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Ballet Talk for Dancers

What can schools do to attract and encourage young dancers?


abbey

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I'm wondering what some of the approaches are that schools have used to attract young men to try ballet? And to keep them enthused when it may not be the easiest "sell" with their peers?

 

For instance, I know some schools have offered free classes (either once a week to get kids started, or full-tuition scholarships specifically for boys)... Could you all give me specific examples?

 

Obviously having some wonderful male teachers is a huge step, and offering boys' technique classes in addition to mixed classes can be helpful. But those are things that may be most appealing to boys that are already committed. What about ones who might be tempted into trying for the first time?

 

What have you seen that has been useful?

 

What about keeping kids involved as they hit those pre-teen and early teen years?

 

(And yes, my own son is pretty committed -- he loves ballet and would like to move into the studio...)

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The best approach we have seen is a "special" program for young boys that is advertised as ballet but has a unique approach in that it is designed with the young male's attention and physical abilities in mind. In other words - much more active and focused on physical conditioning with exercises that keep them moving quickly in a lot of different directions. In other words - it isn't a "technique" class. This is the model that Fernando Bujones and Peter Stark initially used with Orlando School of Ballet several years ago. We've seen some local studios starting to try and replicate this model now. Non-traditional "ballet" music is often used. We've seen this approach allow boys to become much more comfortable in the studio and better able to adapt to required technique classes. It also gives them a "special" class to look forward to!

 

The one thing I saw that went really wrong, however, was creating a "special" class for the boys but then letting the girls attend it! The "curriculum" remained the same but they lost the momentum - and some boys. It's not enough just to call it a boys' class - it needs to be restricted to boys! At least in my opinion! (Note: This happened when our group of boys were pre-teen and young teen so they really wanted a place that was their "own" if just for one hour a week! A time where they were not always last in the exercises across-the-floor or in the back row in center!)

 

Another thing that is done is providing a realistic dress code which often includes bike shorts and white tshirts, especially until old enough to need a dance belt.

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That is absolutely true, cheetah!!! Boys/men do need their own classes- their own place to be men!

 

I agree that the best way to attract boys, younger ones, to a school is to key into what makes boys tick, and use music and movement that is inspiring to them. Boys do learn a bit differently than girls, and boys tend to be more kinetic, less cerebral. I observed a male teacher doing a pirate-themed class where all the boys were able to be vocal as well as physical! It worked like a charm.

 

As boys become more adept at ballet, then the men's classes should be designed to support the virtuoso movements that are required of men today.

 

And of course, nothing attracts a parent like free tuition!

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I think one thing that has to be done, and I know its not easy to figure out how, is to try to educate more people about ballet in general. I for one, if someone had come to me and said, "Hey free tution for your boys, come give it a try" would have said thanks but no thanks. I even grew up in a situation where my mother loves the arts and exposed us kids to lots of those things. Nowhere in my mind would I connect the idea of boys being ballet dancers. Even though I knew of Barishnikov

(sp?), I never would have thought of dancing for any of my boys. Heck, I never even connected the idea of Ballet being a type of theater. When my daughter took a dance class when she was little the only thing I saw was a bunch of little girls doing jumping around in pink outfits to music. Obviously, I had heard of the Nutcracker, but didn't ever see it, and didn't realize it tells a story. Never in school did I ever get an exposure to Ballet in any form. Based on the looks and comments we get from people, I am not the only one! How to get people that exposure......?

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Excellent points sonny.... will have to do some thinking on that one!

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A lot of studios do this with their outreach programs - free to schools usually in their market area. Also at local community centers on the weekends and other community events. The problem is - you don't want to try and sell boys on ballet if you are doing an outreach program with no boys in the program! We've also noticed some schools, including DS' old studio, that will do "in-studio" presentations of their spring performance - or Nutcracker - where admission is free or greatly reduced. This is another outreach opportunity. Or they give blocks of tickets to boys and girls clubs, boy scouts and girl scouts. These types of events are more likely to have boys performing in them, even if they are more along the lines of "props" - boys recruited to fill roles that require no dancing!

