Dance is great for boys and girls for so many reasons – physical activity, strength, flexibility, co-ordination, discipline, teamwork, confidence and creativity (to name a few). Most of these reasons why they should dance are also applicable to playing sport. The athleticism of dancers equals, and often surpasses, sportspeople, but there is little recognition of this.
So why is dance not always on the table when it comes to choosing an activity for boys? Put some up-tempo music on for a group of three-year-olds and it’s not just the girls who start bouncing and twirling with the beat! So why aren’t boys everywhere flocking to dance classes?
I believe there are various reasons for this, including residual and outdated stigma and stereotyping. That is obvious after six-year-old Prince George was mocked on Good Morning America for enjoying ballet classes just recently.
In countries and cultures across the globe, males dancing is normal and part of the culture, and professional male dancers are often revered. Somewhere, at some stage in our society’s development, stigma and stereotyping crept in and, while we have come a long way in breaking down those archaic attitudes, they still remain, often enduring in the collective opinions of families and cultures. Ask friends or relatives if they would put their sons in dance, or how they would feel if their brother, nephew or male friend danced. In my experience, the replies are varied, and the reasons why boys shouldn’t dance are also varied but often reflective of that residual stigma.
I don’t believe that stigma and stereotyping are the only reason why we don’t see more boys dancing. Other factors that may prevent males from starting dance are studio environments being female-oriented, studio marketing being female-oriented, lack of availability of classes for boys, lack of consistency of great teachers and programs for boys, few consistent male mentors, lack of availability of dancewear and costumes that boys feel comfortable and confident in, and lack of wholehearted support from families and peers in the choice to dance.
An Ausplay report indicated that dance was not in the top 10 organised out of school activities for boys, but rated number three (and nine) in the girls top 10. Now more than ever, girls and women are taking up once male-dominated sports like soccer, cricket and AFL, and receiving media coverage and support. This is awesome! Perhaps driven by multiple intentions – enticing more women to attend sporting games, obesity and the push for more physical exercise, women and girls being empowered to step outside of their stereotypes, and sport generally attracts sponsorship, funding and media attention. Imagine if dance was marketed like sport! But we need work with what we have, and that includes driving change in attitudes and perceptions in our communities and society.
Positive action steps
I believe in solution-focused approaches to most things in life – be part of the solution, not the problem — so here are some positive action steps we can take as dancers, educators and people.
#1. Awareness. Talk to family, extended family and friends about boys dance and challenge any stereotypical comments or behavior. Have them picture a world without Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Jerome Robbins, Hugh Jackman, the Maori Haka, cultural, ritual or sacred expression by men, and even daggy dad dancing!
#2. Support male dancers and dance events wherever you can – from the ballet, to musicals to breaking and hip hop crews and battles.
#3. Studios can provide more classes for boys, with environments that welcome and support them.
#4. In those environments, provide dance content that challenges, inspires and engages boys so that their interest in dance is longterm.
#5. Market dance to both girls and boys.
#6. Provide appropriate and empowering costuming for males if they are involved in performances.
#7. Provide a community of support for boys and their families. CONNECT boys dance events provides this, as does the Boys Summer School hosted by Robert Fox, The Royal Academy of Dance’s #ProjectB initiative and Boys DANCE summer school, and Jake Burden’s Ballet Brothers.
#8. Encourage more support in the dance community for our male dancers in their classes, studios, competitions, performances, workshops, dancewear outlets and costume manufacturing.
My goal as a dance educator is to train male “dance appreciators”. They enjoy learning to dance and will be the men of the future taking their children to dance performances and musicals, supporting the arts, taking their children to dance classes, feeling confident on the dancefloor at parties and functions, and being grateful for the training they received in their youth.
Not all children who dance want to become professional dancers, and the same goes for the thousands of children who play sport on a weekly basis. Sure, many dream of becoming famous professional dancers or soccer players, but this is not the sole reason parents chose these activities for their children. Boys and men enjoy dance and not all enjoy playing sport, and then some do both! Let’s create environments, communities and societies that support and encourage boys dance for future generations.
By Tanya Carne of Dance Informa.
On a weekly basis, I teach over 150 boys per week and plan CONNECT boys dance events, now a nationwide event and in its fourth year. My daily interaction with my male students and their families has given me great insight into actions that can be taken to begin normalizing boys dance in our society. My interaction with the male dance community through CONNECT has given me the opportunity to talk to many boys and men about their dance journeys and helped me to understand what we need to do to support them now and in the future. I’m about to release a program designed for boys to assist studio owners and teachers with content and methodology from accumulated knowledge and experience over the last 12 years teaching boys. I want to assist studios to get more boys in their classes.
CONNECT boys dance events depend on funding to take the event across Australia in 2020. Our GoFundMe page is www.gofundme.com/f/connect-boys-dance-event.