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Mel Johnson

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Mel Johnson

From Prism:

 

In another post, "Until The End of Time" made a comment about "fear of rejection by family and friends".

 

I'm curious how many boys have been teased and called names. I assume that their reaction and response would be different depending on their age but how did they handle those type of situations? As a parent, what type of guidance and emotional support did you provide to your sons? Were they aware and prepared for these possible situations beforehand and able to deal with it positively with confidence? Or was each situation dealt with as or if it came up?

 

How about as parents of boy dancers? Have you endured criticism from family or friends for "letting your boys dance"? Have you been able to educate them or are they forever stuck in the "ballet is for girls" mentality.

 

I will elaborate on our personal experiences later, but UTEOT's comment reminded me of a little 4yo boy at my son's studio that wants to dance SO BAD! Grandma brings his sister and he always cries to come with them. He's always dancing in the waiting area with the music and tries to sneak into the studio. Grandma has offered to pay for his dance lessons several times but the Dad insists, "NO WAY! Boys don't dance. Girls dance. There's no way my boy is going to dance!" You are right UTEOT..... SO SAD! So sad for the little boy and so sad for this Dad's ignorance about boys in dance. I can just imagine what he says when he sees my son and other couple of boys in the end of year performance. Probably says "Look, they are trying to make their sons into girls." Thankfully, we are confident in our belief of "be who you are and do what you love no matter what anybody else thinks". I am also a firm believer in "Girls can become whatever they want to (astronauts, scientists, construction workers, president, etc) and so can boys." I try to instill that mindset into my son to not only to have confidence in his own choices but to also grow up with a healthy perception of what girls can do. Gender holds no boundries although older boundaries previously set may have to be broken and the population re-educated which we know can take years and years as well as proof of success by those confident enough to dare to break those boundaries.

 

 

 

 

 

--------------------

 

Michele

 

A good manifesto, prism, thanks for sharing! :yucky:

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Guest PAmom

Thanks for starting this topic Prism and a big thanks to Ballet Talk for expandning this board to accommodate us parents of fellows in ballet!

 

I will have to return at a later time to share some personal insights but currently the studio where I work is in the middle of a major performance ad I have to run and get matinee student check in all set.

 

As a mom of a male ballet dancer and as an employee of a ballet school and company, I occasionally see many parents systematically tear down the hopes of potential young male dancers. My make it my job at the studio to make sure the needs of dancing young ladies & getlemen, moms & dads, parents & grandparents are met.

 

t :yucky:

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Treefrog

Knock, knock, not a parent of a boy, but since you offer one anecdote Prism I have one that hopefully will make you feel GOOD....

 

One girl at our studio has a younger brother, maybe five years old. I have no idea how interested he is in dancing, but his parents are so eager to involve him that his Dad said he would sign up for lessons too, and they could learn this thing together (in different classes, of course!). Isn't that cool? :cat:

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citibob

I was teased and called so many names for so many reasons, I never really noticed how much (or if) I was being teased for dancing. My mother told me from a young age to ignore teasing, which I basically did.

 

I recently received a couple of great mentions in the Boston Globe and Herald for my part in our Nutcracker (I'm a professional dancer now). Naturally, I e-mailed the reviews to all my friends. A long-lost childhood friend of mine, who did not generally tease me as a child and whom I have not seen since 8th grade, had this to say in response:

 

Congratulations!  I remember attending one of your dance recitals and wondering why you did ballet.  Glad you had better sense than I did.

 

As for gender and barriers: I've found that, at least in the ballet studio, there very much are big gender differences. Some of these are due to tradition and a need to express ballet in a way the audience will appreciate, unless you want to explicitly break barriers on stage. (For example, Bourne's Swan Lake intentionally plays with gender roles, and a lot of audience attention is drawn to that fact.)

 

Other gender differences are just due to who we are. "Boys will be boys" really has some truth to it. As we interact week after week in the studio, you really do notice that the men and ladies really are different --- in our physique, our responses to situations, our movement, our social approaches, etc.

 

Ballet really does not make boys into girls, unless the boys want to be girls. There are some such boys, and they are attracted to ballet because of the art's feminine reputation.

