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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Boys being shunned for acting like boys???


finallykf

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Hoping for some guidance on a situation with my 8 year old son. I am thinking about speaking with the dance director but wanted to get your opinions first.

 

There are 4 boys on the dance team (and in the entire school, in general) at this school (this is the reacreational school where my son is on the dance team not his pre-pro ballet school). Last year my son was the only boy in his classes but starting this past summer he was in class with one other boy for a few of his classes. When I would ask his teachers how he was doing I started hearing comments like "Great, but he does much better when "James" isn't around because he gets distracted." This worried me so I started watching his classes and was puzzled because I saw no difference at all in his skills (except improvement). The only difference I saw was that instead of standing there quietly while all the girls talked to each other, my son finally had another boy to stand next to and talk to!

 

This fall "James" has moved into older classes but "Steven" is in some of my son's classes. Again, my son and Steven stand next to each other in those classes. My son is still the only boy in his balllet and jazz classes though. He has a new ballet teacher this year and I have been able to watch all of his ballet classes but last week was the first time that I was able to introduce myself to the teacher. So after class I introduced myself and asked how he was doing and if there was anything in particular she thought he needed to work on. She said that he had great technique but that he really needed to work on paying attention in class. I was shocked! Again, I had watched every class. I asked her to explain what she meant. She said that he likes to do tap in class instead of paying attention. Yes, when the class is doing individual across the floor work my son works on tap steps in the corner when it is not his turn and she calls him out for this. But you know what the girls are doing? Talking, and giggling, and whispering to each other. Does the teacher call them out for that? No. He is in ballet shoes, not pounding on the floor and you can't hear him over the noise the girls are making. So I just told her that boys are different than girls and tend to be more physical in the way they play and socialize during downtime in class than girls but that we would reinforce that he should be paying attention at all times because he can learn from what she is telling the other students as well.

 

Then this past weekend my son had practice for one of their competition numbers. The kids were all being lined up by height and it just happened that he and the only other boy in the number ended up next to each other. When the main choreographer arrived she freaked out and wanted to know why the two boys were standing next to each other. The other instructor said that it just ended up that according to height that have to stand next to each other. So she said "Great. Now all they'll want to do is play!" I about lost it. I'm sorry, but she says this while there are 60 girls jumping up and down giggling, talking, and shrieking at the top of their lungs - WHICH NONE OF THE INSTRUCTORS HAVE ANY PROBLEM WITH!!!!!!!! But if my son and the other boy play like boys and do the "I'm going to circle around you and poke you while I laugh and then we pretend to have light sabers" this is a problem??????

 

So during the downtime while the instructors were working together on choreography my son and the other boy were split up and had to sit on opposite sides of the room so they wouldn't "play" while the girls all stood and talked, giggled, and shrieked.

 

I am planning on speaking with the dance director today (kindly, of course) to explain that the instructors cannot treat the boys and girls differently. If the girls are allowed to play then the boys have to be allowed to play as well. What they have to realize is that boys and girls play differently. If they boys aren't going to be allowed to play and are going to be separated and have to sit quietly than the girls need to do the same and everyone needs to sit without speaking. If my son isn't allowed to tap dance during downtime in class than the girls can't be allowed to gossip and giggle during downtime in class. If my son is going to be accused of not paying attention because he is not silently standing still and focusing only on the student who is currently performing than ALL of the kids who are not silenting standing still and focusing also need to be told they are not paying attention. If my son is going to be told he does better when another boy is not around even though his dance technique is absolutely no different, then all the girls need to be told that they would do much better if they were in a class without other girls because they gets distracted by having other girls around to talk to.

 

The dance studio desparately wants boys, automatically gives them a 50% discount, and then punishes them for behaving like boys!!

 

This is in stark contrast to his pre-pro school that has a class for just boys taught by a man. They do all the basic barre work as warm up but then they do tons of leaps, jumps, and turns in a HUGE studio so the boys have the chance to get all their energy out. Sometimes the teacher just has them run around in a big circle for a few minutes. They can pretend they have light sabers, they can use "outside voices." My son also takes a class at the pre-pro school where he is the only boy in class and the teachers are great about understanding when my son wants to do more jumps and stuff. They always say "He's a boy, boys are more physical - they get bored just standing at the barre for an hour, you have to let them run around and feel like they are "playing" or you lose them."

 

Have any of you been through any kind of a similar situation? If so how did you handle it? I do want to clarify that my son is only "playing" during downtime in class and rehearsal, just like the girls. But from the comments and conversations I have had with the instructors they are making it sound like he is not paying attention in class and is being disruptive. During downtime, I have watched the teachers stop talking with each other, look over at my son and the other boy playing and then roll their eyes and start whispering and looking annoyed all while the girls are shrieking and talking in the background. I have not yet met any of the parents of the other boys to find out if they are aware of the situation. The boys only play together, or if my son is the only boy in class he tends to keep to himself. In a few classes he has gotten to know some of the girls and they flirt with him!

