For Parents
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:

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I didn't realize how much the whole movement meant to me until I saw the mass of male dancers congregated in front of "Good Morning America" led by the likes of Travis Wall, Alex Wong and Robbie Fairchild. It was pre-7 am—I was all packed up and ready to begin my trek to work when I stumbled upon a livestream of the event. I had read an article the day prior, and heard some whispering about a meet-up outside "GMA." But I wasn't quite sure what type of turnout I could expect. And I certainly could not anticipate how it would make me feel.

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When the news broke that Prince George, currently third in line for the British throne, would be continuing ballet classes as part of his school curriculum this year, we were as excited as anyone. (OK, maybe more excited.)

This was not, it seems, a sentiment shared by "Good Morning America" host Lara Spencer.

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To Share With Students
Shared via Dance Teacher Network Facebook

I'm a part of a popular group on Facebook called Dance Teacher Network which consists of dance teachers across the country discussing and sharing information on all things dance. Yesterday morning, I spotted a photo shared in the group of four smiling young boys in a dance studio. And I couldn't help but smile to myself and think, "Wow, I never had that...that's pretty damn amazing."

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It's up to the teacher to keep young male dancers' training on track as they develop into adults. Photo by Blaine Truitt Covert, courtesy of The Portland Ballet

When a young male dancer hits puberty, you'll know the signs: “One day they look normal, the next they look like a string bean. They can get a little wonky for a while," says Jim Lane, managing director for The Portland Ballet, a youth academy and company. “You'll notice turns get out of whack, or they'll trip doing an easy combination across the floor."

Most boys begin puberty around age 11 or 12 and complete the process by 16 or 17. It is a physically awkward time; growth spurts can leave boys gawkily tall and unsure where their extremities end. This is especially tough on male dancers, who can temporarily lose their grace and coordination, as well as some flexibility. As their dance teacher, you can help them continue to train successfully, even as their bodies change.

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What do the UConn Huskies have in common with your dancers?

Both the men's and women's basketball teams at University of Connecticut are NCAA Division I Champions this year, and that's thanks in large part to the teams' tremendous leadership. While we strive to draw the best out of pointe students—not point guards—principals of motivation, hard work and athleticism are consistent in both worlds.

In DT, March 2012, editor Jenny Dalzell spoke to the UCONN men's basketball assistant head coach Glenn Miller about how he gets the most from male athletes. Here's what he had to say:

Help organize their fitness routines: “Students often have no idea how to structure their own workouts productively. They may go to the gym for a few hours, but if they’re not taught which drills to do at what intensity or with a specific technique, they waste a lot of time. Give them tools for beyond the time you spend with them; it will help them move forward and improve.”

Set goals for each individual: “Not everyone’s going to be successful in the same way or at the same time, so define what success is for someone with a lesser ability than others in order for him to feel self-worth and continue to progress.”

Create smart competition: “Every aspect of our practice is competitive, and through competition you can see the strengths of your athletes. One might be the ‘star of the team’—in a sense that he has more potential to score points—but someone else might be a good defender or rebounder. Highlight those strengths and use competition to make each athlete feel that his skill or expertise is an asset to the larger team.”

Stay in tune: “Without going too far into a student’s personal life, keep eyes on him, especially when he’s not necessarily progressing. If he comes to practice tired all the time, late, or if he’s not going to class, chances are he’s not taking care of himself physically, or he may be doing the wrong things socially. Some kids are more transparent, while others will clam up—but the signs will still be there in body language. Be proactive in helping them through their ups and downs.”

Photos by Stephen Slade, courtesy of University of Connecticut




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