Boys, Ballet and Becoming a Dancer

The dance studio had once been a warehouse, the mirrored walls and barre not enough to conceal its origins. There was no air-conditioning and the high roof was made of metal. The room was a sauna in the summer heat. None of the children noticed. While the mothers fanned themselves and drank bottle after bottle of water, preschool girls in leotards and flouncy pink skirts tied on their ballet slippers and giggled excitedly together. Another group of girls, these ones more experienced at six years of age, danced in a circle as they chatted about costumes and make-up and how much they’d practiced.

At the front of the room, abandoned by the excited girls, lay a veritable plethora of backpacks, drink bottles, shoes, tights, tap shoes, ribbons, skirts, and fairy-themed lunch boxes.

I’m the mother of two boys. I have never seen so much pink in all my life.

I hefted Little Brother a little higher on my hip, and looked down at Big Brother. He was holding my hand so tightly I thought my fingers would fall off. Was he worried? Intimidated by the glitter and sparkles and giggling girls?

He looked up at me, his eyes shining with the type of excitement only a four-year-old can muster. “Mummy! Look at all the dancers!” His words tumbled over each other, his lips barely able to move past the grin plastered across his face. His voice was strained, not with fear, but with a sheer exhilaration that brought tears to my eyes.

“I know,” I said, fighting back tears and trying unsuccessfully to match his enthusiasm.

“I’m going to go make some new friends,” he said, letting go of my hand.

I looked back over at the girls and their perfect pink ballet shoes and ruffled socks, their white tights and pale pink overskirts, pretty blue leotards and beautifully bound hair. Then I looked down at my little man with his tank top and shorts. “Hang on,” I said, fighting back the urge to flee from the spinning pink perfection. “Let’s just sign in first.”

What was I doing? What in the world would possess me to bring a four-year-old boy to a ballet class?

Big Brother has loved dancing since before he was born. In the last trimester of my pregnancy, he’d be still, unmoving, for hours at a time. But the moment I turned up some music, I’d feel him kicking me in time to the beat. As he grew, so did his love of music and dance. For the last year he’s been leaping and twirling and dancing around the house, desperate for a pair of ballet shoes and the chance to be a star. So when I came across a reasonably-priced dance school nearby I figured that, as a good parent, I should let him have a try; let him explore whether he really wanted to learn ballet, or whether he would be happier dancing around the house to the beat of his own drum.

It wasn’t long before the class started. Fifteen pretty little ballerinas sat down in two straight lines, their eyes fixed on Karen, the dance teacher. “Go on,” I said to Big Brother, trying to keep my voice light. That was all the encouragement he needed. Off he went at an excited skip, complete with pointed toes and a bright smile on his face.

He listened. He did as he was asked. He did some ballet running and some butterfly flying, he talked to the girls (who mostly ignored him), and he grinned excitedly through it all. Meanwhile, I sat on the sidelines watching him with a mix of pride and concern. Would he notice that he was the only boy in the class? Would he notice that he was one of only three boys in the entire building — him, Little Brother, and a slightly older boy playing with a football? And if he did notice, would he care?

Halfway through the lesson the children stopped to have a drink of water and change into their tap shoes. Big Brother hurriedly put on his shoes and then approached the bored-looking older boy who was there with his sister.

“Hello,” Big Brother said. “I’m a boy too. I really like your ball. How many years old are you?”

“Seven,” the boy said.

“I’m four years old. That means I’m a big boy.”

The other boy didn’t answer, just looked down at his ball.

“Alright girls,” Karen called. “Come and sit by the wall. Two straight lines.”

Without hesitation, Big Brother said goodbye and went to join the girls. He may have sought out the only other boy in the room, but did he care that he was in a class full of girls? Apparently not.

At the end of the class Karen said goodbye to us both and told Big Brother that he’d done well. Big Brother beamed like he’d just won a year’s supply of chocolate. “See you next time,” he said.

The he looked up at me with shining eyes. “Mummy! I’m a dancer!”



Filed under Life With Kids

23 responses to “Boys, Ballet and Becoming a Dancer

  1. My mom made me take ballet until I was ten. Back then they combined it with tumbling to get boys involved.
    I thank my mother now for letting me dance. A part of my brain developed that has affected many facets of my life–all positive.
    Good job.

    • There’s a small acrobatics section at the end of this dance class as well, and Big Brother was thrilled to be doing forward rolls and to see the older girls doing handstands and cartwheels. But he still preferred the dancing. 🙂

      It’s good to hear that you look back on doing ballet as a positive experience.

  2. Crista

    You are an awesome mom!! I totally applaud you for letting your little man explore his passions and not being afraid that ballet would make him wimpy or any other stereotype that so many slap on boys who try other things, less traditional, less manly things. I think this is FANTASTIC!!!

  3. Boys can be great dancers too (and ballet is one of the most athletic endeavors one can undertake.) I kept thinking of “Billy Elliott” too.