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Victoria Leigh

Finallykf, the whole problem here is not boys versus girls, it's the fact that there is no "down time" in a ballet class, or any other technique class or rehearsal. One is supposed to be learning, not playing and not talking. Period. If I had a student tap dancing in the corner during a ballet class, male or female, they would not remain in the class. Dance is a discipline, and if the students are not paying attention to all of the corrections, and working on their own corrections, then they are not learning.

 

When the music stops in class the teacher should be either teaching the next exercise or making corrections. That is not "down time".

 

I know he is only 8, but, since he takes all these classes I would have to assume that he really likes to dance. He is there for an hour or an hour and a half to LEARN how to do that. Playtime and chat time is not during the class. I understand this is a recreational/competition school, but if the students are all talking and giggling or playing around in any fashion, there is no learning taking place. If they don't learn discipline at this age they are not going to go far in dance as they will not have learned technique either. No serious teacher is going to put up with that.

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I would agree with you if we were talking about a pre-pro school (or even the average recreational school) but this place is unique. The owner will tell you that her goal is not to produce professional dancers and that she doesn't believe she WILL produce professional dancers. She says her goal is to produce kids who love to dance, even if they have two left feet. Subsequently she has the largest dance studio in the state with the highest enrollment and offers the most classes per week. Compared to pre-pro schools where the atmosphere is calming and disciplined the second you enter the building, this place is decorated in a wild, loud, red and black theme. She hires her teachers for their ability to get along with the kids and help them have fun more than for any serious dance background (but they do all have reasonably decent dance backgrounds). In fact if a parent comes to the studio and starts to ask about a teachers background, who they studied under etc. she will tell them that they are not going to be the right dance studio for them and refers them to my son's pre-pro studio. Now obviously, this is not the place for someone who wants to be a serious dancer, but it is nice to know that places like this are out there for kids who really like to dance but might not have the talent for the more serious schools. Everyone should be able to enjoy dance. Funny, they win competitions like crazy though. No, I'm not thrilled with the place but my son decided he wanted to compete. I hold out hope that one year will be MORE than enough of competition for him. Ballet is his favorite form of dance so I am fairly confident that he will give up on this school eventually and stick with pre-pro. He's 8 so we have plenty of time - assuming he doesn't change his mind and decide to become a fireman.

 

So at this school there is downtime built into class for water breaks when the kids head down the hall and the teachers don't seem to care that the kids just kind of hang out in the corners chit chatting when the kids are doing individual work across the floor. There tends to be a lot of downtime during rehearsals for competitions when the teachers are working on choreography and trying to figure out what should come next. I don't necessarily think downtime is a bad thing. My son is 8 and has 10.5 hours of dance every week so having some time to just relax and hang out in class is okay in my book. It's also okay if the teacher prefers to be strict and have no downtime and expect everyone to stand quietly the entire class and pay attention even if they aren't currently performing. What I am not okay with is treating boys as discipline problems for doing downtime differently than the girls. To put it in perspective, during team practice there can up to 60 girls shrieking and giggling together during downtime while my son and one other boy pretend to play Star Wars light sabers together. My head is about to explode from the noise the girls are making but the main choreographer calls out my son and the one other boy and tells them to separate to opposite ends of the room and sit quietly against the wall. So they are now sadly sitting in silence by themselves on opposite ends of the room while all the girls continue to shriek and giggle.

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Victoria Leigh

I'm sorry, finallykf, but I simply cannot relate to that type of school and the total lack of discipline. That is just a playground, not a place to learn to dance.

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Victoria,

 

Sorry, I think my reply came across as if I was saying I didn't agree with you when I really do! At my son's pre-pro school behavior like that never occurs from either my son or any other student. It's is a very disciplined and professional environment and the teachers are all very much in control of the class. There is no downtime - I mean the teachers are friendly and they speak to the kids and let the kids quickly speak to each other as they move to a new exercise but there isn't any socializing or chit-chatting during class. Definately no shrieking and giggling! At the pre-pro school a child would most definately be asked to leave class if he or she was not paying attention during the entire class.

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It sounds like you have discovered that the recreational school runs their classes one way, while the pre-pro runs them another way.

 

I have personally witnessed children behaving correctly until a 'bad seed' enters the bunch, be they male or female, and it is difficult to gather all of the little ones back together. If this continues it is damaging for all involved.

 

What I tell my children is this: If you are always behaving yourself, working on your focus and self-control, then you will not be singled out in a negative fashion. This means that you must ignore others who are trying to be disruptive, and recognize that even though you may be perfectly capable of paying attention in class while you are working on your tap steps, you may be distracting others from being able to focus and concentrate, so you must abide by your own personal best behaviour.

 

Since you were the one that approached the teacher, she may have been thinking to herself that he was not the only child who wasn't paying attention, but it would be inappropriate to discuss other children with you, and you asked for an honest assessment. Also, you may not have the inside information as to whether she has spoken to these other children's parents or not. Best to focus on your own child, and help bring him round.

