Dance is a physical and athletic activity requiring great skill, strength, and agility. Sounds like an ideal fit for energetic boys… so where are they?? Well, we know that public perception is difficult to change and, in general, the current perception is that dance is not a “manly” activity. For ballet and some other dance styles, the aesthetic is for movement to look effortless. Even though the audience knows that men in dance must be in top physical form, beauty and elegance masks the blood, sweat, and tears it seems we like to see from men in our culture. Therefore, the grittier athletic activities are favored for boys, while dance is considered a better pursuit for girls. This is, of course, a simplification of the gender issues in dance. However, to a young boy or teen pursuing dance, the road is often anything but simple.
So, how do we get boys and keep them in our dance classes and schools? Here are some suggestions:
- Consider the appearance of your studio from a boy’s perspective. Are the walls pink? Does your artwork feature only females, or fluffy animals? Is the furniture flowery? This will not attract boys. Try more vibrant decor with clean lines and feature artwork that depicts athletic, strong, and powerful images of both men and women. And, for the younger ones – show children dancing in interesting ways, not just a row of cute little girls in tutus and bows.
- When advertising your classes through ads, articles, or on your website, make it clear in the pictures and wording that boys are welcome, too.
- Hook them when they’re young children. This is a great time for boys to start taking class because learning is often more playful and movement more free. However, boys/parents of boys will not be rushing to sign up for the Petite Princesses and Fabulous Fairies classes, and will not appreciate twirling around like “Cinderella” or tip-toeing through daisies. Both boys and girls will love a creative and conceptual approach to dance in which all of the movement spectrum is explored – fast/slow, sharp/smooth, high (on the toes)/low (on the floor), etc.
- Offer classes that interest or are geared specifically to boys. Hip-hop, tumbling, capoeira, rhythm tap, movement for actors/stage combat, all-male ballet, are good examples.
- Make sure that in mixed-gender classes that the instructors are aware of their musical and movement selections. Some teachers are so used to only teaching females that boys in the class become an afterthought or a problem to work into what they’ve already planned. Choose teachers who have experience instructing and choreographing for young men and hire or bring in male teachers whenever possible. Attending conventions or workshops with male teachers is also a plus.
- For boys who have elected to study ballet more intensely, a stricter dress code is appropriate. Adopt a more flexible dress code for recreational classes so that boys will feel comfortable. Big and baggy are still out, but a t-shirt and sweats or shorts can work for boys. Remember, it is important to address proper undergarments as the boys reach 10 or 11. This site has a nice list of other sports and activities that require tight clothing (in case they need a reminder).
- Include partnering elements in choreography whenever possible. Even young boys can do simple lifts and assists with a partner. Just be sure you know how to teach these safely.
- Offer opportunities for men and boys to perform even if they’re not regular students. For example, create special father dances (these can be serious or humorous), have dancers bring along boyfriends, friends, or brothers to learn choreography for an exciting finale (perhaps a swing or salsa number), invite a sports team to participate in some unique choreography (use movements they would normally do in practice as inspiration), check out local boys or youth clubs and see if they have a break-dancing group that would like a chance to show their stuff on stage.
- Find ways of reminding boys that dance is a physical and athletic activity. Emphasize this in the work done in class, by watching male dancers in action, and by helping them to see and compare the relationship between athleticism in dance and sports.
- Offer free classes.
All of these suggestions will help boys and young men to feel more comfortable in dance class. Keep in mind that despite your best efforts, you may still lose talented young males due to peer or parental pressure. Someday they may return, if not to you, perhaps to dance in general. However, it may be a comfort to know that even if you lose some guys here or there, these ideas will also benefit your female dancers. Young women are sometimes surprised when, as a college student, they are suddenly expected to be fierce and powerful dancers. In many dance studios I’ve found that, starting at a very young age, the physicality of movement is limited to what is considered feminine, pretty, or sexy, creating very one-dimensional dancers. Creating a space and an attitude within your school in which boys are encouraged to dance will provide a richer experience for all of your dancers, parents, and community.
“One of my favorite things to do in a boys’ class is to set up an obstacle course with four to six stations that include stretches and splits, jumps and turns, an acrobatic trick, hip-hop or break dancing, and, always, something they improvise. I am consistently surprised at how committed to this exercise the guys are. In fact, by the end of the year, they usually ask to make up their own course and steps. Talk about time consuming—sometimes the course takes up the whole class, but I love it when time zooms by during a long, busy night.”
See the rest of this article: Psyching Out The Guys by Gregg Russell
What are some ways your school encourages boys to dance? What do you consider to be the advantages of having boys/men in class? If you are a guy, please share your perspective or experiences.