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Why do we make it so hard for boys to begin taking ballet?


Stitch
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In the United States, we have always had a shortage of males signing up for ballet class.  I think what partly explains that, is that many boys simply don't want to put on a tight white t-shirt (the color of underwear) and black tights.  Might it be helpful (at least in the beginning) to allow entry-level boys to wear clothing that more resembles what they wear for other activities - like baggy shorts and baggy t-shirts?  I understand that we need to be able to see the body as it is being trained, but you can't train the body that hasn't signed up for class, and any teacher with an experienced eye should be able to discern if turnout is coming from the feet or the hips regardless of what the student is wearing.  So I'm curious.  How do others view the attire boys wear for ballet?

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Most boys here (in the UK) wouldn't start out being required to wear leotards (or tight t-shirts) and tights. Most youngsters start in sports shorts and a normal t-shirt. Even older new boys wouldn't normally be expected to don the tights at the start.

 

Then as they get more experienced or go to more "serious" classes they're usually proud to change clothing to more traditional attire.

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Having taught all my life in the USA - every dance school with which I've been associated or aware of has always allowed the boys to wear shorts or sweat pants (or some equivalent thereof) for the first few years.

 

Once one gets beyond that or into a prestigous school such as SAB - a stricter code would be expected.

 

Adult males taking a beginning or even intermediate class are given the choice.  This is also true in many colllege dance classes.

 

By the time a male student is truely into the study of dance, it simply becomes a non-issue.

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I have a feeling that the shortage of boys taking ballet - in the UK anyway - isn't really down to what they have to wear for class. For boys, I think it starts it their families. Whenever I've mentioned I do ballet to a man who has a son(s) or grandson(s), the odds are they will say something along the lines of, 'When my son/grandson was 5 he wanted to do ballet, which made us a bit worried about him. Luckily he grew out of that,' or 'Luckily we were able to put a stop to that'. I never know what to say because I know it will start an argument but it always makes me sad that there are still these views around that boys shouldn't do ballet because it's girly and only for girls. There must be so many would-be male dancers of all ages missing/out. :(

 

I once overheard a little girl, who was around 10ish and going to ballet class, say that boys can't do ballet. Her mother said nothing so she must have agreed with her. I then asked the little girl, that if boys can't do ballet, who was going to be the prince in Swan Lake? If she became Clara in the Nutcracker, who is going to play the Nutcracker? They both had nothing to say in reply. Really, some people must think male dancers appear from thin air or something! So far that has been the only time I have 'argued' with people about the ballet-is-only-for-girls idea.

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There is an undercurrent of homophobia in parents not wanting their sons to do ballet. In the UK, ballet is generally seen as an effeminate pursuit for a boy and male ballet dancers are assumed to be gay. In countries such as Russia and Cuba ballet is seen as an honourable and prestigious career for a young man. Many sportsmen could probably make good ballet dancers but there is far more money to be made in sport than in ballet. Famously, Rio Ferdinand attended ballet lessons as a teenager. I don't know whether he was ever good enough to become a professional dancer but at some point he dropped it in favour of football, which is understandable given the huge amount of money which footballers earn, even those who are not right at the top. 

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There is another item or two which makes it more difficult for boys once they are in ballet class.

 

They need to have a male teacher (which might help them want to take the class in the first place) for at least one of their classes.

 

They need their own music - which for jumps  is a bit slower because they generally jump higher and they need more time. The male body even at a young age is wired together differently - even as the mind is.

 

It would also be helpful if there were enough boys to make their own group especially for the bigger movements in the center.

Edited by Anjuli_Bai
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To "Dancer Sugar Plum" and "aileen":

To this day, people think I'm gay.  I'm not.  (Of course there's nothing wrong with being gay, it's just that I'm not) 

Here's a response that always seemed to help me:

"Ballet is a place where there are lots of pretty girls wearing spandex."

Edited by Stitch
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That's funny Stitch. I have always told my son to tell anyone that questions his choice of dancing over more 'masculine' endeavours, that he is surrounded by pretty girls wearing very little, as opposed to sharing a shower with a group of sweaty, hairy blokes. It still puzzles me why so many people are still so concerned about other peoples sexuality. What has it got to do with anything? My first thought is always, is this a good person - end of.

