#boysdancetoo - Part 3
(Pictured here: My 3.5 year old son with his wonderful ballet teacher at the last class of summer session, 2019; School: COCA, St. Louis)
As I’m winding up this week’s topic of conversation, and since it coincides with my little one’s last week of his first ballet class ever, I’m reflecting on the articles I’ve posted, the blogs I’ve read, the histories I’ve studied of male dancers from our ballet family tree, the interviews I’ve watched of current male dancers, and with conversations I’ve had with my husband (I married my dance partner), and I’m left with one thought: It’s never easy being the minority in any space of life...How you handle that reality, well, that says so much, doesn’t it?
My husband started dancing late in the career of a dancer, so always felt a bit of catch up and something to prove on his shoulders. For many years, he danced with dancers much younger than himself, in an effort to learn what he’d missed by not taking dance earlier in his life. He says it “was the hardest and most intimidating thing I’ve ever done in my life.” When I asked him if he ever thought about quitting, he said: “all the time. But I was too stubborn to quit, so I kept coming back.” And he came back enough that he performed...a lot. It wasn’t always easy for him, but he did it. It’s how he met me, it’s how he traveled around the world several times, and it’s how we ultimately were married. Those are no small gifts.
So I’m back to reflecting on why, knowing how hard it can be on a man in this dance world (the isolation, the mockery fed from stereotypes and fear, the generalized notion that dance is easy so what kind of man must you be if you dance and don’t play, say, football), why would I want my beautiful boy to ever get involved in this life? I‘ve thought long and hard on this after this week and come up with these answers:
1) Every man that I’ve talked to who started dance later in life for whatever reason (but mostly it always comes back to a fear of being bullied and/or made fun of)-all say the same thing: I wish I’d started earlier. Our son may choose to stop dancing at some point in his life, but until he does, I want to give him the opportunity to move, to dance, to create with his body-I want him to know those skills from an early age. Even if he walks away later, what is instilled now will always be a part of him. I want him to not be stopped by fear, and hope that in having him in dance class early, even if he does choose to create elsewhere later in life, dance will hold no stigma for him because he’s always been around it;
2) Without more boys in dance, at early ages, the stereotype continues. A friend of mine, whose child came to observe the last day of our son’s ballet class, shared with me that when picking her son up from preschool, another male classmate asked if the kid they were going to watch take class was a girl, because “only girls take ballet.” My Friend did a marvelous job of handling that conversation, but I was taken aback upon hearing of this-Already! Already a small child has the stereotype ingrained enough in his worldview that boys don’t dance. How incredibly sad. And how sad that her son heard that from his classmate before coming to view my son’s class...we’ll never know if that message will color her child’s decision to join in dance class or not. Or if he does join, if he’ll be teased about it at school already.
But, I’m heartened that he was able to watch my son in class. He was able to see that indeed, boys DO dance. And that it was friend of his doing so, hopefully will make a difference to how he responds in future to “only girls take dance.” He’ll Know better;
3) Mommy leaves home daily to “go teach the dancers.” My son will have a unique understanding of Mommy’s work by being in class himself. I’ve already seen him change in saying goodbye when I have to go to work-there’s an easier acceptance and understanding there because he knows this world a bit now...because Mommy could share that part of herself with him. “Going to work” is no longer some nebulous thing that creates separation anxiety-his knowing has been the gift of transition. Understanding one’s parents is a lifelong journey. I’m hoping that by starting the conversation early, it will help the communication for our lives together; and
4) All of the other things people write about are true and assets gained from dancing: the dedication, the discipline, the creativity, the musicality, the focus, the strength, the chances and doors that open globally, and the life-long appreciation of the Arts. Dance creates all of these things through the intricate process of creating a dancer. It can and should take eight years to build a dancer, and like anything done over a long period of time, the teaching and understanding is in the process, not the end result. And yes, I want all of these positive life-affirming lessons for my son. Why wouldn’t I?
And so that wraps up this week’s blogging. I’m glad to have had the chance to put all of this down in writing to clear my head and have concrete answers ready for my boy if and when he asks “why.” But there‘s one more thing I think it’s important to share here. My husband has made it to every single one of our kid’s ballet classes. Every one. He thinks it’s important for our kid to know that Daddy loves him and supports him in everything he chooses to do...and he wants our kid to know that ballet is as normal to Daddy as is making breakfast. It’s all just life. Our life. And it’s a good life to have. My hope and wish and desire is that every Mommy and Daddy support their children, especially their boys, when he says as ours did: “I want to be a dancer!” Because, #boysdancetoo.