Jump to content
Ballet Talk for Dancers

How to start a young boy in dance?

Amy Reusch

Recommended Posts

[knock, knock]


I'm not the parent of a young boy, but I've been asked by a friend how to encourage her young son's inclinations toward dance. Neither she nor her husband have any dance background themselves. The boy is very young, not yet in kindergarten, but seems to love to dance and to want to imitate dancers to the point where they think he might have a calling to the art form. We live in a quite rural suburb, university town, and I know of no boys class within reasonable commuting distance for a young child.


My advice has so far been to not put him in a ballet (pre-ballet) class yet, which at this age would probably surround him with little girls with pink tutus & tiaras in their eyes if not actually on their bodies. I think boys should learn dance from men so as not to unconsciously mimic feminine traits in their teachers movements. If they could find a good creative movement or modern dance class, I'd send him there... or to gymnastics and karate to give him physical coordination. I'd have him wait to start ballet until it's been weeded down to kids with discipline & focus. But if he waits until he's nine or ten, will he have lost interest (and will we have lost another opportunity to add to ballet's male ranks?)


I'd like them to take him to see male dancers performing, but these performances aren't typically matinees in our college town and they have a pretty strict bedtime policy.


What would you advise?

Link to comment
  • Replies 49
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

  • Mel Johnson


  • lorrainegd


  • dancetaxi


  • slhogan


I don't know if I agree with Mel on this one. My son was like the little boy you describe. Now, I don't agree with putting him in any old "dolly dinkle" type place that has the tutus and tiaras, either. If your friend can do some research, maybe you can find a reputable place that would be willing to make sure that a young boy can do "boy" things in ballet class.


My son was 4 when he first took a ballet class. We lucked out in that it was at a small studio run by a very reputable R.A.D. teacher and examiner. He started in her "primary" (could be considered pre-ballet) class. She paid attention to the little details, (boys bow, not curtsey.) Also, when they would do free movement and the girls held scarves, she gave him a flag. The R.A.D. curriculum seems to have specific dances and exercises for boys. I'm not sure about other methods.


I have never regretted starting him early. She was a very nurturing and wonderful teacher that gave him an excellent start. We continue to keep in contact with her even though we have moved out of state.


Best of luck to your friend and her son. :jawdrop:

Link to comment

Right, if you can find an RAD school convenient for the family, that is definitely the way to fly. There is even a PRE-Primary level which is really, really, basic! The curriculum for before the grades is well-thought-out and beautifully structured. The sex roles are established and the boys have their own "vocabulary", even at this young age. The material is not dependent on having a male teacher for boys, as the work is unisex, right from left, up from down, what's a hop, what's a jump, very simple and really beautiful work for the very young.

Link to comment
:jawdrop: I agree with dancetaxi/Major Mel and the RAD program. My DS was I think 8 when he started, but was only boy in class of little girls with pink skirts. He was given his own "boy" exercises when called for, learned to bow, etc. At the year-end recital, his first, he was the Gardener, who watered all the lovely little female flowers. It was a great start for him - he also took a jazz class that year with a wonderful male instructor too. And, the studio was not all done up in pink, it was pretty industrial to be truthful, but he felt comfortable and welcome there. Thankfully, he just kept on dancing after that first year.
Link to comment

Some excellent advice so far!


I agree not to put him in a class until a decent one can be found- just keep letting him dance around the house, and take him to see ballets, art galleries, symphony concerts geared towards children, etc.


In the meanwhile, do some research and find a good class to start him off right.

Link to comment

The RAD curriculum is great for girls and boys and they do have special instruction for them which is good. I dont like to take boys till they are in 1st grade or higher.

I also find it is helpful when a boy has a buddy to go with.

I disagree about having male teachers, it great of course but I think women can do just as well with boys if they have a sensitivity towards it. I have quite a few boys in my school and feel that teaching them one of the things I do best. Having my own teenage son helps. I have male company members who come back for coaching or class. Having older boys to help out in class is also helpful. :wub:

Link to comment
  I dont like to take boys till they are in 1st grade or higher. 