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It's definitely a great place for men to meet women, particularly as there are usually more women than men in the schools and companies. A large number of male ballet dancers marry ballerinas. I can think of four marriages at ENB alone and two principals are married to dancers at other companies.

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They need to have a male teacher (which might help them want to take the class in the first place) for at least one of their classes.

Yes, Anjuli_Bai, that made all the difference for me.

On that same subject, soon I hope to post something about fingers.

It always hurts when I see feminine fingers trained into male dancers.

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That's funny Stitch. I have always told my son to tell anyone that questions his choice of dancing over more 'masculine' endeavours, that he is surrounded by pretty girls wearing very little, as opposed to sharing a shower with a group of sweaty, hairy blokes.

Good one!

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I remember a conversation about leotards when I bought the first one...

Him  "I'm not wearing that it's like a girls swimsuit"

Me "you have to wear it if you want to do your exam"

Him " no way am I wearing that"

Me "you have to at least try it and if you really hate it we can talk to the teacher"

Him  - after very reluctantly and with bad grace trying the leotard and tights -  "Oh wow I look like a real dancer, I look like Billy Elliot!"

The next few minutes before class he just stared at himself in the mirror and loved what he saw!

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It's the dance belt that my boys found a bit tricky to start with ! After the laughter had died down they actually found them quite comfortable !

If you can sew, an athletic supporter works very well.  Cut the back straps off at the waist then sew them together at the center of the waist.  A single needle machine will work with round or ball point needles.

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This reminds me of a suggestion i made to a young friend of my DD's when he was getting a hard time from some of his classmates. I suggested he said something along the lines of "I had a great weekend surrounded by scantily clad gorgeous girls who all adore me.....what did you guys get up to?" Don't know if he ever said it or not but I know he liked the t shirt that we bought him with the logo "If ballet was easy it would be called football!"

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In my experience it's the prevalent sex stereotyping that stops boys doing ballet.

 

Dd's school have a lunchtime ballet class. There were several boys try to sign up, but their parents wouldn't allow it. Dd is a huge Steven McRae fan and was puzzled- at the time (age 6), she honestly thought ballet was for boys :)

 

I once had a colleague, with a postgraduate degree in science. We were chatting about our children's hobbies, and talking about dance (she was a dancer/gymnast). Her little girl was doing ballet, modern, tap, as usual. I asked what classes her boy took.

 

She was absolutely horrified "oh no, he does football with his dad".

 

Older dd does gymnastics in a large sports centre. The coaches get very frustrated as the parents drop their dd's off on the way to taking their sons to football. They are desperate for boys, but just can't get them through the door.

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When my DS was about 5, he used to do both Karate and Ballet. One day he had to miss his Karate for a ballet commitment, so I duly informed the sensei. A boy of a similar age overheard and said 'He does ballet?' in a very disparaging manner, to which the Sensei replied, 'Yes, which is why his kicks, posture, and jumps are much better than yours.' God bless that man!

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I was in a dancewear shop yesterday, and I overheard a conversation which went something like this:

 

Small boy (waiting impatiently for his sister to have her ballet shoes fitted) "...I'm bored, I want to go NOW!"

 

Assistant "We have lots of little boys coming in here to get their dancing shoes too"

 

Small boy "Do you?"

 

Little girl having fitting "Boys don't do ballet... do they?"

 

Assistant "Oh yes, otherwise who would the girls dance with? Who would be the Prince?"

 

Mum of small boy "Oh I think I'd have a hard job persuading his dad to let him do any ballet!"

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When my DS was about 5, he used to do both Karate and Ballet. One day he had to miss his Karate for a ballet commitment, so I duly informed the sensei. A boy of a similar age overheard and said 'He does ballet?' in a very disparaging manner, to which the Sensei replied, 'Yes, which is why his kicks, posture, and jumps are much better than yours.' God bless that man!

This is a perfect example of why I think clothing has a lot to do with boys (and some of their parents) resisting ballet.  As you know, DancingPixie, Karate also has dancelike forms called Kata.  For those who are unfamiliar with Karate, Kata are dancelike movements where one "swings at the air".  It's a dance, but it is performed wearing a traditional Karate uniform called a "Gi".  I wonder how popular Karate would be with boys if the traditional Karate uniform was leotards and tights.  I was encouraged to hear in this thread that many schools are not so restrictive as to what their boys wear for class.

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