I’ve got a son who dances. 13-year-old Julian dances six or seven days a week. He spends most of his time doing ballet, because he knows it will make him a great dancer in terms of technique. He has a scholarship at Ballet San Jose. He also does jazz and hip hop at a Studio 10 in the San Jose area, where he is taught by Keith Banks, who also taught So You Think You Can Dance first-season-winner Nick Lazarinni for a while. And he takes tap lessons with former ballet dancer and now world-renown hoofer Sam Weber. When he can, he does some break dancing with ReMinD, but he’s moved away, so that doesn’t happen often anymore. Julian, who started dancing when he was three years old, wants to be an all-around dancer and possibly to hit Broadway, since he also loves acting.
At the moment, however, he isn’t doing any dancing at all. For the second time this year, he’s laid up. This time, he’s actually got his left foot in a “boot” to keep the ankle immobilized. He has hurt the growth plate on the side of his foot where a tendon that runs down the ankle attaches. (I could get into the biology of it, but I’ll keep it simple.) That tendon is used for turning and jumping, all the things a dancer does, especially a young male dancer. In fact, he hurt it having turning competitions with a female dancer. Too many turns and the next morning he was having trouble walking. A trip to the podiatrist for x-rays, and we were told it was tendinitis at the point where the tendon joins to the bone. A trip to the sports specialist with x-rays in hand, and we were told it was actually an injury to the growth plate itself. Into the boot. No dancing for 2 weeks. Yesterday, the sports specialist said the boot has to stay on for another two weeks. Not great news when you’ve got a recital in June and a ballet school ballet and showcase in mid May.
Earlier this year, Julian was taking a jazz class at another studio in south San Jose, NorCal Performing Arts, and dislocated a toe. He was wearing those little pads on his feet that are popular with lyrical dancers. He’d used them for a lyrical number he’d performed in competition the year before. He rolled his foot a little too far over and caught the pinkie toe… Since he’s a regular at the chiropractor’s office, he actually adjusted the toe back into place himself. (Ouch!)He ended up with a hairline fracture and couldn’t dance for two weeks and couldn’t jump or turn for about four weeks or more.
I’m beginning to wonder what can be done to help our sons’ feet stay healthy and strong. If anyone out there has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, Julian is stretching, picking up pencils with his toes, and waiting to be told he can start physical therapy with a former dancer who works with other dancers using Pilate’s. She’ll show Julian what he can do to strengthen his feet and legs, and hopefully he can go home or to the dance studio and do this with bands and such on his own.
The problem, of course, is trying to get a 13-year-old who spend so many hours in the dance studio — when he isn’t laid up — to do any type of stretching or exercising once he gets home. By then, he doesn’t want to do anything at all. Which isn’t to say that he doesn’t dance around the kitchen or tap his way to the television set!
And he’s frustrated by going to class at this point to stretch, do a little strengthening and simply watch. He cried, (Yes, cried…) the other night when he told me, “Mom, I hate just watching. I don’t want to just sit there and watch.” Yet, his ballet teachers want him there watching, and he needs to watch his jazz class and his ballet rehearsals so he can mark his dances.
Ah, the times dancers are hurt are, I believe the hardest on them. I know, when I interviewed Benji Schwimmer, he told me that, indeed, this is true. Next blog, maybe I’ll offer his suggestions on how to cope with being laid up.
Back to why I wanted to start this blog: I am a journalist and an author, and I’m working on a book about mentoring boys who want to be professional dancers. So, I’m hoping to make this blog not only about the escapades of my son and his dancing feet but about how to help young boys make it in the world of dance. They may get all the accolades once they are on stage — and sometimes in class, too — but it’s a tough road to hoe when you’re the only boy in a class full of girls and you’re teased at school by the other boys (and sometimes the girls, too) and you always feel different for choosing dance over sports. There are more issues, such as those that realte to sexuality, finding good role models, having friends who can relate to you, learning to dance like a guy, being stereotyped, and locating dance clothes suitable for boys, but suffice it to say, from about the age of 8 until they are 15 or 16, boys need a lot of support if they are going to not give in to peer pressure and their own personal issues and give up on their dreams of being professional dancers. So, helping them succeed in the world of dance is important, and I’d like to help not only my son but other boys as well. That’s what this blog is about — helping boys who want to become professional dancers achieve their goal and helping the parents of boys who want to become professional dancers help their sons realize their dreams.
In the process of researching my book, I’ve already interviewed such notable male professional dancers, choreographers and artistic directors as Jason Samuels Smith, Sam Weber, Dennis Nahat, and Benji Schwimmer. Next on my list is Rasta Thomas. There will be at least five or 10 more great dancers included in the book before I’m done. (If you know any great agents or publishers who might want to help me get this book out, drop me a note! If you have suggestions for really superb, young professional male dancers I should consider interviewing, send those along as well.) While I can’t share all the information I glean from the interviews here, I’ll be dropping little pearls of wisdom they share with me and telling you a bit about the experience of interviewing these dance greats. I’ll also try to share good web sites and other helpful resources. There aren’t many places on the Internet to go for information on boys in dance, so hopefully this will be it. And soon Julian and I will be creating a web site to go with this blog, so look for that (hopefully before year end).
Until next posting, keep those boys dancing! (And don’t step on their feet. They’ve got enough problems with their tootsies without anyone making it any worse.)