For Parents

For Parents: How Can I Support My Son, Who Wants to Dance?

Alex Clayton (right) in Arden Court with Robert Kleinendorst. Photo by Paul B. Goode courtesy of PTAMD

Back-to-school can be a nerve-racking time for male dance students—especially as they approach middle or high school—and for their parents. Fears of bullying, isolation and low self-esteem are valid worry points, and, as parents, we want to do our best to help our kids feel supported and loved—especially in uncertain times. For a first-person account from a boy whose mom did a lot of the right stuff, we spoke with Alex Clayton, a professional modern dancer who grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and is now a third-year member of Paul Taylor Dance Company:


"During my childhood, my mother constantly encouraged me to ask questions and be curious about the world. No matter where we'd go or what we did, we always talked about it.

For example, when trying new foods, seeing a new movie or even overhearing adult conversations, my mom would ask me if I had any questions, and we would have very analytical discussions.

When I started dancing seriously in high school, she constantly checked in with me and asked me questions: How does this person make you feel? Do you feel safe? She listened and gave me honest feedback—and never shied away from hard truths. She let me know that I was likely to encounter instances of bullying and coached me on how we could remedy those situations if or when they happened. But because we'd always had a very transparent relationship, having regular and frank conversations surrounding dance and school felt very in tandem with how we had always operated."

Music
Mary Malleney, courtesy Osato

In most classes, dancers are encouraged to count the music, and dance with it—emphasizing accents and letting the rhythm of a song guide them.

But Marissa Osato likes to give her students an unexpected challenge: to resist hitting the beats.

In her contemporary class at EDGE Performing Arts Center in Los Angeles (which is now closed, until they find a new space), she would often play heavy trap music. She'd encourage her students to find the contrast by moving in slow, fluid, circular patterns, daring them to explore the unobvious interpretation of the steady rhythms.

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For Parents

Darrell Grand Moultrie teaches at a past Jacob's Pillow summer intensive. Photo Christopher Duggan, courtesy Jacob's Pillow

In the past 10 months, we've grown accustomed to helping our dancers navigate virtual school, classes and performances. And while brighter, more in-person days may be around the corner—or at least on the horizon—parents may be facing yet another hurdle to help our dancers through: virtual summer-intensive auditions.

In 2020, we learned that there are some unique advantages of virtual summer programs: the lack of travel (and therefore the reduced cost) and the increased access to classes led by top artists and teachers among them. And while summer 2021 may end up looking more familiar with in-person intensives, audition season will likely remain remote and over Zoom.

Of course, summer 2021 may not be back to in-person, and that uncertainty can be a hard pill to swallow. Here, Kate Linsley, a mom and academy principal of Nashville Ballet, as well as "J.R." Glover, The Dan & Carole Burack Director of The School at Jacob's Pillow, share their advice for this complicated process.

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Teachers Trending

From left: Anthony Crickmay, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem Archives; Courtesy Ballethnic

It is the urgency of going in a week or two before opening night that Lydia Abarca Mitchell loves most about coaching. But in her role as Ballethnic Dance Company's rehearsal director, she's not just getting the troupe ready for the stage. Abarca Mitchell—no relation to Arthur Mitchell—was Mitchell's first prima ballerina when he founded Dance Theatre of Harlem with Karel Shook; through her coaching, Abarca Mitchell works to pass her mentor's legacy to the next generation.

"She has the same sensibility" as Arthur Mitchell, says Ballethnic co-artistic director Nena Gilreath. "She's very direct, all about the mission and the excellence, but very caring."

Ballethnic is based in East Point, a suburban city bordering Atlanta. In a metropolitan area with a history of racism and where funding is hard-won, it is crucial for the Black-led ballet company to present polished, professional productions. "Ms. Lydia" provides the "hard last eye" before the curtain opens in front of an audience.

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