Today I was reminded of why I began this blog: Being a male dancer at a young age is a tough road to hoe. It was tough for Julian in first grade and it continues to be tough for him as a junior in high school.
Anyway, I was reminded when I saw a tweet from my friend Nichelle at Dance Advantage: “My 6-Year-Old Son Takes Ballet—You Got a F#$%^$#@ Problem With That? – Several Twitter peeps passed this… http://tumblr.com/xsx2hof98k.” I was intrigued and clicked through to her “Nichelle’s Note’s” page and then onto Jacques Berlinerblau‘s post at The Chronicle. I read his witty description of his son’s start in dance and his first experience of being teased and bullied for choosing this art form.
Ah…I know this experience well. I know the tears, the frustration, the alienation our sons feel. I know the anger, frustration and pain the parents feel. I feel your pain Jacques and your son’s. Been there, done that too often. I’ve cried my share of tears along with my son.
Maybe some of you recall Julian’s first negative experience around the fact that he had chosen to dance. He was in first grade. I guess that would have made him six years old. He’d been dancing for three years already. He found himself at school on “his day” for show and tell, and he’d forgotten to bring anything to share. Thinking fast he decided to share something about himself. “I dance,” he told his whole first grade class. And the whole first grade class laughed at him.
Luckily he had a great first grade teacher who, much like Berlinerblau’s younger son, was quite good and sensitive. After consoling Julian, she gave all the children a good talking to about their reaction to Julian’s sharing, about dance being an appropriate activity for both girls and boys…yada yada yada.
Some things never change, though. Although the rest of elementary school was somewhat uneventful, especially because Julian still had time to show his male prowess by playing soccer and taking gymnastics classes–in fact, he excelled at all sports, Julian was teased all through middle school and the beginning of high school. I thought by the end of his sophomore year the jocks who continued to say “gay” as he walked buy had pretty much stopped.
Wrong. Just a few months ago I went into Julian’s room and gave him a long speech I would live to regret. He’d been a particularly unpleasant teenage boy for the last month or so. I’d just come back from another three-hour round-trip drive to San Francisco so he could get the best ballet training available (which, needless to say, wreaks havoc on my day–and life) and after being treated…well…let’s just say disrespectfully one too many times, I’d had it. I stormed in and said, “Here’s the deal. You can either start speaking to me and treating me with the respect I deserve or I can stop driving you to San Francisco. I can enroll you in a ballet program close to home, and that will just have to do. I’ve had it. Do you hear me? I don’t know what your problem is, but I’ve had it with your behavior. Do you understand?”
Ever been there and done that? (I’m not proud of it…believe me.)
All I got was sullen silence. That’s when my “good-mother” instinct kicked in. I decided maybe I should find out what his problem really was, so I asked, “What is your problem anyway?”
“Nothing. Never mind. Go away.”
“Obviously there’s a problem.”
“It doesn’t matter. Leave me alone.” (Sound like a teenager?)
By now I am feeling really guilty because I can sense there is a problem. I ask again, without all my anger. (Now I’m being a better mom, right?) “What’s the problem? You obviously are upset. So, tell me why you are acting so angry all the time.”
Then it poured out…with frustration, sadness, anger. He was still getting teased–by the same guys mostly. A lot of people knew him and appeared to like him, but he felt he had few if any close friends. He felt different, alienated, alone at school. He didn’t fit in, and the teasing was really getting to him.
And, guess what? He was taking it out on me.
Of course, I apologized. I felt even more guilty–and less proud of my behavior. His behavior improved, but the problem did not go away. He wasn’t about to stop dancing.
I’ve heard tell that even adult male dancers get teased. They still feel ostracized and different. Yet, they are the ultimate athletes.
Look at Desmond Richardson of Complexions Contemporary Dance…just look! This is what Julian looks at to remind himself of what a male dancer is all about. This is what he wants to look like. And he’d like to accomplish everything Richardson has accomplished in his career. Or look at the photo of Edward Villella in Berlinerblau’s post.
Is this a body of a “sissy,” a “girl” or something to be made fun of or rather of an athlete just like that of a football or soccer player? I can tell you Richardson has more grace and strength than most athletes and can perform feats many of them can’t–and most male dancers can boast of the same abilities.
But I’m preaching to the choir here. Just like my son and Berlinerblau’s son, your sons can and do dance. Anyone got a problem with that? Come see me.
Or, if you do have a problem, I suppose you can continue to take your chances by picking on the dancin’ boys as they get older. You might be sorry you chose a dancer to tease or bully should one decide to take action. I know a not-too-tall San Francisco Ballet corps member who took out a thug trying to steal his iphone on the subway. (No, he was not being teased; the guy just wanted the phone.) The dancer packed a mean punch in that wiry little body. The iphone did not get stolen. The thief surely wore a telling bruise on his face for a long while. He picked the wrong guy to mess with.
Not that I’m advocating our dancin’ boys fight the bullies, mind you… Just saying. They ain’t no sissies.