, dancing is harder than most sports. Not only do you need athleticism, strength, and flexibility, but you also have to be able to follow counts, stay in rhythm, and keep up with the group. And that’s just a beginner level class. If you ever get the chance to watch a professional dancer perform on stage, or even rehearse in studio you should stay and watch. Your jaw might drop. Most professional athletes can’t do what they do. Dancers, in my opinion, can be stronger, more flexible, and more athletic than their counterparts in other, more main stream sports.
Dance is more main stream today with shows like “So You Think You Can Dance”. Dancers like Misty Copeland are also getting headlines, and endorsement deals with Under Armour. That being said it surprises me how many parents ask us if our classes are for boys. More alarming, I have had parents walk up to us at marketing events, ask what we do, learn that it’s dance classes, and walk away, because they say, “Oh that’s okay, we only have boys.” I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to hear that from parents, but I also understand why they might think that way. Most of the bias comes from parents envisioning dance class as being only tutus, tip-toes, fairies, and princesses. To them dance = ballet = feminine = for girls. The dance industry isn’t always helpful when it comes to breaking these stereotypes, although they have gotten better over the years. If you google local dance schools in your area chances are you will run into websites that are mostly pink in color scheme, have little to no pictures of boys, literally have princesses or fairies on the site, and show little girls in tutus and tiaras. “Not that there is anything wrong with that!” (In my best Seinfeld voice) I get it, they have to market to those who will likely be taking their classes. Its sort of a “What came first? The chicken or the egg?”, type of situation. But I would call on studios to think about who they are marketing to, and try harder to promote their classes to both males and females. We can break that trend from the ground up. It’s something we work hard at with our marketing efforts, and our dance curriculum. (www.SmallFryDanceClub.com | www.PrincipalArts.com)
You need to be able to look past the stereotypes and realize that dance encompasses more than just images or tutus and princesses. Dance is an art form as much as it is a sport. There are countless styles of dance all over the world. Hip Hop, Jazz, Contemporary, Cultural Dance, Street Dance, Tap, Musical Theatre, etc, etc. I could list styles for days. It’s just a matter of finding what fits you and your dancer best. Our theory at SFDC is to expose children to multiple styles when they are under 5. Which is why you won’t see specific dance styles listed on our SFDC schedule. Our classes are survey style classes. Meaning they will rotate through various styles over the course of the year. If they are in our program from age 3, by the time they are age 5 they will have rotated through 4 dance styles. Once a dancer turns 5 and they move up to our Principal Arts program they can pursue the styles they like best, having a better understanding of what each style is like. Exposing the kids, also exposes the parents, and also helps them decide which styles they want their dancer to focus on.
SO, WHERE ARE THE BOYS?
Currently about 15-20% of our total preschool age dancers are male. The numbers go down as the age groups get past the age of 5. However that number could easily be 20-25% and remain at those levels through the older age groups. Here is an example of a situation that happens constantly in our studio. A family enrolls, maybe picks a class where they are the only male, or one of only two male dancers. The family decides dance isn’t for boys, or that their child may feel uncomfortable being the only male in the class. The family drops within a few weeks. The following week, another family with another male dancer enrolls in the same class, and the cycle repeats. This happens all the time! Really…it’s mind boggling. We joke that if those families would just stay we would have an all boys class. Yes, there will always be more girls than boys, but the boys are coming, we promise! And even if they don’t, chances are your preschooler wouldn’t notice, unless you bring it to their attention.
Dance is for EVERYONE. Boys, girls, young, old, it doesn’t matter. This is especially true with the preschool age groups. Children that age have no pre-conceived notions of gender roles. Meaning they will only think dance is for girls if you tell them it is or if they hear that from another source. This goes both ways. I have seen girls not want to dance in a class with boys, or with a male instructor. One of the more frustrating situations that plays out in a studio can be when a boy arrives to his first class, and loves it! After or even during class the parent will bring up the fact that he is the only boy in the class. The boy hears this, and when the parent then asks if it bothers him, he says yes. Of course he does! The parent made it an issue, when there was no issue there to begin with. Kids don’t stereotype dance as a female only activity like we do as adults, the younger the dancer, the more this applies. Dance class is about motor skill development, learning new music, singing songs, stretching, building strength, increasing confidence, following instructions, having fun, team building, meeting new friends, and yes…doing Pliés! Of course, parents are sometimes playing off of previous experiences, so we are not quick to judge.
As always, when you start any new activity for your child, it’s all about exposure, and letting them decide which activities they like best. Trying not to force our preconceived notions of any activity is difficult by human nature. I can’t say that I as a parent haven’t influenced my child’s decision making. It’s only natural to do so, even if it’s not on purpose. However I challenge you, if you have a boy that loves to dance, let him try it. As parents we are always looking out for what’s best for our kids. It may be hard to look past stereotypes, but sometimes if you do you might like what you find on the other side.
WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY FOOTBALL PLAYER – dance helps with body control and footwork
PITTSBURGH STEELERS OFFENSIVE LINEMAN – explains how dance helps him prevent injuries
LYNN SWAN – HALL OF FAME WIDE RECEIVER – credits ballet for his on field success