As dance teachers, we are all aware of the unbalanced ratio of male and female dancers in our dance schools. And with a list of factors, including stigmas against boys who dance, feminine marketing and advertising, and limited options for boys uniforms, it becomes easier to understand why there might be so many less boys than girls in our dance schools.
But, we want to share with you a story of one boy in particular that we teach, and the impact dance has had on his life.
This is Will’s story, in the words of his teacher Natalie Pearl…
‘Will was 9 years old and used to watch his sister dance and come along in the car on every drop off and pick up to classes and wave at me through the window. Sometimes he would come into the waiting area and start to jump , spin and dance around trying to catch my eye, as if to say ‘look at my moves Miss Natalie!’ He really did have some great moves, beautiful lines and passion by the bucket loads, this much was evident just in the waiting area.
William had always struggled with expressing and dealing with his emotions and would often explode in inappropriate ways, especially since his parents separated, and more often than not, it would come out as anger in frustration. School wasn’t easy and he unfortunately had the label of ‘the naughty boy’. After speaking to his Mum several times to propose that Will try a ballet class, he finally came along.. fuelled with nervous energy!
The first class…
In William’s first ballet class, after just two exercises at the barre, his own words were “Hell to the no!!” He hated that the class had no other boys in and was full of girls. He literally ran out of the studio, fighting back the tears, through the waiting room and out the front door and started off down the road! (very quickly followed by me, chasing after him, while the teaching assistants stayed in the class with the girls)! I grabbed hold of him, hugged him and had strong words about how dangerous it was to run off like that, to which he replied and exclaimed how girly the ballet class was and he was NEVER coming back!!
Many times you hear that ‘boys don’t want to dance’, especially ballet, because it’s girly and pink, but this incident with Will really made me realise I had to do something to try change that. Here was this clearly extremely talented dancer, who had so much passion and potential, who never stopped dancing at home, and also clearly needed to find some way of channelling all his energy and emotion into something positive and creative.
And so I decided to start a boys only class, a generic dance class that was cool, totally boy orientated, for just half an hour every week. Will bought a friend and two other boys, who’s sisters already attended my dance school, came along. And so there it was born, my boys only dance class with four 9 year old boys .
The weeks, months and years went by and now, 4 years later, there are nearly 50 boys dancing with me. 5 weekly boys only classes and added to that, 90% of the boys that do those classes also do syllabus classes in ballet, modern and tap with the girls.
And yes, Will is still dancing!… In fact he’s already beginning to build his ‘career’, dancing at numerous high profile events across the county, from the RAD to the F1 Grand Prix at Silverstone. From Her Majesty’s Theatre in London to Disneyland Paris. And in 2019, after being head hunted by CBBC, Will was one of the boys chosen from my school to be featured in an episode of a new tv series on unusual hobbies, this episode was boys ballet. Will was made to feel like a movie star!
How has dance impacted Will’s life?
His behaviour at school completely turned around, teachers wrote to his mum to say how dancing had clearly had the most amazing effect on his attitude and behaviour and how proud they were of him. Even more than that, he even had awards from school for being an ambassador for dance and proudly went in to world book day as Billy Elliott with his ballet shoes and boxing gloves round his neck!
Last year, dance proved to be an even bigger blessing, influence and healer in Williams life. His Mum, at just 40, faced an extremely vicious and fast spreading cancer. At the time of diagnosis, major operations and chemotherapy, we were rehearsing for a show… it was a Queen tribute and little known to me at time, for Will and his family, it soundtrack for their journey. William never missed a rehearsal and the power of his emotion as I choreographed each dance was incredible to witness.
Dance is more than just a hobby, it can prove to be an immensely powerful form of release and healing for both children as adults, just as it was for Will.’
We’d love to hear from you in the comments below, and any other positive stories you might want to share about the boys that you too nurture within your dance schools.
You can purchase the live recording of Natalie’s recent online seminar for dance teachers ‘How To Get Boys and Keep Them’ up until Friday 27th November (recorded Wednesday 18th November 2020) filled with invaluable tips and advice on how to attract and retain more boys at your dance school here: https://mailchi.mp/groovechilddance.com/how-to-get-boys-and-keep-them