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Ballet Talk for Dancers

They Tease Dancers, Don't They?


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DS now is in fifth grade and is shy and small for his age. On Sunday he was dancing for his 14-year-old female cousin and her friend. He was wearing purple tights and the girls were giggling and acting like they thought he was the cutest thing. They wanted to post his picture on Facebook but DS became very upset and wouldn’t let them. He is still nervous about the guys at school seeing him in tights. Fifth grade can be tough for a boy who doesn’t do sports…

The cousin hugged him and tried to make him feel better. “Why be embarrassed about wearing tights? You look good in them!”

Have there been awkward moments like this in your family? I would like to hear more about other people's experiences. My sister-in-law thinks his problem is a lack of self-confidence. She did some searching on Google and found a story about a young man who is an outspoken, unapologetic gay youth and performer.

By the time Desmond Napoles was two or three, it was clear to his parents that he was likely gay.

Desmond studied ballet for four years… but his story is so extreme that I’m not sure how relevant it would be to a boy studying ballet now and trying hard to fit in with other fifth graders. Desmond is Amazing is his stage name and he has been in the public eye for the last few years… Do other people have an opinion on this?

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My opinion is that your son is right to be cautious about what is posted on social media, for multiple reasons. I also don't think his discomfort necessarily implies a lack of confidence in himself or his abilities. If he doesn't want an image of himself posted by another child, it shouldn't be a point of awkwardness. I'm glad he felt comfortable speaking up and that they respected his wishes.

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I was going to post on bullying, but I'm not sure that's your question.  If it is, let me know.

As for posting pics of boys in tights on social media, I recommend that, at his age, you monitor what amateur pics of your son get posted, give him veto power, and limit viewing access to friends and family.   In addition to potential 5th grade bullies, there are also very shady adults out there who follow young dancers, collect the pics, and want to "collaborate."   Some posts will be fine to share, of course, if your son says okay.  I don't believe he is supposed to have his own social media accounts until he is 13, so you are really dealing with what others post at this point.  His studio may share promotional pics, for instance, and you won't really have a say about those.  So, do talk to your son about how to handle a situation in which pictures of him in his dance costumes are made public. 

Plenty of dancers and parents use social media to promote young dancers' talents.  I'm not a huge fan of those IG accounts where parents are staging their dancers' pics and writing their posts.  But I'm probably old fashioned.  On the other hand, I think it's fine for a 14-18-year-old dancer to start using social media to further dance connections.   I think parents should keep an eye on all posts and comments until the dancer is an adult, if only to give good advice and help your dancer use social media wisely.   Dancing has a lot to do with the body, and as the dancers get older, it is hard to avoid the social media focus on the dancer's body.  You start grappling with questions like, is it okay for my son to do a photo shoot in just tight beige dance briefs?  Is a sexy pose okay?  What about his poses with his partners?  How adult should they look?  I remember one photo shoot my son did with a slightly younger female dancer (he was 17, she was 15), and the pictures (which were lovely) made all of the parents a bit uncomfortable, because he looked 25 and she looked 20.   Anyway, this is something you probably aren't facing yet, but in some ways, the issues with social media don't really change.   Social media is about exposure.

The New York Times just posted an article called "Worried about your teen on social media? Here's how to help."  There's a lot in the article about the unhealthy body images that social media promotes.  Among the other bits of advice in the article: Don't let your kid go from 0 to 100 when they first get access to social media.  Introduce it slowly, limit platforms initially, have time limits, put technology away at night, and help your teen understand and manage not just posts but also the social media feeds.

Edited to acknowledge account age limits and NYTimes article.


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This is one area where I believe a combination of common sense and respect for the individual child is necessary. My DS is a textbook extrovert and has, on more than one occasion, actually performed for his classmates. He has, up to this point anyway, been very vocal about his love for dance and happy to share his dancing publicly. He is still young (only 8), so the self-consciousness of the pre-teen and teen years might kick in someday.

My DD is a different story entirely. Not once could I ever persuade her to share her passion for dance at a school talent show or send in a photo from a special performance for the yearbook. I asked once why no one at her school even seemed to know that she danced, and she told me, "It's none of their business!"

Besides following sensible guidance about how and when to introduce children to the world of social media, I always let my kids' comfort be the guide. My DD is away at residency now, but we continue to share the management of her social media accounts and content. I had posted a video she sent me to her Instagram, and she decided after the fact that she wasn't happy with it. She messaged me to ask if I'd take it down, and I did so without a second thought. 

