In this third, and last, part of my interview with Denise Wall, owner of Denise Wall’s Dance Energy in Virginia Beach, VA, and coach of such star dancers as her own sons Danny Tidwell and Travis Wall (Travis is also a star choreographer), she offers tips on raising boys who dance. (To read the first part of this interview, click here; to read the second part, click here.)
Tip #1: If your son has a true passion and calling, be alert and protect them from and help them with teasing from peers and from societal pressures.
For me the teasing is the biggest thing, and the issue of dancing is not a sexuality thing. Dancing is an art. That’s why you have to educate the people around them so they understand that your son’s dancing is an art and a passion and has nothing to do with sexuality. For me that’s the biggest thing.
Be aware that when little five, six and seven year olds are teasing your son, they aren’t saying the “gay” word, but they are saying, “You are a wimp because you dance,” and this is in the same category. That’s just the beginning of what will come later.
The mental abuse is the hardest thing for the boys to deal with, and it can lead someone leaving their passion behind. Then what happens is in their 30s they feel like something is missing in their lives. I’ve seen this situation: Male dancers danced as teenagers and gave up dancing. You run into them in their 30s, and they are doing drugs. I think when you dance and it is your passion, you get on a natural high that is unbelievable. When I would dance, the high I would get from it would make my hair stand up. Now I get it though teaching. You can’t get that from anything else. These boys who leave dancing behind because they can’t handle the teasing or whatever try to get the same high unnaturally. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. Something is missing in their life, and what they lost is dance—the ability to live their passion—because they allowed society to make them go another way.
So, parents need to help them stick with their passion for dance despite the teasing and the pressures of society.
Tip #2: Find teachers that train boys to dance like boys.
In other words, make sure they dance with teachers that don’t train them like they train the girls. A lot of technique is the same, but a lot of it is different. Guys need to dance like guys.
Teachers have to say, “This is the girls choreography, and, guys, you are going to do this instead.” A lot of teachers don’t take the time to do that.
Also, teachers need to not dress the boys like girls. I would cringe when I’d judge competitions and see the same leotard used on girls also used on the guys with just the addition of pants on the guy.
Parents have to go out of their way to make sure their sons have male teachers in their life and are getting trained differently. Parents need to be aware of what training their kids need. I watched how the male teachers at Debbie Allen’s Dance Academy were training the boys.
Parent of boys can’t just say, “This studio is around the corner from my house, so I’ll throw my son in there for dance lessons. They need to be aware of who’s working with their children. This is true for girls, too, but it’s especially true for the boys. Parents need to be aware of how the dance teachers treat and train the boys; they need to be sure they are being trained as male dancers.
Tip #3: Know that male dancers have different physical issues than female dancers.
Even though this can be true for girls as well, I see it with boys more. They have huge growth spurts. And when they grow like that, their muscles and tendons don’t grow with their bones. For this reason, a lot of times you deal with tendonitis in teenage male dancers more than with girls. Girls tend to grow a little here and there, but guys tend to grow two or three inches in a month it seems. You hear about growing pains, and it’s true. Their bones grow and the tendons are pulling because they haven’t caught up yet.
When teaching passés, I had trouble getting them higher on the boys. I finally realized this was because their calf muscles are bigger. When doing a passé, you want to go down the sit bone, down the hamstring and down the knee to have the passé supported. When the calf comes in and closes off the area behind the knee, this actually prevents them from being able to accomplish this, though. They have to press their muscle in the upper leg fast enough to support their passé before the calf muscle closes off the “cave” [the area behind the knee]. If they don’t accomplish this, the “boulder” [the calf muscle] closes off the “cave” making it impossible use that upper leg. Even dancers like Jason Parson’s have experienced this. I was at the New York City Dance Alliance finals, and Jason told me he was having trouble doing pirouettes. I said, “Let me tell you about your big boulder,” and his passé went right up.
A lot of boys also tend to grip their buttocks when doing an arabesque, and that’s why their legs won’t go up. At one point Danny’s arabesque was amazing. Then while he was on tour with So You Think You Can Dance he said, “I don’t know what’s happen; I’ve lost my arabesque.”
I said, “Let me see you do it.” He was gripping his buttocks, and this was stopping him.
Guys they tend to grip more, because they are men. They’re trying to be butch. What they need to be doing instead is lengthening out to do a movement. I would say that’s a big thing for them physically. They need to be told, “Don’t grip through movement. You don’t engage a muscle by gripping it; you lengthen it out.”
This concludes my interview with Denise. At some point maybe I’ll go back over the material I have that didn’t make it into my Dance Teacher article and post it here–I had way more information than I was allowed to include. In the meantime, I hope these three posts were helpful.
I had hoped last summer to get Julian into a room with her for a private lesson. It didn’t work out. I still hope that maybe this summer when we are in New York again at the same time we might be able to make that happen. I’m sure even an hour with Denise would benefit him greatly. If anyone can explain to him how to better use his muscles to improve his dancing, it’s Denise.