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What would attract more men/boys to do ballet?

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I read the topic Olympics and now a similar thread at the ballet moms and dads forum and somebody suggested that making ballet more athletic would attract more boys/men


What are your opinions?


I'll start: I couldn't resist and asked the male that was closest - my boyfriend who doesn't dance. I asked him if he thought that ballet was athletic and surely he must have noticed the athletic side of especially the male dancer? He responded that the problem was that nobody really think of a man when they hear the word ballet. It is always the tutu and pointe shoes so nobody knows that there is something else. There has really nothing to do with ballet being an art (a lot of men play music intruments, write music, paint and do other artistic things) it is only because it is considered feminine. You cannot say that guys are overrepresented in figure skating or gymnastics either even though these are Olympic sports!


[/i]If people think about a male dancer it is most probably a man in tights, because that is what men wears on stage. And that is more frightening than anything else! Lets face it, how often do men wear tight fitting clothes outside the dance studio? We females on the other hand are almost required to wear tight jeans and tight tops!

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  • Jaana Heino


  • citibob


  • Mel Johnson


  • 2 Left Feet


Guest Tiny Feet

To start with, men and boys class availability needs to be more readily offered.


I think boys and men needs their own classes. Classes constructed particularly for them and where they are the center of attention instead of fighting for attention in a mixed class. And I think the tights thing wouldn't be that much of a big deal if they were with other guys verses being more self conscious in front of the opposite sex.


Just a thought.

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Uh, just how would you make ballet more athletic? Dancers are already the best athletes around. Shall we score pas de deux like gymnastics routines? Award a trophy for the highest grand jete or the most pirouttes on a single preparation? How about a fouette marathon -- why stop at 32?


I think the problem is largely the tutus and the point shoes and the pink tights and the soft focus calendars. They all proclaim "girl stuff," and I can't blame boys for preferring football and video games. One obvious step is to make it clear whenever possible that there is a place for men as well as women in ballet. E.g., when designing a logo for a studio, incorporate a sketch of a couple dancing together rather than of a single ballerina in a tutu on pointe. I would also urge that kids be exposed to as much dance as possible, live if possible, otherwise on DVD and VHS. Let the boys watch danseurs do impossible things; perhaps wonder will lead to respect and interest.


I suspect that the business of wearing tights is not as much an issue as some people think. Even if it is, it can be finessed. I believe that in some schools outside of the U.S. the uniform for first-year boys is shorts, not tights, and I don't see any reason why that couldn't be the case here.


Classes specifically for men and boys would be wonderful -- but you need to get the guys first. Good luck.


One last strategy: point out to a prospective male dancer that in class he'll be surrounded by dozens of young women with excellent figures. (Don't mention that he'll be working too hard to appreciate the scenery.)

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Finding boys and men for classes is a constant struggle for the Academy I work with. Strangely, in the last few weeks we've had no less than 6 new boys approach us about being in classes. We're thrilled!


One problem we used to have was simply our location. We used to be housed in a facility that also hosted after school athletics. Our boys would get picked on ala Billy Eliott when they came to class. Right across the hall, in full view of the studio, was a packed basketball gym. We were destined to lose boys simply because they were in plain sight no matter what we did. Even the most driven of our boys had a hard time putting up with the taunting.


Now we're moving to a new space, two gloriously huge and beautiful new studios. We're right next door to two schools, but the building we're in is a historic landmark. We cannot put signs up outside to advertise the academy. This will help as the children walking by on their way home from school will have no idea what is going on inside. This should reduce or eliminate the taunting our boys reveive as they walk in and out of classes.


Another huge aspect is the level of devotion of the other boys. We've seen over time that if the boys are not into it, no amount of coaxing from their parents is going to change their attitudes. These attitudes rub off on other boys in the classroom. If they see boys who are friendly and really enjoy being in class, their attitude improves as well and they're more likely to stay with the program. We have one boy who absolutely loves being there. His healthy approach and outook rubs off on new boys who come to the program. The fact hes so positive helps us keep other boys and helps them get past the whole "Its a girl thing" mentality.


We also make clear to parents of children we accept into the academy that ballet is second only to American football in terms of its demands and physical requirements on the body. This usually dispells any thought sof it not being athletic.

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Ballet (and gymnastics and figure skating) does not appeal to boys because it is an INCARNATIONAL art form. You don't just MAKE the art, you ARE the art. So is skateboarding, but somehow that has survived as a male domain.


