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Ballet Talk for Dancers
dancetaxi

I know I can't change the world, but....

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tango49

Wow, this is all quite heartbreaking to hear. I never thought that there was so much discrimination still toward young male ballet dancers and my heart goes out to your son Dancetaxi. I have no solutions other than try to make this a time of growth for him and to encourage him in every way to see just how special he really is.

 

We never experienced any of this first hand and I think it was because my son was so very outgoing. But he did keep his dancing a secret even up until his highschool years and only talked about it to only his closest friends...or with people who he thought really liked and accepted him. Cmtaka... I can really relate to what you said about people calling your son 'pretty'! The first time I heard "pretty boy' said about Joseph I was very hurt. But having met your son and you mine...I can only say that they both are abit striking with their dark looks...but to be called 'pretty' is not a word I would ever use to decribe them or any young boy! I really believe that these young people and adults really don't understand how much hurt they can cause with their thoughtless words.

 

Dancetaxi, I'm certain your son will rise above it all eventually and become a more sensitive and caring adult because of these experiences. Hang in there with your encouragement, your love and your support for him...he'll certainly win in the end! I just wish there was a less painful way to do so. Tango

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mouse

Hi!

This is my first post. I've been reading all sorts of things for a week or so and had no intention of ever posting (sort of scared!); yet, this thread is too close to my past. My son begged for lessons for over a year. I thought it was just the "passion" of leaving the theatre after each performance. I never danced or attended dance productions of any sort before receiving tickets in exchange for framing pictures (I own a shop). I told my son that he could take lessons in the summer. I forgot. He remembered. I had no idea what a big deal it is when an eight year old boy comes into a dance studio willingly, eager, and full of total excitement. He wanted to be in Dracula. I figured I'd pay for whatever lessons he needed to secure a part. I'd noticed the donor names in the programs often were the same as some of the kids in the productions. I was asked if I was willing to pay for private lessons. Frankly, I thought this was how to "buy" the opportunity. I paid. He took the classes and was in the performance. Before it ended though, he was already talking of Nutcracker. I thought this would be something fun and different for the holiday season. Little did I know that our world would never be the same. My son quit Boy Scouts without my knowledge. He quit everything, demanding more and more dance. He hated the teasing. Of course, he was teased and bullied. Believe or not, there's actually two "professional" ballet company's in town. Both have schools. I didn't even know the other company existed until my son's name appeared in the Dracula program. By spring, a representative from the other company solicited my frame shop for a silent auction donation and gave us tickets to their shows. We went. My son took a few classes there. HE GOT BEAT UP IN THE BATHROOM BY A FELLOW, MALE DANCER, BACK STAGE DURING THE SECOND YEAR IN NUTCRACKER! Why? Because taking lessons from the "competitors" (all for which I was paying very handsomely) was considered betrayal. He was beaten up twice. The other kid's mother was the "back stage" mother for the boys. She even knew about the abuse and told me that "boys will be boys". At school (a nice, private one), when my son was nine, a classmate teased him every day about being "gay". I asked my son how this kid knew he was straight. Had he slept with a girl, dated a girl, held hands with one? We laughed about it, but I knew it bothered my son. One day, this kid was wearing a Boston Ballet T-shirt while teasing my son. It seems that his aunt was a principal dancer at Boston at the time (since retired). Basically, bullying and teasing can happen anywhere, anytime, and in some of the most unexpected places and by some of the most unexpected people. I didn't know how to be supportive or what to do in the face of such tauntings. Clients even asked me if my son was gay! All the while, I thought this was just a phase; it was going to go away; something else would come along more interesting. It's almost embarrasing to admit. I did nothing. I just let things take their natural course. I thought he'd quit. I never encouraged him to quit. I always gave him every class he wanted (which was starting to add up!) I never offered advice about the bullies. I just listened. By age ten my son was only taking classes at the second school. He heard that the best male dancers came from a school called the Kirov in Washington, DC because some guy named Rasta won a medal in Mississippi. Please try to hear that as I heard it--MISSISSIPPI! I already live in South Carolina. This sounded completely ridiculous, but my son brought home an issue of Dance Magazine. There was an audition for this school in Charlotte, so my husband took him. He got into the summer intensive (something we'd never heard of before). He turned eleven right before it started. We were all very, very excited. Personally, I thought being around all these older, more experienced and better male dancers would spell the end of ballet in our lives. Not so. The school's literature stated that the year-round program was for students twelve years of age and raising seventh graders. My son had repeated third grade. He was only just eleven and then going into the fifth grade. One week into the summer program we received a call offering him a spot in the year round program. We were shocked and said no. Our son begged for us to change our minds. The compromise was this: you can go next year if you can get in. The bullying got worse. The ballet school situation became impossible. My husband and I were told that it would take months for the teacher to "fix" everything that had been taught wrong at the SI. Lessons were now costing $1000 per month. We were told all sorts of things about how untalented our child was. Bullying really does come in all sorts of horrible forms. Parts were not assigned to our child. "He wasn't good enough". Understand, we had no background in ballet. My husband and I had just managed to maintain what had been a new friendship with two principle dancers at the other company. This was the result of framing their photographs--a business relationship that turned into an oaccasional dinner! Malicious rumors hurt everyone. Still, my husband and I neither encouraged or discouraged our son's dance activities. I would "lick my own wounds" (and pay) and just listen. Little did I know that the plan was already in place. Unwittingly, I had suggested it. I had said that he could go off to school if he could get it. This was the support he really needed. He had a goal. He put up with all the teasing and bullying because he had a plan. I look back now, six years later, and see it all so differently. We left the second school in January. Then, all sorts of people tried to control the future. Each told us that our son wasn't very good and needed all sorts of additional classes in order to be "fixed". I see now that they were all trying to "keep" him under their exclusive tutelage and convince my husband and I that we needed to believe only in their advice--everyone else was wrong. The teacher from our Governor's School said that the Kirov would "ruin" him--whatever that means. I tried to explain that my son wasn't old enough to go to his school. He didn't speak to us for years, going out of his way to snub us in public. He wouldn't speak to our son, even in the audience at YAGP a couple of years ago. (Our son was appearing in the group piece at the gala that year.) Bullying exists even inside the ballet community. Anyway, our son knew what he wanted. He knew a long time before my husband and I understood just how serious this all was. He hated the teasing and occasionally still is called gay even while cozy with his beautiful, serious girlfriend. Unfortunately, these problems just seem to come with the territory. Handling it comes with focused determination. I don't think that had I been more supportive any of this would have been easier. I also don't think that had I encouraged him to quit it would have made any difference at all. Each dancer will have hideous, cruel, and untrue things said and done to them. It's awful. It's awful for the parents too. Tears were shed, but nothing could have sidelined our son. No matter how unhappy he was before going to the Kirov (okay, it's now Universal Ballet Academy, but that's sort of hard after three years with the former name!), the only joy was ballet. The "joy" always outweighed the pain. It still does. Dancers are meant to dance. I don't think they can help it. They just need an ear to hear the complaints along the way. The best support is listening and letting your dancer follow his heart.