  4. Ballet is hard work. And you need great strength and agility to do it right. Why then do we think of it as not being manly?
    I would like to know how the conversation with your husband went when you decided to give it a try!
    I am picturing some comic eyebrow raising and lip biting (on his part). Will you let us ‘in’

    • Male ballet dancers have quite a different build to female ballet dancers — think about all the muscles they need to lift the ladies!

      As for my husband’s reaction, I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you. He’s not the type of guy to get all hung up on gender issues or what makes a “real man”. He’s very supportive of Big Brother learning ballet — and, in fact, he got all teary when he read this post, and had to go give BB a big hug and say how proud he is.

  5. ava

    I love this! Friend Nami’s boys also are into ballets. I am all for not stereotypying! Looking forward on reading about this new adventure of Big Brother!

  6. Bless him! You’re so doing the right thing to let him explore what he loves. I love how easily he seems to make friends and think my Little Chap would love to meet him – perhaps I’ll start reading him your blog. We’ve done a music class once a week together since he was 18mths (would have earlier but circumstances didn’t really permit) and he loves it. He’s really learnd to carry a tune and his teacher is pleased at how his sense of rythmn is developing.

    If he ever tires of the pink, you might want to consider street dance – my 5yo nephew loves his class, offered after school (at his all boys prep). I’ve also seen a children’s dance competition programme on the tv here, where teams of kids (Probably 10 and up) were helped by pros to choreograph acts to a mix of music – jazz, ballet, street – it was great to watch and the kids (of both sexes) seemed to be having so much fun. Can’t remember what it was called though…

    I look forward to hearing how it goes for Big Brother anyway! Keep posting!

    • I’ve thought about street dancing or hip-hop as well, and we may look at that in time to come. It’s a good suggestion. At the moment, he’s enthralled by ballet (we watched about 20 minutes of Swan Lake together the other day, and he spent the whole time in awe of the male dancers with such comments as, “He must be so strong to pick up another grown-up!” and kept telling me how much he wants to be able to dance like that.) and is keen to try Jazz as well. He’s less interested in tap dancing, although I would have expected a boy with such a love of drumming to be all over a type of dance that lets him be noisy!

      I have absolutely no doubt that Big Brother and Little Chap would get along. You never know what the future holds — perhaps one day we’ll all be in the same country and can meet in person. 🙂

  7. I have 109 emails in my box (sound familiar), but I was saving this one because of its title. My son was given a scholarship in 4th grade (or maybe third – it’s hard to remember) to the San Francisco Ballet (THE San Francisco) school (at the opera house). He had taken ballet lessons at our little neighborhood school with an elderly dancer who told him how impressive his kicks were. Then the SF Ballet came to our school and offered him a scholarship. He stuck with it through 5th grade.

    He’s 23 now. Probably one of the most disciplined people I know – that’s him doing the bungee jump on my sidebar – how many people can look like they are gracefully dancing when they jump from a platform 50 meters high? I often wonder where he gets his drive and high expectations and reading your post reminded me of the ballet years – I think they changed him in a positive way (sadly, he would never admit having ballet lessons once we moved away from the city – he will now, but ages 11 – 19 are tough on boys, even straight boys who like the Arts).
    I LOVE how outgoing and friendly Big Brother is! My daughter spent her only ballet lesson, dressed in her pink tutu, under my chair. It worked out though because I met one of my best and lifelong friends in the class; my friend Elaine who was sitting in the chair next to me (who just happened to be a psychotherapist).

    • That’s so good to hear about your son — in the past, I’ve heard so many negative things about ballet (eg. eating disorders, cliques, and bitchiness) that it’s been really great to have so many positive comments about the effect ballet has had on boys. It definitely makes me feel even happier about my decision for him to learn.

      That’s so funny about your daughter’s ballet experience. I can’t imagine having a child who does that, although *knock on wood* Little Brother has a lot of time left to surprise me!

  8. Suzanne

    My son is now 12 and has been taking ballet for 4 years. At first he was shy about letting any of his classmates know, but now that he has progressed, that has changed. He attends a small Catholic school and his classmates have actually been very supportive. He even found out yesterday that he was offered a full scholarship to attend a prestigious ballet school’s summer program. He couldn’t wait to get to school today to tell his friends!

  9. There are a few boys in my second grade class who take gymnastics and are PROUD of it! At first some of the kids were like “YOU take gymnastics???”, and they would respond, yep! with great enthusiasm. Now I can’t get them to stop talking about the meets and awards they’ve gotten. Not quite the same as ballet, but still a feminine stigma attached…..and their parents have done a good job helping them be true to themselves and confident about their choices!

    • “…their parents have done a good job helping them be true to themselves and confident about their choices!”

      In my opinion, if you’ve successfully done this for your kids, you’ve achieved your number 1 goal as a parent. (Other than actually giving birth to them in the first place.)

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