 

We are actually very lucky to live close to DC where our students take field trips to the Kennedy Center. I think they've only seen one ballet but also opera and plays.

 

If a studio has male dancers, especially any that of gone professional, then having them participate at career day at their local middle school is a great recruting technique. At least I think. I was talking with my own DS about this when he was home last week and actually lamenting the fact that he wouldn't be here during the school year to participate. Given everything he has done - thanks to ballet - it would be a great attention-getter for boys at that age.

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HuckleberryDawg

I think the best thing our studio does (although there could always be more, I suppose) is to have a boys class every week. All the boys in the school attend the same boys class (there aren't any older boys right now so the mix of ages works) and it really is the highlight of the week for all of them. The teacher is male and an outstanding teacher so the boys are getting great "boy dancing" in a room full of other boys. The school will let new boys hang out in just the boys class until they are "hooked" enough to join in a mixed class. There are rumors that they are going to start a boys only jazz class this year, too, which should be fun. The only thing I wish they would do is have the boys class perform in the recital because I think if there are boys in the audience that are on the fence about dancing, seeing a whole class of boys doing something cool might encourage them to try it out. On the other hand, maybe they tried that in the past and it got them nuthin'. I'm really not in the know about things like that!

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Actually I think that's a very good idea. Many studios simply don't have enough boys to do that, though! You might recommend it. If there aren't any pieces that the boys could dance, perhaps the teacher - especially the male one - can choreograph something that really highlights the athleticism and masculinity of male dancers.

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I tried to get our old studio to have a 8 and up boys only class but the SO said if I could find 6 boys to take dance class, she would do it. I mean how could I do that? Was I suppose to pay for an ad in the paper with my number?

 

The studio had only 2 or 4 boys at a time, all under the age of 5. There was one boy who stuck it out until age 8 and then quit. Can't blame him. He went because his sister was going and I think he really liked dancing at first. The older her got, the quieter he got and looked like something he was just trying to get through. There really wasn't anything the other 8 yo girls had to talk to him about and vice versa. Plus the SO is very girly and couldn't seem to tone it down for him.

 

My son took a private class one summer with a less girly teacher at the studio when he was 11. That worked well, but then the teacher left.

 

We are starting a pre-professional ballet school for my 13yo dd and now that my son is 14 we are going to try the private lesson with a male instructor again. He has had one lesson so far and loved it. We hope that maybe by next year, he might be able to take a class with his age group.

 

I really think the SO at the old studio is missing an opportunity. She has only one studio so she can only offer one class at a time, so I understand she is limited. But there is a Friday night spot and the studio is not in use on Saturday and Sundays. Even if the class attracts 2 or 3, it is a start. It is an investment.

 

I sense she just isn't comfortable with boy dancers. She has a son now who is 3 years old. Her attitude might change in about 6 years. Maybe by that time, my son can teach the course!

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We went to several studios until we finally found one that didn't have a strong girl culture. A lot of studios say they want boys, but then they expect the boys to act like girls because that's what the studio is used to. It makes a boy feel like an akward intruder in a sea of pink sorority sisters.

 

For example, both young boys and girls will occasionally misbehave in the studio, but we found that teachers often ignored or didn't even notice the girls' misbehavior but made a big deal of the boys' misbehavior (girls misbehavior is generally chatting, giggling, making faces, etc; boy misbehavior is more likely to be rowdiness and making noises). This makes the boy feel picked on and get the impression that the teacher likes the girls more than the boys.

 

Also, boys are often messier. The girls usually come to class (right after school) looking neat and tidy whereas my son often has dirty knees and arms from playing in the dirt at recess. When a teacher looks at him with disgust or makes a snide remark about his appearance it makes him feel like she doesn't like him as much as she likes the girls.

 

My almost-13 year old son likes ballet, but he is definitely a boy. He demostrates his new pocket knife in the waiting room, he shows off and acts tough in front of the cute girls, he listens to 80s heavy metal, he challenges the girls to arm wrestling, he can get a bit class-clownish, he brings his football to the studio and tosses it around in the parking lot with the girls' brothers, etc.