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dancemomCA

This is the heartbreak topic and one that I think has more influence over whether boys start or stay in ballet than any other factor affecting their dance life. I need to gather my thoughts before I continue with this post.... :cat:

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ToThePointe

Both my sons 5 and 7 (almost 8) attend classes (creative movement) at my studio. His peers already tease the 7 year old. I try to counter it with them having some very "manly" activities as well. They both take tae kwon do and have dirt bikes. I tell them to ignore the teasing. Kids will be teased about all sorts of things in life. :unsure:

 

As a teacher, I try to get past the dad's by explaining the benefits that ballet can provide to sports players and that many famous athletes attend or have attended ballet classes (Muhammad Ali, The Dallas Cowboys). I also point out several "manly men" who have taken ballet such as Tommy Lee and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I equip the mothers with my statement of "would you rather have your son chase other boys and jump on top of them (football) or in a room full of girls that they will eventually have their hands on." :)

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Mel Johnson

HO HO! We're MANLY MEN! Manly men! We drink beer, we cause odd sounds to issue from unknown parts, we scratch certain areas of our body in public, we wear plaid and polka dots, we leave the toilet seat up; we're MANLY MEN!

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Guest fastfeets

for some reason "Robin Hood:Men In Tights" comes to mind with your post, Mr Johnson. I can't seem to pinpoint precisely why... *snickers*

 

ToThePointe, you forgot Patrick Swayze. he's a manly man, too...used to come in roughed up quite often because he had a thing for picking fights.

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Guest DancingBoi

I'm not a parent but that I know of I have never been teased about dancing. In high school we had a semi-big drama/dance department so there were always plays, musicals and dance performances and there were several guys in them and we never got any lip from anyone because it wasn't seen as something out of the ordinary. There were also several guys, most from various sports teams, who were also on the cheerleading squad. *shrug* It was never an issue. Now that I'm in college, with my first college performance behind me, I haven't gotten any lip here either and a lot of my friends went and I didn't get any negative feedback so I guess I have been lucky in the teasing department.

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Guest Until The End Of Time

I for one have not been teased yet. In my life doing tap dancing never been teased. When I started Ballet people were curious why. I was like go watch a ballet movie, then tell me what you think. I was like I use poetry, riding my horse, and dance to set me free, because my world is evolving around one thing concentrated on one thing aiming to perfect it. None of those I have listed can be perfected. The poetry will always be strived to perfection, the horse can never be trained good enough, The ballet dancing will never be 100% perfect. So in my eyes, These things I have chosen to set me free will have me concentrating on them UNTIL THE END OF TIME. I hope mothers will encourage fathers to allow their heartbroken sons to do ballet, and fathers open their eyes Ballet is harder than any sport out. ( believe me I've played sports in school ranging from Soccer to Lacrosse). I like things I can't perfect in a short time. Dancing and poetry are two things enrolled in one. I am going to give a qoute I "borrowed" off from someone in this forum.

 

"I want to be read, loved, memorized. I want to be a poem that changes lives." ~Anon

 

That's exactly what I want to be. and to get there It'll take me a while. But that's ok as long as I can be free. :)

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Guest prism
Knock, knock, not a parent of a boy, but since you offer one anecdote Prism I have one that hopefully will make you feel GOOD....

 

One girl at our studio has a younger brother, maybe five years old. I have no idea how interested he is in dancing, but his parents are so eager to involve him that his Dad said he would sign up for lessons too, and they could learn this thing together (in different classes, of course!). Isn't that cool? :blink:

Treefrog, that is way too cool!!!! I love it! You'll have to keep us posted on how Dad and son are doing. :D

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Mel Johnson

That's great! We have one family with a little boy, still under pre-primary age, and mom dances at an RAD Intermediate Foundation level of proficiency, having started from adult beginner. Dad is dancing in Adult Freestyle class. Chances look pretty good that son will probably follow on, as that's what the family seems to do! :blink:

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Guest PAmom
Gender holds no boundries although older boundaries previously set may have to be broken and the population re-educated which we know can take years and years as well as proof of success by those confident enough to dare to break those boundaries.

