My husband and I were discussing my son’s treatment at his current dance studio. It’s been a constant source of conversation since September, and with student evalutations coming up this weekend, it’s a hot topic. I cautioned him not to sound like one of those parents who think their son should get special treatment just because he is a boy. Or, even worse, not to be one of the parents who insists his son be treated like a prince – and like someone with extraordinary talent – just because he is a boy or because he is, indeed, talented.
It’s a fine line with boys. Young male dancers are few and far between, and it’s true that studios should be jumping up and down and bending over backwards to get them in the door and to keep them there. On the other hand, I’m not so sure that accomplishing that means treating them differently, at least not as if they are “special.” Yes, give them boys’ classes and teach them boy things, but don’t say they are special and give them special treatment.
Now, my husband’s attitude is this: Our son has some talent. When, for instance, the Billy Elliot people were rounding up local boys to audition in San Francisco and called some local studios, whose name were they given? My son’s name. When we went to regional competitions, out of the boys competiting in my son’s age group, who always won a good number of the awards? My son. In other words, my husband says, Julian probably is one of the better young male dancers in the Bay Area. Not the best by far (we’ve seen some pretty good ones out there). But one of the better dancers. So, any studio should be happy to have him and should be treating him specially.
Or, at the very least, they should be working hard to keep him happy and to develop his talent. What my husband sees is that Julian is treated “just like everyone else,” and he doesn’t like that.
Ah…and why shouldn’t Julian be treated just like everyone else – boys and girls?
Now, I’m playing devil’s advocate here, because as his mom I surely don’t want him treated like everyone else. I want him treated specially. I want someone to see his talent. I want someone to single him out and give him extra attention and help him draw out that talent and become succcessful. Yet, I can see from a dance studio owner’s perspective that you have to treat everyone equally. (Plus, you wouldn’t want to give these boys big heads!)
That said, I’m going to go back to my interview with Denise Wall of Denise Wall’s Dance Energy, which was published in the October issue of Dance Teacher magazine. She does something really unique. She spends time with each and every student getting to know them. She figures out how they think. She understands them. And she teaches them from that place of having a real relationship with them. So, when a student doesn’t know how to get her leg to move in a certain way, she creates imagery unique to that student to her accomplish the task at hand. If the student needs to put more feeling into the dance, she helps him draw on the issues in his individual life to find the emotion.
Not every teacher at every studio has the time to do that. Denise’s studio isn’t large, but it isn’t tiny either. The studio where Julian dances is actually a “company.” It isn’t open to the public for classes; only the kids who audition for the company and make it take classes there all year long. This year the company only has 22 kids. So, here’s my argument: The teachers should take the time to get to know those 22 kids inside and out. That should be part of the program. Then each and every one of them could be treated as “special.”
And when it comes to the boys – there are just two, their needs and interests and talents should be addressed in a special manner. Sorry. It’s true. That’s how I feel. These boys are in some way special by the sheer fact that they have chosen to be dancers. Someone needs to nurture them along and help them achieve their goals. Someone has to see them as special and treat them as such. They need that if they are to get past the tough early years as a male dancer. That’s not to say they don’t need to be toughened up to the rough, real dance world. But there is time enough for that.
Now, as a parent, I would hope that I don’t have to storm into the studio and demand special treatment for my kid, and I guess that’s not really what I’m asking for. I’m not saying, “I’ve got a male dancer, so treat him like a prince.” (I’m not even sure that’s what my husband is saying.) I think what I’m saying is this: “I’ve got a male dancer, so see him as the really unique and special person he is. Recognize his talent, if he has any, and make him a prince. He’s got a desire to be great, now help him learn how to be great. And show me how you are going to do that. Prove to me that you are doing that.”
And if they can’t do that – or won’t, then I guess it’s time to look for another studio or other teachers who will appreciate the male dancer I’ve got. Otherwise, my only choice is to jump up and down and demand it, and I still might not get what I want or what my son deserves.
You know, my son may not always behave like a prince, but when he’s on that stage dancing, he often looks like a prince to me and to his father. All we ask is that the people who work with him every day in the dance studio see him through our eyes…as someone with the potential to be a prince in the dance world…and help him acquire that crown.