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tango49

Mouse...Welcome to Ballet Talk for Dancers and for posting about your very difficult experiences with your son, his teachers and peers. You seem to have been through the ringer and I'm so sorry for that. The ballet world can be difficult but I think you experienced some of the worse behavior out there. I can only say that I hope your son is thriving now at the Universal Ballet Academy and that you're getting the respect there that you both so deserve.

 

How has he adjusted to the school? I think he's in very good hands now and I hope that this school is a good fit for him as well as for you! Please post about his progress when you can. You've come along way and perhaps you can relax abit now that he's settled and experience some of the really good aspects of having a male ballet dancer in the family. There are tons of great things ahead for you and for him! Tango

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dancetaxi

Wow! Thanks to everyone! It's nice to know we're not alone (although it would be more reassuring if it was an isolated case.)

 

I know that he will overcome this. He is bound and determined to do this in some capacity as a career. He knows that the teasing is inevitable. You're all right about this being a yucky age. :yucky:

 

At times like this we all want to protect our kids from things that hurt them, but I know this will make him a stronger person. Sometimes he talks about wanting to enter a residency so he can be around kids that are more like him, who understand what he goes through and who feel the same way he does about dancing. I understand his desire, and struggle with trying to decide the best environment for him, not only as a dancer but as a young boy. It would be nice to "shelter" him from the bullying, but if it weren't dance, it would be something else. The world is a cruel place. It might be just better to learn how to deal with it to fit in the world in general, not just the ballet world. (Which Mouse has alluded to being a cruel one as well...)