Being an Ally

 

I think the best we can do to emotionally support our sons and all boys in ballet is to be their allies from the beginning without demeaning others.

 

Being comfortable with breaking the boundries currently set in our society by not caring about the color you dress you infant in is a start. What is the harm of having a stranger coo about how cute and flirty our little baby boy is, all dressed in pink? Is he going to be harmed by that color or the fact that they assume he is a girl? Will we be harmed as parents? Is it really that horrible if we find that the baby that we just called a pretty little girl is a pretty little boy? Let's turn off the internal alarm when our 3 year old fellow wants Power Puff Girl sneakers instead of Harry Potter sneakers. Yes, eventually someone is going to say to him, "Those are GIRL'S sneakers" but as his constant ally you can be there to say, "No, they belong to him and he is a boy." This teaches him he is still acceptable and loved by you no matter what he wears. Why have a battle over what character or color is on clothing unless the character itself is offensive, even that is subjective.

 

By the time a boy is of the age where he interacts with people on his own, he is hopefully instilled with self esteem from the acceptance you have shown him. He will know that his real inner-self is defined less by his external appearance or the activities he chooses to participate but more by how he interacts with others. How he is perceived superficially by his appearance and what he chooses to participate in are also realities, but he will have a sense of who he is and that he is supported by you.

 

We should never have to build someone up by tearing others down. How can we show we are emotionally supportive of our sons when we put down other children by belittling their activities? By saying that ballet is better for boys than wrestling/ football/ soccer because boy dancers get to be with/ partner/ touch a lot of girls, we are being hurtful. The messages we are giving show lack of acceptance for other activities our sons might eventually wish to explore, lack of respect for other's who participate in different activities, that having physical contact with another boy during any activity should be brought into question, and that girls are objects to be handled who help define how much of a boy our sons are. Arguments like that help no one, even if they give a jarring twist to counter a harsh comment against our sons as male dancers.

 

Unacceptable teasing goes on everywhere, even into adulthood. It is more prevalent when people feel uncomfortable with what they feel is not normal, boys in ballet definitely falls into that category. We must continue to be allies for our dancing sons as they grow from 7 to teen to adulthood. By first educating ourselves, we can be a wealth of supportive information and action for our sons and the society that surrounds them. Volunteer to be the "boy wrangler" backstage for a run of performances at your son's studio even if it's for one or two boys. There will be less of a chance they are lost in the shuffle of backstage camaraderie if they have an adult supporting them and also making sure they are not getting into trouble. Don't be afraid to speak up for the blatant inequities at the ballet studio. If the youngest classes start with a ballet story, ask if there are boys represented at all, even in the illustrations or photographs. If they are not, suggest books like, "Oliver Button is a Sissy" by Tomie dePaola or "Dancing to America." by Ann Morris.

 

Many children aspire to be the lead in performances, as parents of boys it is more difficult to show that you have to work hard and even then you may not be the person for the job. Many of our sons end up being frequently asked to perform solos or eventually relied on as the only gentleman in partnering class, parents can be a resource for to balance our son's view of self-importance. We can educated them that boys don't always get the lead by pointing out how many gentlemen are in the corp of a ballet or dance video. Even a movie like "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" has a huge super corp of dancing gentlemen as well as the leads Dick Van Dyke and (although he does not really dance in this movie) Robert Helpman. Showing how many fellows are working hard and dancing full out in the corp keeps a youngster a bit closer to reality even if they are the constant star at their home studio.

 

As many have said in the past, if a young man is serious about continuing to excel in ballet, it it important for him to receive training in partnering, men's classes, and train along with other young men. As parents, we can seek out what local options there are for connecting with classes that will encourage our son's progress and inspire him to continue. Getting an honest evaluation of what continued training your pre-teen/ early teen son needs can be overwhelming and depending on geographic location next to impossible. If there are touring companies, master classes sometimes are open. Having our sons participate and perhaps touching base with the teacher afterward gives a hint of an objective evaluation as might some competitions (I am not a fan of this option) and eventually auditions for summer intensive programs.