It's not always a matter of bullying, self-confidence, etc. Sometimes kids just don't want to be "on display." If there aren't other red flags that would suggest low self-esteem (poor posture, a lack of interest in social opportunities, etc.) I would let this go and not worry that there's something larger at work.

I agree with SFLA_Ballet that it's great he was clear in expressing his feelings and equally wonderful that the other kids listened and respected his boundaries. Those are major parenting wins!

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Sure, I’d love to hear your thoughts about bullying. After all, it was DS’s fear of being teased about the purple tights that ruined what was the perfect family gathering. DS is a sweet boy with a mop of curly black hair but he really wishes that he had pretty blonde hair. One boy at ballet class called his hair an afro and that really hurt his feelings! However, his cousin obviously thinks he is very cute and sometimes treats him like a pet.

Most of the teasing is about being a male dancer and kids trying to guess his sexuality… the other boys in his dance class seem like the type of happy-go-lucky kids who can just shrug that off but my son is too sensitive for that...   


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No one has a really good solution for the bullying that boy dancers experience.  I wish there were some instant cure.  I have known parents to pull their kids out of local schools because of it.  Sometimes you have to try a lot of different strategies to find the one that works.

What worked for us was to let everyone know that my son was a dancer starting at age three; that way, there was never any shocking revelation when he turned 12.  Even though everyone knew, my son didn't really advertise his dancing.  His studio was 45 minutes away, and only close friends would come to the shows.  He was in activities other than dance, and that also helped him build a network of friends who would support his dancing.  We always sought out training where there were other boys, and he started summer intensives very early so that he could meet and dance with other boys.  We also emphasized the athleticism of ballet as something comparable to sports.  He happened to be interested in sports, but I think this tactic might work even with a kid who isn't.

For a kid who is sensitive, I really think it's important that he have friends who support him.  I would see if you can build that community either at the studio or with a group at his school; try to build him a fan club.  Some of the worst bullying is insider bullying, so keep an eye on dynamics at the studio especially.  Unfortunately, girl dancers do bully the boys. 

Some boy dancers have a store of verbal comebacks for those bullies that bring up sexual orientation.  Start asking around for the ones that work best.  Rehearsing these retorts with your son is really important--it will keep open the channels of communication, show him that you understand, build his confidence, and remind him that you are always supporting him.  I guess I prefer comebacks along the lines of "Why do you care?"   There are t-shirts aplenty that joke about how male dancers get to dance with beautiful (and talented!) women, but I prefer comebacks that don't make girls a prize and that don't use heterosexuality as a defense.  Still, I know boys who love the t-shirts that read "My job is to go to barres and pick up girls."  The point of the comebacks is to find some humor in the fact that boys have to defend their passion for dance.

I think one of the big challenges for the parent of a boy is to know when to intervene.  If your son can handle a bully, that will build his confidence, but if he cannot, you probably need to be prepared to talk to a teacher or school administrator.  And it may be a teacher or school administrator who isn't all that supportive of boys dancing, either.  You often have to explain in very basic terms why mocking a male dancer is bullying. 

And keep building his confidence in any way you can.  In our case, we noted every male celebrity who danced ballet, from football players to Macklemore to Prince George.  We watched videos of professional male dancers with great leaps and turns.  The ABT Born to Be Wild Video (I'm dating myself) was a staple.  We went to live ballets whenever we could  At every turn, we celebrated the fact that men dance, and we offered my son so much evidence of this that he would just roll his eyes when someone tried to say dancing is for girls.

Good luck! 

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I have to agree with Mln.  Some of the worst bullying does come from within.  My son took ballet classes because he thought his sister would eventually need a partner.  While waiting for class a group of girls teased him and told him that ballet classes were for girls only.  This happened right in front of me!  He did not want to go back after that.  


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I dont know if I can add much here but I can tell you the following things worked for us (DS is now 23 and dancing professionally)

  • we left a studio where the AD was actually highlighting the young men as 'different' and potentially sexy (yeah I know)
  • we moved to a studio where a male AD was an excellent role model and where there were male only classes (even if it was just two of them at times).  This built camraderie and a feeling of being safe/normal.  That AD worked hard to teach the boys about being male dancers, what they bring to dance etc etc
  • we didnt keep his dancing a secret but we also didnt 'go on about it' when he was young. We didnt want him to feel it was somehow to be kept secret. He did tap dancing for several years and loved moving in non-ballet ways. This got him all sorts of street cred at school- knowing how to moon walk and tap was a big deal in primary school and on the playground (lets face it- its the ballet stuff that just doesnt fly)
  • he transferred to a junior high school which supported the arts where everyone had to take art/music/dance class. This meant that he did not stick out.

