In this continuation of my interview with Denise Wall, which I conducted while Julian and I were in New York City last summer during the ABT Summer Intensive, she discusses issues of sibling rivalry, sexuality and peer pressure. Denise and I met at the New York City Dance Alliance finals, where students from her studio were attending classes and competing. Julian and I returned later that evening to see them perform, and we had a chance to meet all of Denise’s sons with the exception of Travis. Here, in part 2 of my interview, Denise offers some great advice for any young dancer, not just young male dancers. (To read the first part of this interview, click here.)
Is it hard to have more than one dancin’ boy in the family? I know of other families with boys who, for instance, both have competed at YAGP or the older one has become a professional ballet dancer. The younger one sometimes feels he isn’t considered as good as the older brother.
It can be hard when you have to follow behind someone else who dances. Danny got a full scholarship to the Kirov at 15. Travis was always compared to Danny; Travis had a hard time with that, but he just created his own thing for himself and said, “This is me.”
How did you support each of your boys through the issues of teasing, sibling rivalry and sexuality?
Basically, you have to tell them, “Every day when you get up you have to figure out what you believe in and who you are and stick with it. If you don’t love yourself, no one else is going to love you. People are going to compare, and when they do, you have to let them know, ‘I’m Danny,’ or ‘I’m Travis’ or ‘I’m Tyler. I’m not my brothers. I love them, but I’m an individual.’”
As a mother you have to remind your sons and tell them these things every day, especially when any of these issues come up.
How do you counsel your boys about sexuality issues, especially about the fear of being gay or actually being gay?
Years ago, the Houston Oilers were making football players take ballet. It was a big thing, and I thought, “Oh my God, finally they are letting out the truth about how good ballet is for athletes.” So, that’s one thing I would tell my boys—that athletes take ballet, too. [Former pro football player] Lynn Swann would take ballet, too. I would say, “Everyone looks up to this athlete. He’s amazing. He’s rough and tough, yet he’s taking ballet because that’s one of the things he does for football.” I would use him as an example. I would say you, “You wouldn’t call him gay because he’s doing ballet for his sport.” Things like that help.
The issue of sexuality and whether or not the boy’s are gay or become gay is not just a dance issue; it’s a personal issue. [The boys] just have to love themselves and believe in themselves, and it’s really hard when you have peer pressure.
I even tell the girls at the studio that seem so strong…they have the issue of boyfriends that manipulate their minds or friends or parents… when they get in the shower or before they go to school, they should ask themselves, “What do you believe in? Who are you? Are you a mean person? If so, you have to fix that. If you don’t like your feelings hurt, then you need to not hurt other people’s feelings. You need to not be selfish and take other people into consideration. You need to think about that every morning when you get up, because there are negative things out there waiting to take up your body and mind.”
Have you encountered boys who feel influenced by gay peers to become gay?
When you idolize somebody and put them on a pedestal, then you start questioning yourself…I have seen situations where guys did swing the other way because they were hanging out with other gay guys. They though they were, too, because people were telling them they were. Then at the end they figure it out and come back around.
Next post: Denise offers tips for raising boys who dance.