 

With a 12/13 yo dancing son, parents roles as allies are different but no less important. Different tactics are needed in handling sometimes overzealous interest in our sons. Many young men can be offered scholarships to pull them far from home. Some receive attentions that are glowing and positive. As parents, we need to continue to determine what is best for our kids by weeding out the inappropriate overtures, too good to be true offers, and heady praise that lead to decisions like leaving home prematurely. These are our kids and as their allies, we can share our life experiences with them to steer them in making wholesome decisions.

 

It is during teen years that many male dancers decide to give up dance. There are many factors that influences dancers at this time. During the teen years that the most blatant verbal slanders are thrown at male dancers. Their sexuality is questioned more openly by peers, complete strangers, and by other less understanding family members. I am hoping that, all religious issues aside, that parents have the strength to continue loving their sons despite whether they are straight or gay. When else are parents ever more needed as allies than when our sons are going through defining themselves as young adults?

 

As teenagers, a male dancers get a clearer picture of where he stands competitively if his intentions are to proceed toward a pre-professional career. Finding that he is actually one of many small fish in a big sea of highly gifted 15 year olds can be daunting or inspiring.

 

As teens, bodies change and add new challenges and realizations. Things that technically came easily may fall apart for a while. Injuries happen during times of growth for many reasons. By the end of the teen years, every serious dancer knows what his biggest physical weaknesses are. He also has a pretty good idea if he is getting to be too tall (yes, it can happen) or might stay too short to have a chance at the job he is most interested in.

 

Many teens feel the strong pull of like minded social relationships, platonic and romantic. For some dancers, their training allows very little time for socialization and finding understanding friends can be an even bigger challenge. Parental acceptance, ever important, may take a back seat to the need for social acceptance or rebellion. This is any easy time for a male dancer to say, this is just not worth the trouble and take a step away from dance. If parents can be there for them, hear their real reasons for deciding to continue or abandon dance, and accept their feelings as valid it will be easer for them to either let go of dance all together or return to it when they feel more comfortable.

 

There are some young men that keep plugging away through their teen years, despite all of the above challenges, and continue to dance. Some continue grinding their teeth in frustration all the way, some with a chip on their shoulder, some with homophobic bravado, some quietly cowering, and a some with pleasant self assuredness who show themselves a mature team players. Many male dancers have to choose to spend a year or so training away from home, a lucky few live with such training in their backyards from the get go.

 

It's later in the teen years that, at least in ballet, many board year round at schools for final polishing if they are shooting for an immediate career. Parenting from a distances just what it sounds like, the parental role does not end up being filled by the administration at your son's dorm. They have sometimes up to 40 other kids to deal with at the same time. How could they ever support your son emotionally as well as you can? They can't. You know you son. If he is rowdy and outspoken, you know you will probably get more calls home about his behavior than if he is reserved. Be a voice for your son, he will think he can handle it all. If he is ill in bed and can't get to the cafeteria, be the one to ask someone to check on him as he probably won't want anyone to fuss over him. He will say it's his business that he is sick. You can say that it's your business that he is cared for. Emotionally, it may be hard for him to let down his guard via phone conversation or even during brief visits. He is trying to find his way. Just keep letting him know you are there for him and sometime he may actually let you see into what he is going through enough that you might lend an ear or perspective.

 

Some young men take the college route and some even have the advantage of scholarships to assist furthering their education. Parents can again be a wealth of support and knowledge for these pivotal decision making times. If your son is torn between college or dance career, let him know he could try for both, apply for colleges and audition for companies. If a company offers an apprenticeship, don't close the door on college yet, let him know that some colleges allow you to defer a year or two. Parents can help ease the way into adulthood if they can be allies by showing how to keep options open.

 

Being emotionally supportive of male dancers changes with each age they are. Each kid is different too. All of the above advice/ points of view are from my personal experiences. I only have one son, now 18 and employed by a ballet company, but I have known many young dancers who have danced at the studio where I work as an administrator. Some boys have quit, some come back, others have gone on to be successful in many different fields. Some still struggle to gain the support they deserve. I am only the parent of one, but the ally of them all.

 

t :D

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Treefrog

Wow... :wink:

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Vickie_CO.

PAmom, what an incredible mother you are! You brought tears to my eyes.

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