This Conference Took Place Solely to Solve the Not-Enough-Men-in-Dance Problem

Photo courtesy of Barry Blumenfeld

Almost exactly one month ago, Barry Blumenfeld was in Morgantown, West Virginia, finally surrounded by his people: fellow male dancers. As one of the organizers of the first-ever Men in Dance Conference—along with Yoav Kaddar, Chris Rutt and Andrew Jannetti—held June 29–July 1 at the campus of West Virginia University, Blumenfeld was ready to brainstorm with his peers (both men AND women) about why it's so hard to attract male students to dance—and to retain them. The idea for the conference grew out of an online special-interest group Blumenfeld had created under the National Dance Education Organization umbrella. A frequent attendee at NDEO's national conference, Blumenfeld found himself naturally gravitating toward the other male dancers and teachers present at NDEO gatherings. "We were about four percent of the conference—we called ourselves the four percent," he jokes. "We kept talking about what's going on with men in dance, but we were just talking." That's where his idea for a conference on male dance was born.

Yoav Kaddar, standing, heads the dance program at West Virginia University and helped plan the conference. Photo courtesy of Blumenfeld

The Men in Dance conference, he is pleased to report, was by all means a success. With a group of about 60 attendees (from as far away as the United Kingdom), the conference explored topics like: Identifying and Exploring New Masculinities in Dance; Mentoring Male Dancers in a Culture of Gender Neutrality; and Who We Be: Black Masculinities in a Contemporary African Dance Company.

For Blumenfeld, his biggest takeaway was that the parents of male dancers are the lynchpin of whether or not a male student continues dancing. "The place it breaks down in this country is parents," he says. "That's what I heard across the board. You could have a public school that's doing really well, but the parents are against dance as a performance art." Dance as a social matter, he's found, isn't a taboo. "We have to educate the parents. When you win the parents, the kids are then free to do what they naturally do," he says.

Highest on the post-conference agenda, Blumenfeld says, are building a web resource with forums, a networking and registry base, curriculum ideas, testimonies, links to relevant research and information to share with parents. Though he doesn't envision the conference happening annually—maybe every two or three years, instead—he and the other attendees are committed to offering resources and outlets for connection and sharing.

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, 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
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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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Teachers Trending
Photo courtesy TUPAC

When legendary Black ballet dancer Kabby Mitchell III died unexpectedly in 2017, two months before opening his Tacoma Urban Performing Arts Center, his friend and business partner Klair Ethridge wasn't sure she had what it took to carry his legacy. Ethridge had been working with Mitchell to co-found TUPAC and planned to serve as its executive director, but she had never envisioned being the face of the school.

Now, Ethridge is heading into her fourth year of leading TUPAC, which she has grown from a fledgling program in an unheated building to a serious ballet school in its own sprung-floor studios, reaching hundreds of students across the Tacoma, Washington, area. The nonprofit has become a case study for what it looks like to carry out the vision of a founder who never had the chance to see his school open—and to take an unapologetically mission-driven approach.

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