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cmtaka

Yes Mouse please post and let us know how he is doing now. What is the expression what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. YIKES what love he must have to have hung in there through all that.

 

Tango, last year some of the people that must not have known your son very well kept saying oh I just saw JM and the other way around they look enough alike. But its been like that all the way back to Sat morning mens class at SPA! I never thought they were pretty just exotic and handsome. :yucky: Chris

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tango49

Cmtaka~ How funny that people have mistaken our sons for each other. I happen to agree, JM and Joseph do look alike and they are certainly not pretty! How about tall, dark and handsome...and yes abit exotic (especially JM!) Oops, strike the tall part for Joseph (Tee Hee!). :yucky:

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mouse

I've been scared to post but appreciate the nice comments in response. I've been looking at all sorts of messages and the information posted on the side of the page. I started following this site because, although many aspects of bullying and teasing do manage to work themselves out with time and maturity, many things DON'T get easier. I'm likely more worried now than ever before! Bullying and teasing, while painful and mean, are "child's play". The kids grow up. The stakes get higher. The fears mount. There's all this preparation for summer competitions. It is so intense. This is my son's senior year. Shouldn't he be concentrating on auditions and professional contracts? After my week of reading, I've seen many, many posts on the Helsinki competition but none on Moscow. Why? I thought the Moscow competition was a really big deal? Isn't it? I read one post that seemed to suggest that the Boston Ballet had too much influence with the jury in Helsinki. If true, does this mean their choreography award is "tainted" or somehow less impressive? I've never understood what makes a modern piece good or terrible. If you want to taste a little more cruelty, listen to the dancers as they discuss each other's modern pieces. Listen to them talk about technique and presentation in classical variations. It's frightful. Perhaps the "outside" bullies are just preparing our sons for the "in-your-face" criticism of every little aspect of ballet! It's tough. It's demanding. The dancer will follow his heart. Will he follow his mind or good business practices? Audition? Look beyond the competitions? Evaluate a company fully or just look at the repetoire? These things, I just don't know! The feelings are quite a bit like the confusion one senses when bullied--scared and insecure! Now, I've probably done something wrong--strayed past the limits of a particular "thread". Please forgive me, re-post, axe me, or whatever is necessary for inappropriate use of a website page. I do embroidery. Until a few weeks ago, I thought all threads went through the eye of my needle! I'm just ignorant in this area too!

 

-- Edited by moderator to remove student names.

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Mel Johnson

No, no, wandering posts are all right, as long as they don't stray so far from the title subject as to make searching for a particular post impossible. That hasn't happened here. :yucky:

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Redbookish

*knock knock* An educator here, and a worker in the theatre, where a number of my friends & colleagues are gay and it's just not an issue ... Is another response possible, where we might challenge the taunt of being gay with "Well, what's wrong with that?" That is, work to take the sting & the insdult out of the label?

 

I know this is tricky delicate territory, but I've noticed that while we seem to be becoming more open about alternative ways of life and more accepting of difference (eg diability, race & so on), the "accusation" of being gay has increasingly become such an insult. Perhaps we all need to tackle that - I know when my young nephews come home with silly school yard rhymes about being gay, I ask them straight out what's so wrong with being gay, pointing out family friends who are openly (and non-controversially & non-flauntingly) gay. When the boys are faced with the reality of seeming to be rude about people they're fond of, it does make them pause for thought.

 

An absurdly optimistic view, I know, but perhaps worth a thought?

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dancetaxi

Good point Redbookish!

 

Actually, dancemomCA's post made me think about that as well. (Thank you so much for your honesty dancemomCA!) It makes me angry that being gay is actually considered an insult.