In the end I cant sugar coat this- he had few close friends as he didnt play on sports teams. Almost all his friends were girls (not all bad) and it is only now in young adulthood that he is making close male friends. They are not all dancers, a couple musicians and sound engineers.  They all share a love of creativity.

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First all - Ballet is a sport.  Dance is a sport.  Period. 

Second - I agree that posting images on social media at a young age SHOULD be at the comfort level of the child.  Frankly, my son is in a similar boat that social media isn't that important to him other than keeping up with friends who live all over the globe he has met in summer programs and along his journey.  He does not post regularly.

I can't quite gather what you are asking specifically for.  What I can say is that I have found being your son's support system at his comfort level and being his biggest champion will help in terms of his comfort level with himself.  I notice in your post you put a lot of qualifiers when speaking about ballet and kids in ballet.  Removing these in your vernacular can be beneficial in building confidence from the inside out.  People in public tend to feed off your energy towards a particular topic.  If you give them an inch they will take a mile.  If you are to the point and remove qualifiers it gives them less room to fell like you will entertain them being critical.  This is a great thing you impress on your son as well - do not get frustrated it takes a minute to learn how to do this as it is human nature to be protective. 

If you are concerned with his ability to emotionally handle any aspect of the sport - there are sports therapist out there that can give a kid some pretty powerful tools to be self confident.  It is my personal opinion that building up confidence in choices and comfort in the things that come along with ballet helps immensely.  My child is the ONLY male ballet dancer in our town - with the closest town being a three hour drive away.  Ballet has never been an obstacle with the other kids - the parents are a different story. lol.  I just don't give them the option to be ignorant and if they choose to be - I am vocal about it.  The best question is - "I don't understand can you explain how you came up with that question?" - when anyone asks something inappropriate about your child being a dancer. 

We have introduced him to summer programs and online training to get him other guys he can chat with incase he needs some camaraderie.  As for the boys at school, my son has been dancing since kindergarten so it's just a normal thing for most of the kids he comes in contact with.  Like others mentioned - ballet is not a secret or a taboo topic in our house.  As far as the legging situation - I can't say we've dealt with it because of the kindergarten start - belts, tights and all the accessories have been a norm and never looked at as weird or discussed as different. If you participate in basketball and choose to wear your basketball shorts to grab a bite to eat - no one gives you a second glance. A uniform for a sport is a uniform - that is what ballet tights are, the uniform for ballet.  I have always been of the mindset that if you don't want to wear the appropriate clothing you don't do the sport. 

You can always have him watch shows that have ballet kids in them - Disney+ did one on kids in SAB called OnPointe.

In regards to the person you have found online - I can't gage your question there.  I don't know what the performer being gay has to do with his comfort level in being himself or wearing ballet clothing?

As for your topic title - we have found that "they" is actually quite a small minority that can easily feel like a majority if you don't have a great support system in your home and studio life.   There is nothing wrong with most of his friends being women/girls.  You can always take comfort in the fact that boys who have a great number of female friends are statistically less likely to end up with juvenile delinquency issues. :)

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On 9/22/2021 at 3:11 PM, Westsidemommy said:

Sure, I’d love to hear your thoughts about bullying. After all, it was DS’s fear of being teased about the purple tights that ruined what was the perfect family gathering. DS is a sweet boy with a mop of curly black hair but he really wishes that he had pretty blonde hair. One boy at ballet class called his hair an afro and that really hurt his feelings! However, his cousin obviously thinks he is very cute and sometimes treats him like a pet.

Most of the teasing is about being a male dancer and kids trying to guess his sexuality… the other boys in his dance class seem like the type of happy-go-lucky kids who can just shrug that off but my son is too sensitive for that...   


I think changing the mindset that led to "DS's fear of being teased about the purple tights that ruined what was the perfect family gathering" may be helpful as well. 👍

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Thanks so much for all the responses… this board is amazing and I guess we aren’t the first family to deal with a shy son and a cousin who is a little too eager to put him on display.