 

In my school, parents are not to ask teachers even a little question like that in between classes. Parents must schedule an appointment so that teachers may focus completely on their child for that time period, and be able to fully give to the parents what they need. In between classes catches the teacher at a disadvantage because frequently, they are thinking about the next task rather than being able to really offer you a good assessment.

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Finallykf, I can relate to your post a great deal. We were also in a competition studio which could be quite crazy. My son, who started competing in kindergarten, never had another boy in class (for 10 years). The studio and atmosphere was hectic, full of energy and fun. The ballet teachers, however, were reserved and strict and those classes were calm, respectful and serious. The jazz, tap, leaps and hip hop classes, on the other hand, were much more lively.

 

When he was 5, I remember being horrified when one of my son's teachers came out of jazz class exasperated, walked straight up to me and exclaimed, "he just can't sit criss-cross applesauce like the girls!!" I stammered and lamely said, "well, uhhhm, he's a boy..." His director, who saw potential in his dance ability as a very little guy and did not want to lose him as a student OR in her competition numbers, but who also did not want him to disrupt the entire class, and, further, did not want to set a standard that boys would be treated differently than girls, decided to focus on the positives of his energy and enthusiasm rather than dwell on his inabilities to sit still and listen.

 

I'm going to speculate that what your teachers may actually be seeing is that little girls, although they chatter and squeal, don't move around much. The boys, on the other hand, are likely covering some ground while they pretend to sword fight. Perhaps that's something you might watch next time you observe class. The teachers are likely trying to place kids and figure out choreography and keeping the boys and girls in position is important.

 

One thing that my son's director learned to do (and did for many years) was to keep him close to her in class. If he got fidgety, she would reach over gently and touch his shoulder or hold his hand. If he got really fidgety, she would whisper in his ear, and he would quietly leave the room, returning a minute or two later with paper towels, or a pen, or whatever task she'd invented to remove him for a moment. Teamwork between you and your teachers, along with some creativity can go a long way! It makes me laugh to think how many times I heard, "ok, time to stand like a statue! Don't move!"

 

The good news? My son can now sit criss-cross applesauce, just like the girls!!

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I have no advice, but I can sympathize. I can remember having the same concern when my son was 7-9 years old. It seemed like the teachers were so used to little girl behavior that they didn't even notice it. Little boy behavior, however, jumped out at them instantly. On the one hand, they really wanted boys at the studio. On the other hand, they didn't want *boys*-- they wanted male dancers that acted like their girls.

 

I hadn't thought about this problem in a couple of years (my son is almost 12)-- I had forgotten all about it until I read your post. So, either our current studio is a good fit or my son has outgrown the little boy behaviors. I think it's a combination of both those things as well as his teachers becoming used to his boyishness. They want a boy, and he's a boy alright, with all the typical boy behaviors. He's a package deal that way.

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Good news! I didn't have to say a thing!! I asked the Dance Director if I could speak with her privately tonight while my son was in his tap class and when we got to her office she asked me if this was about what happened at practice over the weekend. Appearantly three mothers of GIRLS were so bothered by what happened they all went together and spoke with her earlier this week. They all have girls on the dance team but are mothers of boys as well. But it gets better. Appearantly several of the instructors and the Dance Director went out together with their husbands for dinner over the weekend and the instructor who singled the boys out brought up how frustrated she was by their behavior. All of these people are parents but they only have daughters and all of them are very young - like under the age of 5. I guess the husbands found it hysterical that the one instructor thought the boys were being "undisciplined" and needed to be separated. She said that the men spent a good part of the evening educating the women on how little boys play. She said that her husband later told her that the reason he rarely comes by the studio is that he can't stand the sound of 100s of little girls screaming and laughing in the hallways - it gets on his nerves and he doesn't understand it at all, just like the other instructor doesn't understand why boys feel the need to be more physical when they play. So she said all the instructors are now teasing this one intructor that her next child is going to be a boy with ADHD.

 

Anyway, the Dance Director was great. She apologized and said that she was going to bring up the issue at their next staff meeting just to make sure everyone is aware that they need to be careful they are not singling out the boys because they are not acting like girls. And the one instructor who made my son sit against the wall saw my son tonight after his tap class and made a point of coming over and talking to him and telling him how much his tap has improved so I thought that was nice.

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a boy with ADHD

 

I call it LBS (Little Boy Syndrome).

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Sounds like it's worked out well then! What a relief - although you'll have to wait and see how it goes.

 

Before I read your final reply I was going to add a reply saying that I see this issue being the fact that the girls' behaviour wasn't being addressed, rather than the fact that the boys were being told off. It's great that the director agrees that however the classes are run, the teachers should not treat boys and girls differently - that's the easiest way to put boys off coming to mixed sex dances classes in my opinion.

 

I too believe that a ballet class should be a disciplined affair, with no time for chat anyway, but if that's how they choose to run their classes then fine - but they must treat the boys and girls fairly. You're fortunate to have the best of both worlds - especially if this small hiccup can be sorted.

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