Women in our society are used to BEING an object of art; men are quite uncomfortable with it.

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I really disagree with the above post for two reasons:


1. I think that the absence of men in ballet cannot be reduced to a single cause -- it's probably a far more complex issue than that, and,


2. If one follows your train of thought there would also be a paucity of male actors and I don't think anyone would seriously suggest that is the case.


Perhaps the factor you describe (and I don't necessarily think it's the only one) is that men are perhaps uncomfortable as an object of beauty, given that ballet is so often characterized in that context. Beauty itself being a somewhat feminine notion these days (as opposed to, say, the ancient Greeks)

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I can't say why more men are not attracted to ballet, but I think I know one reason for why some adult male beginners stop soon after beginning. In the classes I've taken with male beginners, the men are usually the only men present. This makes them stick out. Everyone of course is nice to them, thrilled that thay are in class, wanting to encourage them - which makes them stick out even more.


In addition, men are usually at some disadvantage to women as beginners of dance in our society: most women will have done at least something like aerobics and are somewhat used to moving to music and copying movements from the teacher (not sure if this difference applies to other countries, but it seems to be true in Finland). The difference in ballet classes seems to dissappear in about a year, but in the absolute beginner classes it sometimes shows.


This attention paid to the male dancer in class, and especially in the case when he's struggling more with the basics than his classmates, must be something that requires a lot of mental ability to deal with. I'm not at all sure I could do it - probably not. And I'm sure I've seen men not particularly enjoying it.


Special men's classes would be brilliant. But at least in the school where I take classes that would require more adult male dancers than we have - though advertising an all-male beginner course could bring enough in...?

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Guest beckster

My current classes generally have an equal number of males to females. I have literally no idea why this is! All the other classes I've tried, no matter what the level or the teacher, had at the most one or two males who came to class infrequently. I can't say there is anything different about this class, except that you have to sign up for a whole term. Perhaps because we are a small group, and once you have a good male to female ratio any man who comes to try a class will be less intimidated and more likely to stay and so the ratio gets better and so on ...- biologists call it a positive feedback loop! Plus there is no insistence on tights. Most of the men wear rolled-up tracksuit bottoms, cycling shorts, or similar. The women also vary; leotard and jazz pants seems most popular with tights coming in a close second. It's the beginner level, and I have noticed that the men generally do seem to find it harder to pick up the basics such as a rounded position for the arms and hands, turnout a la seconde - I know the discouragement I felt when I started and found everything so hard, and it must be worse for some of them. Not to say that all men are worse than all women or anything rash like that - I just think the learning curve is steeper because, as Jaana said, they are less likely to have done anything similar (yoga, body conditioning, etc.).

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1. I think that the absence of men in ballet cannot be reduced to a single cause -- it's probably a far more complex issue than that


I've thought deeply about the issue for a long time --- and the incarnational aspect of the art, I'm convinced, is a HUGE part of it. Other people have already mentioned some of the other reasons men avoid ballet, but I think they are secondary for the most part. Simply saying "certainly there must be other reasons" but not suggesting any is not very helpful.


2. If one follows your train of thought there would also be a paucity of male actors and I don't think anyone would seriously suggest that is the case.


Actually, this is the case. All through high school there are more girls than boys in the drama programs. They're always trying to recruit boys. The imbalance is not as extreme as in ballet but it's certainly there --- after all, acting is incarnational but not AS incarnational as ballet.

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Simply saying "certainly there must be other reasons" but not suggesting any is not very helpful.


But, citibob, other reasons have been suggested! In this thread alone I see the following:

  • it's being an object of beauty, rather than an object of art that sends men away
  • a "feedback loop" thing: no men in ballet -> men feel awkward -> no men in ballet
  • the ballet training gear feeling awkward to men
  • the image general public has of ballet is overly feminine with tutus, pointe shoes etc
  • classes in most places are women's classes, despite not being advertised as such


but I think they are secondary for the most part.


Saying this without suggesting any reason as to why you think they are secondary and your favourite reason the primary is something I don't find helpful.


Besides, I'm uncomfortable with the idea that a dancer is not "making art" but "being it." I think dancing very much is doing the art, even though the tool you use is yourself. Also, there are a lot of boys in classes for other dance forms (if not as many as girls, still more in ratio than in ballet classes). Are those dance forms - step, hiphop, modern - somehow more "making" the art and less "being" it, then?

