Today I received a comment from someone (see yesterday’s post) whose 13-year-old son is lucky enough to be in a boy’s ballet class. Not only that, it’s taught by a male ballet teacher! Whoo hoo! But she rightfully was grateful that, even though there are only four boys in attendance, her son has a class “that celebrates male energy instead of cursing the guys for not being girlishly mature and “pink” enough.” She’s right to be appreciative. It’s rare to find enough boys to even have a boys’ class.
During the three years that Julian attended Ballet San Jose School, there were never more than four boys enrolled at one time. When he left, there were only two. They had brought Peter Brandenhoff on board, which was a godsend, and occasionally he would take the two boys aside and teach them “boy things.” No one in a pink tutu is going to teach them the really masculine stuff…all of it.
This reader said something else: “It’s the lack of male comradeship that I think sidetracks so many boys who would otherwise enjoy dance, especially at the middle school ages. Boys are, by and large, social creatures and not only are they isolated from boy society (how many boys are the ONLY ONE in the ballet class?) but if they mention THEIR sport, they run the risk of being laughed at by the boys they know from school.” This is, by and large, I think, the toughest part of being a male dancer. (The book I’m working on writing was inspired by the difficulty my son had beginning in 1st grade.) And they aren’t even laughed at just by the boys. When my son forgot to bring show and tell to school in first grade and cleverly chose to share that he danced, the WHOLE CLASS – girls and boys alike – laughed at him. That’s when I knew it would be a tough road to hoe.
In middle school things definitely got harder for Julian. He was teased and called gay. He had hardly any good friends. Despite the fact that he played soccer for two years, and was phenomenally good at it, the kids just saw him as different. It wasn’t until 8th grade that they began to accept him, and I actually think it had something to do with him just sticking to his guns and not being a closet dancer. Each year he would dance in the talent show at the end of the year. In 7th grade, just before school let out, he performed two competition numbers: a lyrical piece and a break dancing piece. The lyrical one scared him to death; he was sure the boys would laugh him off the stage. The break dancing piece, which was choreographed by Remind (who was at one time one of the five top break dancers in the nation, if not the world), was awesome, and he knew the kids would love it – but that didn’t mean they’d love him afterwards. Anyway, he performed them both, and a couple of the kids that were normally the meanest to him actually complimented him afterwards. The next year when he returned to school, they suddenly were nice to him. The whole group of boys in his very small class (he went to a middle school with a total of about 300 kids) accepted him. I think they finally realized he wasn’t going to conform and they gave him credit for getting up there and doing what he did – lyrical and all. He was respected for not hiding who he was.
This year he is in high school, and he seems to have no problem. In particular, the girls love him and the fact that he dances. He even met another boy who is a ballet dancer.
Back to the point of how many boys tend to be in ballet – or dance – classes, it does always tend to be slim. I was pleasantly surprised to find two other boys in Julian’s jazz III class at Studio 10 on Wednesday nights. But in his current dance comany, he is just one of two boys out of 21 kids. There boy who was in the company last year left to focus on ballet, so he is dancing in the Bay Area.
Julian was so disappointed, though, that this kid didn’t come back, because he is really good, and he would have loved to have someone to look up to. He wanted that push to be as good as someone else. He didn’t have that at Ballet San Jose School the last year he was there. He was the best male dancer in the school. So, that’s a problem, too…at least for the boys at the top of their dance classes.
And it would be nice for the boys in dance class to have boys to chat with, wouldn’t it? The girls all get to talk about girl things together. It would be nice for the boys to do the same. And it would be nice for them to make friends with other boys who dance. On the other hand, Julian gets along with girls so well. He’s going to make some girl a great boyfriend, because he really knows how to talk to girls and get along with them. And he’s not afraid of them. Still, a guy friend who dances would go a long way. You know, someone to talk to about dance class, about girls, about school, about how to do a better leap, about how to partner…