What’s the ratio of boys to girls at your studio? Don’t tell me, it’s smaller than you’d like it to be? No matter how many solos he gets or how many times you compare him to Billy Elliot, it often takes only one sideways look from a girl he likes or a joke from a boy at school to make a dedicated male dance student turn in his ballet slippers and head straight for the soccer field. If you’re frustrated with losing talented male dancers at your studio, here are some tips for keeping them around:
1. Provide Role Models. Hire male teachers as mentors, and encourage them to share their experiences with young male dancers. Inspire students by taking them to see shows that feature men dancing, from Billy Elliot: The Musical to Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Also, show and discuss videos of famous male dancers such as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Savion Glover and even Michael Jackson.
2. Let Boys Be Boys—Together. Boys tend to have a natural interest in being more active in class. Teach them jumps early in their training, and consider giving them a class or classes of their own, which can help boys become less self-conscious about their dancing. These classes will also give them the chance to make friends with similar interests and build camaraderie.
3. Deal With Teasing. When young male dancers find themselves the brunt of bad jokes, dance teachers should offer a shoulder to cry on as well as strategies for dealing with these situations. Remind them that dancing is every bit as physically challenging as football or soccer. Even the toughest jocks will be jealous that they get to spend their days with a group of beautiful girls instead of sweaty dudes, and they’ll surely wow the crowd at their next school dance.
4. Be Prepared to Talk About Tough Subjects. If a male dancer is upset by being called “gay,” “queer” or “fag,” be honest and treat him maturely. Explain that dancing does not make anyone gay, but also let him know that there’s nothing wrong with homosexuality. Male dancers also often face a lack of support or even open opposition at home, particularly from their fathers. If you come across fathers who would rather see their sons playing football, schedule a meeting with them to explain how important their support is.