 

I had considered having my son tell the teasers: "so what's wrong with being gay??" But I think at age 11, the teasers probably would not get the message being conveyed. (11 year-olds are notoriously slow on the uptake! :yes: )

 

When he has teased a few weeks ago, he finally got the nerve to get into the kid's face and asked him what it was about dancing that made him gay. The kid didn't have an answer and backed off. :D

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cheetah

Redbookish - we had some concern when DS started ballet that he would face accusations of being gay. He was in 4th grade at the time. I have many friends who have alternative lifestyles, are of different persuasion, gay, whatever the politically correct term is. I introduced my DS to these people. He got to know them as people and found he liked them - as people. We never discussed sexual persuasion because it wasn't an issue - the issue was whether he liked the people for who they were. A few years later I mentioned their persuasion and asked if it was a problem for him. He commented that these weren't lifestyle choices that were right for him, but they shouldn't impact his opinion of any person. This is a comment from a 12 year old! So far he's faced no accusations of being gay because he dances. Of course, he's kept it a secret for a long time. Family knows and a few friends. I don't think it would bother him if those accusations were made, though, because the label has no stigma for him - he's already dealt with it. His concern has always been a simple fear of being ostracized in general or not accepted into his desired social level at school! I don't know if my DS is unique in the way this has worked out. I do know that we anticpated the problem and were proactive in creating a strategy that would help him deal with it if it ever became a problem for him. He met lots of male dancers this summer. Some were gay, others weren't. He enjoyed the time he spent with them and developed a lot of respect for all of them and the problems they have faced - whether gay or not. Maybe one thing we can do for our dancers is destigmatize the concept of sexual persuasion from the very beginning. Maybe then it won't have quite the power to hurt. Just a thought!

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Redbookish

It's been said before, but I'll repeat it - there are some very special people on this board! If only others IRL were so thoughtful and perceptive.

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Treefrog

In my experience as a fourth grade teacher, when 10-year-old boys call each other "gay" they mean "acting like a girl". It's not really a sexual slur (yet). Of course, that doesn't make it any better. :rolleyes:

 

As an adult, when I hear kids using "gay" as a slur, I generally ask them what they mean by that term. If it seems appropriate, I'll explain that I'm personally offended by that usage, because of the implication is that there's something wrong with being female. (This is why girl soccer players aren't chided for being "gay" -- there's nothing wrong with being like a boy, and in fact, possibly some benefits to NOT "acting like a girl".)

 

Not having raised any boys myself, I understand that I don't really know what it's like for boys, and I'm not presuming to give advice about the best responses and reactions. But I thought this tidbit might be useful in talking with your sons about how to deal with this particular slur. at the younger ages anyway.

 

I do feel for all of you and your sons. It isn't right.

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Hans
*knock knock* An educator here, and a worker in the theatre, where a number of my friends & colleagues are gay and it's just not an issue ... Is another response possible, where we might challenge the taunt of being gay with "Well, what's wrong with that?" That is, work to take the sting & the insdult out of the label?

 

I was wondering when someone was going to say that. :rolleyes:

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Vision

There are probably many of us here who have gay friends, family members, neighbors (I know that we do), and for whom it is a "so what" issue. But clearly, many in this culture have major problems accepting people who to them seem different. Again, I really think that it is the INTENT to hurt, that is so apparent in these criticisms of male dancers. And these comments, loaded with cultural judgement and sexual impact, are hurtful to kids whether they are straight, gay, or undecided. Eleven years old is too young to be challenged to deal with these issues! Any kind of sexuality is scarey at that age. And we all know when someone is saying something to be hurtful--our rage rises. Dancetaxi, your son's response was beautiful and effective, because it was direct, genuine, and returned the challenge! And clearly, DancemomCA's son is very confident and comfortable with himself, well able to handle these comments. And Mouse's son has had to handle tremendous aggression from others, and has done this with determination and great strength of character. These comments are jousts, efforts to test one's self-esteem and strength, housed within cultural stereotypes. The "correct" response, whether through physical threat, verbal slam, indifference, humor, honesty, whatever, will always include a communication of self-respect and restore one's sense of dignity.

 

I remember when my son was about ten, and he was gathered in a big group of kids to be photographed--some actors, some dancers. A boy his age came up to him and said, in a very provocative tone, "Do you LIKE wearing tights?" Tension filled the room. Parents heads swiveled. My son responded, " Well, they are kind of wierd at first. But they make dancing lots easier!" Within a couple of minutes, the boys were working together on some puzzle game. Why did this work? He "joined" with his attacker, in acknowledging that tights were "different" but also made it clear that dance was well worth it, and wasn't that obvious to the world? Rebalancing power. Then get on with it.

 

I do think that male dancers are forced to face issues of sexual identity in a different way at a different pace than other kids, partly because of the taunting and cultural stereotypes. Some kids are clear early on; others not until adulthood. But this process should be their own, in their own time and way of discovery.

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