My title is a take-off on the movie They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? which was about marathon dancing during the Great Depression. Seemed a good title for this post since so many male dancers deal with teasing or a fear that someone would start teasing if they saw a picture of him in purple tights…

Okay, maybe it is an overstatement to say that DS’s objection to a Facebook photo “ruined” the party. Was it just that one word that bothered you? But DS did get embarrassed! Still, everyone went home happy and the girls are very supportive of his dancing. So in that sense the party was hardly ruined, no.

I would like to hear more about what you mean when you mentioned qualifiers when speaking about ballet and kids in ballet. Please be specific about what I could have said differently. You won’t offend me, you seem nice and I would like to understand.

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Thanks to the poster who considers tights as just part of the ballet uniform. Good for you! I like your attitude… at my son’s school, it is not a secret that he studies ballet but so far no one has actually seen him dancing.

My sister-in-law designed the costume for DS and everything looked exactly right including the purple tights and white ballet slippers. She seems genuinely fond of him even though he could hardly be more different from her boisterous children. “We should teach him to stand up for himself.”   

My husband has been a good sport about all of this… it doesn't bother him at all that DS likes purple or unicorns. DH says “I want to support him and whatever he likes. My concern is him getting made fun of.” 

Ballet is a sport, as one poster reminded me. Yes, I agree and maybe I should have said fifth grade can be tough for a boy who doesn’t do sports that are considered cool— football, ice hockey, etc.

The reality is that DS is not the jock-type or at the top of the pecking order at his school. Some posters here seem to have sons with amazing self-confidence. That’s great… I’m happy for you and have enjoyed hearing about your experiences. But when we try to tell our son that he now looks like a professional dancer, he just rolls his eyes and blurts out, “Mom, guys have to take such crap for wearing tights.”

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Ok so just to add some more context to my story- our DS was just like yours in terms of not playing sport and not being a cool guy. He would also not agree that ballet is a sport. I dont think it is either. It is athletic and competitive, requires training like a sport but requires very different aptitudes and interests. It is an athletic art form? I encourage you to also remember that your son is starting a hard time of life when nobody feels they fit in. 'Even' the athletes will have their insecurities and worries. Sure dance adds to it but perhaps dont lose sight of the forest for the trees. Life is hard for them all. My aim was to find something that our son really enjoyed so he could forget about the stress of being a teenager and feel good about. The fact that he has made a career of it is great but honestly my goal was much broader. I wanted him to come into adulthood feeling confident. He was often lonely along the way, except for when he was at the studio. I really encourage you also to help your son find as many ways to move as possible- jazz, tap, contemporary, martial arts..... He is still very young. There is so much to be learned from other activities. He doesnt have to be defined as a Dancer yet.

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I think its actually really healthy for a child to have "veto power" over what gets posted on social media, especially when they are in private settings (if they are performing in public, and it gets posted, well, thats going to happen.) I think dancers or not, they become more aware and more self-conscious and that is actually appropriate. I 100% agree with mln's thoughts on social media for minor age dancers (and children, generally). It might be "old fashioned" but it also protects them. I know of my three kids-- the older two (one a dancer, one is not) are very clear about wanting to be explicitly asked before their images are shared. It might have to do with self-confidence, but it might not. My son is perfectly comfortable and confident with himself as a ballet student but he doesn't want his dancing-- especially if it is unpolished-- being splashed out there in a public way. 

As for bullying in general-- you've gotten some good advice here. I know my son has experienced it some, though not at all to the extent that some boys in dance do. But I guess you could see this as a good opportunity to talk with your kid about gender role stereotyping and homophobia and even the lack of support for arts! And to try and help him understand that so much of it comes from a place of ignorance. I am not sure if your son is gay (or if he even knows) but no matter what his sexual orientation, its good to do your best to try and inoculate him against the homophobia that is probably already coming at him, and which he might not really even understand right now. I actually feel it as helped my son (now a teenager, does not identify as LGBTQ) to be a lot more empathetic to other people who don't fit into societal expectations. Also, we often discussed when he was younger: dance doesn't make people gay; gay people can and do pursue all kinds of vocations and avocations including ones that are socially coded as hyper-masculine; and by the way its NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS ANYWAY. 

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Here here 5uptown! I was really shocked by people enquiring into my 12 year old son's sexuality. Honestly? Get a grip.

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