 

We've been to several studios that were initially thrilled to have a boy dancer and gushed all over him, but ultimately he wasn't happy there because what they really wanted was a boy that acted like the girls. They didn't want a real-life boy-- they wanted a little prince.

 

Our current studio (which we adore!) is different because his teacher allows him to be a full-blown boy and loves him just the way he is-- dirty elbows, ripped-up jeans, broken arms, hunting trips, and all. It probably helps that his teacher grew up the only girl in a family with 8 brothers and she was a tom-boy growing up. My son's boy behavior doesn't bother her at all.

 

Our studio is small-- perhaps about 60 kids altogether-- but 4 of them are boys ages 11-15 and they all adore the teacher. About once a week, a male dancer with the Houston Ballet comes in to teach the boys class. With only 4 boys in that class, I'm sure the girls' tuition is helping to finance it, but we are very grateful that the teacher makes this effort to train the boys properly.

 

One more thing that I think has helped is that our current studio goes to competitions. Although it is a RAD classical-ballet studio (with a few jazz classes also offered), the serious dancers that are 8-12 years old go to a few mainstream dance competitions each year and the older kids compete in YAGP. I think a lot of boys (my son included) can be very competitive and enjoy the feeling of "playing to win". His guy friends play sports, and my son considers ballet to be his "sport". He is very proud of all his trophies and medals.

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Those are really good points SLHOGAN. My 14yo son had his first ballet lesson and the male teacher talked with him a bit first about WWII, airplanes and Transformers before class started. Excellent!

 

Before class, I had sent an email to the instructor about my son's interests and he incorporated them beautifully into the conversation. I really think a female teacher could do the same thing with a little google research. A girly teacher knows how to manuever the general chit chat easily - What grade are you in? What classes are you taking? When's the school dance? What songs do you like? She needs to make an effort to learn the everyday language of boys. It goes a long way.

 

The teacher at the old studio had an annoying habit of saying "Girls" and then as an after thought "and Gentlemen." Way to go singling out the one boy every day. And then there's nothing like the teacher teasing the boy about holding hands with a girl for a routine in a room full of girls. It may be just a gentle teasing, but it did not make the boy feel more comfortable. I could clearly see the grimace and forced smile.

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In regards to slhogan's post, I have to agree. In my case, ds is not the more conventional type boy, but even he comments about being so outnumbered on occasion. I think back to when I was a kid, I did all the team sports, but I also liked to read, and I really enjoyed school, and some of my friends found that odd. I always got along with girls, and had them as friends at ages when that wasn't real cool. If I had a dancers soul, I don't know if I could have went and taken classes. In 5th grade I was on the "Battle of the Books" team, we read from a selected list and competed against other schools answering questions about books on the list. There were 4 girls, and me. I didn't do that again. I can't imagine when its 15-1. I really feel for the boys who have the desire but feel left out in the cold. I wish there were easy answers.

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  • 1 year later...

My son's studio offers a boys class and it is well attended. There are 12 boys in the all male class at the ballet 2/3 level and a separate all male class for older dancers. My problem is that offering an all male class still does not provide my son with a male role model. The studio has male instructors however they have chosen to have a female lead the class. She is an outstanding teacher and I know he is excited just to move from being the only boy in a class to having peers. What I'm wondering is whether or not it is important for boys to have a male role model and if so by what level of dance?

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It is not uncommon for woman to teach all levels of ballet to men. It is however important that they do receive men's work in these classes. It is fantastic that your son is in a class with 12 young men. As he advances through the levels, it would be very good if he could have male teachers. While he is young however, the training of young men and ladies does not differ that much.

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  • 2 weeks later...

My 12 yr old son was just told he's been doing a step the female rather than the male way. Is there some way of making sure that female teachers are cognizant of these things?

 

I've also found that some female teachers do not understand boy development is different than girls and some outright ignore the males in their classes. Other parents see this too. Being a parent without a dance background it's hard to know and often a year is not as productive as it could be. Not only am I not a dancer but I'm not male so a lot of times I just feel ignorant. We find out a lot in retrospect.

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