I guess I really wouldn't either, if I was a teacher. :) My case might have been a bit different since my son was a pretty well-behaved little guy. I know that some boys can have a lot of energy at that age and be a little hard to handle. :blink:


We were just at a parent's meeting for kids transitioning to kindergarten and it was brought up by a school principal that many boys mature slower than girls, hence the reason fewer boys are ready for the routine of kindergarten at age 5.


I can be a hard call. If the parents choose not to enroll him in ballet class anytime soon, of course I'd say get as many age appropriate dance movies and videos as they can. My son started with Riverdance (not ballet, I know) and moved on to the Nutcracker. Maybe find CD's of different ballets or general classical music. If he's caught the bug, he won't be able to stand still while the music is playing. :)

Link to comment

Knock! Not a parent of a boy, but I was a boy at one point. This post is based on my experiences and on observing others.


I started in creative movement @age 4, and I loved it. I started ballet 1yr later at age 5, and I loved it too.


From day one, a boy in ballet is confronted with, and must deal with, its girly nature. I realized this when I was not assigned a proper dressing room, but asked to change in the bathroom instead (at age 5). There is a feeling of being left out and "different" as a boy. You cannot avoid this.


There are many approaches that kids will take to this, and approach can change over the years. How the boy ultimately defines his sense of gender in the context of pink tights and tutus is complex, and not something that you can control as a parent. Simply trying to prevent him from "unconsciously mimicing feminine traits" will do little to address the underlying issues. Yes, it's good to have men for teachers. But the reality is that most ballet teachers are women, and boys will be taught by women at some point.


As long as women don't present ballet in a hyper-feminine way, it can work. If she can't stop saying "OK girls, let's go to the corner and curtsey" even when there's a boy in the class, the boy will always feel left out. The use of inclusive language can go a long way to making boys feel welcome. Giving special "male" attention to the boy can help him feel special --- maybe an extra jumping combo at the end, or something. And if she ever shows disdain for boys because she feels they're too ill-behaved or too (physically) inflexible --- that's the kiss of death. As an adult, I've been astounded at how many female teachers admit openly they'd rather just teach girls. Boys will pick up on that and be more than happy to leave for karate.


Also, boys might admire traits they see in female dancers and select those dancers are role models --- not that they want to be the Sugar Plum Fairy, but they might certainly aspire to many characteristics displayed by such dancer in her work. For some boys, simply aspiring to high jumps and multiple turns is not enough --- they might want balance, precision, poise and clarity of movement as well. I have certainly done this at times --- and I can also attest to remembering the female dancers I saw as a kid a lot more than the male ones. I remember admiring the doll in Coppelia, for example. I admired Baryshnikov, but only as an abstract idea, I didn't get to see him until my 20's.


In any case, if he doesn't decide by age 6 or 7 that he really likes ballet, then he'll be unlikely to try again until he's 16. I certainly would not have started at age 8. If you send him to karate, he could certainly decide he likes that better (which might not be so bad, I suppose).


You might also consider long and hard whether ballet is the right place of this kid, in the long run. For the boy who likes to use his OWN body and perform for others --- you know, the physical theatrical type --- he might be disappointed by what men ultimately do in professional ballet. He might feel left out when the girls go en pointe as well, and confused with the taboos against him embarking on the training as well. Too often, masculinity is defined only in terms of what men "don't" do.


In my observation, many of the men who are most content in professional ballet are those who started as teenagers and who really, really like women --- they like women enough that they are willing to learn what it takes to present ballerinas onstage in the best light possible. That's a large chunk of what men do in ballet, interspersed with only very small amounts of jumping and turning, and even less dancing of any other kind. Liking to partner is very different from liking to dance with your own body.


These issues will never, ever go away, as long as ballet retains its hyper-feminine character.

Link to comment

Davidg makes some good points. It gives me some things to think about with my own ds.


