Trinity Academy of Irish Dance focuses on developing male dancers.

Peter Dziak with the boys of Trinity (above)

In the Irish dance world, as in the larger dance world, women tend to outnumber men. But with the Men of Trinity program, Trinity Academy of Irish Dance is encouraging boys to step into class and even more important, continue dancing into their teens.

With three-time World Irish Dance Champion Peter Dziak as inspiration (and assistant instructor), Men of Trinity offers boys from as young as 3 up to young adult a special twice-monthly class that reinforces their regular technique classes and fosters camaraderie both inside and outside the studio.

The four pillars of the program are bonding, competition, performance and teamwork, says Dziak, who followed his brother into dance classes at 4 years old and was highly influenced by male role models.

Trinity prides itself on creating an environment that welcomes male dancers, says Mark Howard, who founded Trinity Academy of Irish Dance in 1981. The organization has 15 locations in the Chicago area, serving roughly 1,000 students. Out of that, 80 boys (90 percent of total male enrollment) take part in the program at the school’s Elmhurst, Illinois, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, locations. Howard’s wife Natalie was Dziak’s coach for most of his competition career and heads the new program. Dziak, now 17, also credits former Trinity student Joe Smith with mentoring and inspiring him to become a teacher. Smith will organize the program’s activities outside of the studio.

Dziak with founder Mark Howard

In the bimonthly boys-only classes, Dziak emphasizes the natural athleticism of Irish dance but keeps it playful. “I tell them if we dance hard, then we can play hard,” he says. “So we work hard at dancing for the majority of the time, then we get to play soccer or wall ball or tag football.”

Those games can teach concepts the guys can use in dance, whether it’s learning how to coordinate their bodies in space in soccer, building awareness of the position of other players in football or practicing the snap of a wrist in tennis. And while he encourages healthy competition, which naturally appeals to the youngsters, Dziak sees the class as promoting a sense of teamwork as well.

“Mark has taught me, through Irish dance, life skills that I continue to use now, and that’s what I want to teach,” says Dziak, who notes that the competitive phase of an Irish dancer’s career is often finished by the time they go to college. “These kids are building relationships, learning how to listen, to take in information and work with it and communicate, all these crucial skills that will help them throughout their lives.” DT

For more: trinityirishdance.com

Mary Ellen Hunt, a former dancer, now a teacher, writes about dance and the arts for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Photos by Kim Rudden, courtesy of Trinity Academy of Irish Dance

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Two competition routines are equal in technical proficiency, artistry and choreography. One consists of all girls, the other includes a boy. Guess which takes home first prize?

If you guessed the one with the boy, you may be privy to an unspoken and much-debated phenomenon in the competition dance world: The Boy Factor. According to The Boy Factor, a competitive piece is more likely to win if there's a boy in it.

"If it's all technically equal and one group is all girls and the other group has a boy, the one with the boy will win," says Rysa Childress, owner of All Star Studios in Forest Hills, New York. "Boy soloists are sometimes scored higher than more technically proficient girls because if a boy has good stage presence, we let him slide," says an anonymous competition judge. "And most of the feedback will be for the boy."



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The Boy Factor is a product of and a contributor to the culture that sends the few men in dance up the glass escalator: "Many boys growing up in the dance world are not told the word 'no' often, so they tend to climb the professional ranks more quickly than the women," says Jean. We often bemoan the absence of female leadership in dance, but the damage is already done if we've taught young women that their gender determines their value to our community.

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