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Perhaps if a less freighted word were used? "Incarnation" comes with all sorts of theological Logos-made-flesh associations that works against the concept and discussion thereof, even though this the improper noun form. Something encompassing "embodiment" or "version" might work better.

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Mel, I don't know about others, but for me it's not about the word, it's about the idea. I'm of course not a professional or anything, but I just can't understand how dance would be being art rather than doing/making art. I realize the tool you use to make/be is your body, which of course makes it different from, say, painting - but not more feminine in the "being used to being an object" sense that was suggested.


And if it was about that, why is step dancing considered appropriate for men, then? Why do boys do hiphop or break? Is ballet even more about "embodiment" than some other dance forms?

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Guest mic31

OK I have to throw my 2 cents in. All of the arguments have some validity. Firstly men are not use to using the level of self expression that women seem to be used to.

I don't think that the tights issue is all that big. Look at other sports, cycling, running, American football, etc.

The main issue is expression both using the body as the tool of expression and dressing the body as part of that expression.

Any sport that is popular with men has some sort of achievment or victory attached to it, even skateboarding. Ballet differs here because the achievement is something that cannot be readily measured by most men. There is no goal to be scored.

In class and in performance most clothing that is worn is there to allow people to see what you are doing. The means that the dancer must dress in such a way that he/she is bringing attention to areas of the body, ie the legs. The concept displaying oneself is much more readily understood by women. Most men don't really have a great deal of thought that goes into how one looks. Sure there is a certain amount of effort into how you look but that usually pales in comparason with the amount of effort that women are used to.

Lastly men and women think differently. If you could think of a man's brain as an apartment building, lots of different rooms. Men generally exist in one room at a time. This is why a man can do something that completly irritaes his wife and ten minutes later he is past it and onto something else, because he has switched rooms. This is why men have some difficultly in grabbing that vastness of ballet technique. They are trying do the movements without fully understanding the expressiveness of the moment as well. They must learn to add the expressive aspect of ballet into the the techical aspects at the same time.

Women's brains on the other hand tend to be like one big room. That is why women are better multi-taskers. If a man ticks his wife off, he just simply moves to another room and moves on. Where a woman still hasn't resolved to issue with him, it's like a plant that he has tipped off the table onto the floor, unless he cleans it up it's left up to her and then thing get worse. This way of thinking allows women to pick up ballet technique more readily then men.

I have also watched the men and women in my class and how they progress. The women tend to progress steadily, where the men tend to progress in spurts. The classes though seem to be geared towards someone with steady regular progress.

I don't know if any of this makes sense to anybody, but thats my 2 cents. :sleeping:

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Very interesting topic.


Personally, I think the reason why there are not more male dancers is complex and applies to dance overall and not just ballet. I do believe that at least in American society, the arts (excepting pop music, movies and television) are undervalued. Within the arts, dance is the least valued. And I do believe that males, more so than females, tend to gravitate toward activities that are deemed higher status and valued by society. I also believe there is a definite negative connotation amongst American males that male theatrical dance in particular is effeminate. Why this occurs I don’t know, but it is there I am sure.


Were I to try and engineer something to encourage more males in ballet, I would encourage building support from the bottom up—i.e., supporting art and music education in elementary schools as well as dance activities in physical education. It would also help to have a really big and masculine star, preferably American born, emerge who could cross over from the insular world of ballet to pop culture.

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I do believe that at least in American society, the arts (excepting pop music, movies and television) are undervalued. Within the arts, dance is the least valued. And I do believe that males, more so than females, tend to gravitate toward activities that are deemed higher status and valued by society.


Or maybe you could say: because dance attracts mostly women it is least valued. (Female actors are still payed less than their male peers in Hollywood, why? :sleeping: )


Come to think of it. This is really a rather stupid thread and question from my side. The answer would be the same as asking why girls don't do American football: Dance is feminine and team-sports are masculine. But of course there is one main difference: In ballet the men are necessary, but in football the women are not demanded for.

Also, more and more women tend to do "masculine" sports as kick-boxing and football (soccer) and those women are considered "cool" while dancing guys are "fags".


It seems as anything connected to femininity is less valued in this society. Just a thought that poped up in my head.

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