The things I've done that I think have been the most signifacant, with the least effort and cash, to help my dks involve providing the atmosphere. They have cd players and good music. I've tried to keep a large open space in the house so they feel free to move. We also get dance videos (performance not instruction) for them to watch. For ds the most imprtant thing has been keeping the rest of the family from telling him to "sit down" "be still" or "settle down". DD was the oldest so she was free to move without others bossing her and I try to defend the "baby" so he has the chance.

Link to comment

Interesting post davidq - something I'll talk to my own DS about. Fortunately he takes as much pleasure in making the ballerina look beautiful as he does in his own technique. One comment was interesting, though:


"In any case, if he doesn't decide by age 6 or 7 that he really likes ballet, then he'll be unlikely to try again until he's 16. I certainly would not have started at age 8. If you send him to karate, he could certainly decide he likes that better (which might not be so bad, I suppose)."


My very hyper DS started dancing on chairs before he was 2. So he started "ballet" at 3 - for one year. He got bored so it was off to gymnastics and karate. Karate was what led him to dance. At the time - when we thought we were just killing time until he was old enough for baseball - he had a chance to burn some energy, learn some discipline, and gain control over his body. It took us four years to realize that what he loved about karate was the katas - or forms - which are really choreographed "dances." Granted they're supposed to help you fight (or so they told us) but that's not how he saw it. His school also did "musical forms" - it was required for your black belt test. Watching him learn his muscial form - and perform it - showed us all that perhaps his interest was in a different area. We proposed he try jazz. He did, but then asked to try ballet. That was at 8 or 9. Ever since, his interest has been ballet.


You never really know. Sometimes the most indirect route is the best. Keeping in tune with levels of interest, things that spark a certain joy (like musical forms), or areas where there's a lot of talent or not, or a lot of interest or not (my DS hated the high bar in gymnastics) is what will often serves our kids the best. The stretching and toning that my son learned in karate and gymanstics has certainly paid off in ballet! At this young age, isn't any physical exercise - that will keep their interest - good? So many activities can help build a foundation that can be used in other disciplines. Just a thought.

Link to comment

Excellent points, davidg! :wink:


My son has experienced some of the things you speak of, (changing in bathrooms, etc.) and I'm sure will experience many as he gets older. I agree that as a male dancer, you must come to terms with the fact that a majority of your time on stage is spent presenting and supporting your female partners. It will be interesting to see how my son adapts to that aspect of his training and performing.


I don't know what to say about the loss of interest by a certain age. I do know that the world of ballet has lost many talented boys around the middle-school age due to teasing and peer-pressure. We just had a bout of that and I think the fact that my son has been doing this for so long helped him deal with the teasing. Each kid is different, though, but I say once a kid has shown interest and talent for something, why not explore and nurture it?


Wonderful insight, even for those of us who have started to travel this road.


Thanks!! :D

Link to comment

Thank you so much! I will pass all this (and whatever else gets posted) on to my friends.

Link to comment

Well, I'm actually a parent of three sons, but they didn't dance! However, I have taught several boys and I disagree with the idea that ballet interests them either at 6 or 16, but not inbetween.


My greatest success has been with a boy who started at 6 and by training him with the RAD syllabus, we were able to prepare him well for eventually moving on to a pro school with male teachers, which if a boy is the lone one in a school is an important move. However, I got an 11 year old boy last year, who had been dancing for two years at another school and hadn't a clue about ballet technique. By introducing him to the RAD ballet syllabus, I have totally captured his interest, and he is improving and advancing in leaps and bounds. Every step we learn, I check out the boy's version and teach it to him and he is really proud that he is special! On the other hand I make the girls do his version of the pirouette exercise as well in order to strengthen them, and that makes him feel he belongs. I have also had a young boy who started at about 8 with me, but moved and had to give up at about 12. He never forgot his love for ballet though and is now an adult and back taking classes.


There are no hard and fast rules, but I do think that a good RAD teacher, who relates well to any boys she gets will be equipped to help them learn as a male dancer, because of the special boys' syllabus.

Link to comment

I see a lot about RAD and have a general idea what it is. How do you find a local school that follows the RAD syllabus? I tried the RAD website but didn't find anything.

Link to comment

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...