Why Is There Still a Stigma Surrounding Boys Who Dance?
What is it about men in tights that makes people react so irrationally?
Especially here in the U.S., men are ridiculed and demeaned for choosing to dance, particularly in ballet. Boys are bullied, called f****t and labeled as "homo," hostile charges that impale the soul.
I remember quite clearly classmates and even my own family members calling me a sissy for studying ballet back in the 1960s and '70s. What terrified me was that they might discover I was gay when I wasn't even sure what to call my sexual orientation. I just wanted to dance.
You'd think things would have gotten much better, but many boys still face these issues.
That's a puzzle to me because there is now so much more exposure to dance in the media: "Dancing with the Stars," "So You Think You Can Dance," "World of Dance," not to mention all the videos that suck you into the YouTube vortex. Don't we see the fierce dedication, hard work and athleticism that goes into creating a male dancer? Is that really only a dream for women?
Unfortunately, that much media exposure does not seem to enlighten those who disdain male dancers. A lack of understanding about dance continues to drive the homophobic reactions of bullies and bigots. Maybe this is because arts education programs that formerly provided students with exposure to the performing arts have been slashed or decreased in some areas. Little that doesn't represent machismo and monetization is considered valid.
Data compiled by Doug Risner, a professor of dance at Wayne State University in Detroit, shows that only 32 percent of male dancers have fathers who support their desire to dance. Typically, American dads only want their sons to be athletic on the sports field. Adding music and ballet technique—or tap dancing, contemporary movement, ballroom or jazz steps—to physicality somehow makes that pursuit unforgivably girlish.
Much of this poisonous attitude springs from misogyny—currently permeating American politics and society—and the notion that the worst thing a man can do is to emulate what is perceived as exclusively female behavior.
Additionally, a fear of anything different from the cultural norm adds a xenophobic taint to public opinion. It probably doesn't help that ballet vocabulary is French (too froufrou) or that it's considered a Russian art form (too subversive—maybe even Communist!).
The performing arts in the U.S. have often been stamped suspiciously as "the other." For starters, look at the investigation of accomplished artists by the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s. The verdict: Artists=abnormal, deviant, perverse.
Still, I have hope that consciousness is changing. Millennials and Gen Z show far more tolerance towards flexible gender definitions. According to a study by The Intelligence Group, a consumer research institution, more than two-thirds of those interviewed between the ages of 14 to 34 say that gender doesn't determine behavior or life aspirations as it once did.
I am also heartened to see better boys' programs in ballet schools nationwide that allow for boys to train with other boys so they won't feel so isolated in their ambitions. These opportunities also give young men a chance to discuss bullying and teasing and to discover ways to defuse verbal and physical assaults.
Smothering creative impulses can kill the spirit. I was lucky to survive the abuse and ignorance that derailed other young men. I don't want to see that happen to anyone else.
What happens during a performance is the product of the painstaking process of realizing an artistic vision. Whether held beforehand, afterward, offsite or online, audience discussions tend not to be so preordained, easily thrown off track without a skilled moderator at the helm.
"I'm someone who dreaded talkbacks and Q&As," admits Bill Bragin, former director of public programming at Lincoln Center. "While I was in New York, a lot of the time it was just audience members trying to show off how smart they were."
These events present a pile of difficult questions: How much do you reveal about a piece before it's shown? How can a conversation designed to hit key points feel casual and spontaneous? How do you cater to the needs of diverse attendees, from novice dancegoers to lifelong fans to scholars and critics? And how do you avoid smothering dance with language, flattening all its complexity?
If you think becoming a trainee or apprentice is the only path to gaining experience in a dance company environment, think again.
The University of Arizona, located in the heart of Tucson, acclimates dancers to the pace and rigor of company life while offering all the academic opportunities of a globally-ranked university. If you're looking to get a head-start on your professional dance career—or to just have a college experience that balances company-level training and repertory with rigorous academics—the University of Arizona's undergraduate and graduate programs have myriad opportunites to offer:
Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
I dance to encourage others. The longer I dance, the more I see that much of my real work is to speak life-giving words to my fellow artists. This is a multidimensionally grueling profession. I count it a privilege to remind my colleagues of how they are bringing beauty into the world through their craft. I recently noticed significant artistic growth in a fellow dancer, and when I verbalized what I saw, he beamed. The impact of positive feedback is deeper than we realize.