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."

Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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Higher Ed
The author, Robyn Watson. Photo courtesy Watson

Recently, I posted a thread of tweets elucidating the lack of respect for tap dance in college dance programs, and arguing that it should be a requirement for dance majors.

According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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Teaching Tips
Getty Images

After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

So as much as everyone wants to get back to normal—teachers and studio owners included—erring on the side of caution with your dancers' training will be the most beneficial approach in the long run.

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