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How to Cope with "Only Girls Do Ballet"

In this post we are going to be looking at one of the most regular questions we get asked about Boys doing ballet; what do you do when people say “But only Girls do ballet”. We are going to share our top tips on dealing with those preconceptions, bullying, prejudice and negativity towards boy ballet dancers, particularly younger ones, and giving our advice on how you can achieve great things on your own ballet journey.

One of the things almost all boy ballet dancers encounter at some point during their ballet journey is when people say “Only girls do ballet”. It is worse when you are young; I hesitate to call it ‘bullying’ because if I use that word you will probably immediately think of violence towards someone, but, for young boy ballet dancers, the ‘bullying’ is far more subtle and maybe some of you wouldn’t even consider it to be that word. But ‘bullying’ comes in many forms. Laughing and saying “Only girls do ballet” is a form of bullying in that it implies the boy has no place to be doing ballet because it is perceived as effeminate for boys; that boys who do ballet are weak or ‘girly’. When a young boy announces that he is doing ballet, other girls and boys laugh or giggle or roll their eyes and maybe ‘tut’ very loudly. You may experience being excluded or isolated from your group of so-called friends as they treat you as being ‘different’ to them purely for doing ballet.

In August 2019, when Prince William announced that his eldest son Prince George was loving his ballet classes that he was doing as part of his school curriculum, it prompted American Talk Show host, Lara Spencer, to poke fun at him and his defenceless son by saying “So Prince George absolutely loves ballet; well I have news for you Prince William – we’ll see how long that lasts!” – the implication being that boys should not be doing ballet and also poking fun at Prince William for even allowing it. Her comments sparked outrage and caused many dancers to dance outside the studio the following day in protest at her comments, forcing her to make a big apology on air, whilst interviewing three professional male dancers and choreographers.

But such comments do nothing to assist young boys who wish to pursue ballet classes as it serves to strengthen those ridiculous preconceptions and stereotypes about boys doing ballet. So here are our top tips for dealing with such comments and gaining the strength to do something lots more boys should feel comfortable to do.

TIP NO. 1

HAVE THE COURAGE TO BE DIFFERENT

Boys should have the courage to be different. Everyone should have the opportunity to try something new, whatever that might be and, if they like it, continue with it regardless of what others might say. If you do ballet, you probably already have something stronger than those that seek to belittle the fact you do ballet, and that is the courage to be different. They should be lucky to have a passion for something like you do. If you like doing ballet then don’t let anyone persuade you that it is not for boys. Be strong and keep dancing!

TIP NO.2

KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS AND INCREASE YOUR KNOWLEDGE

Should boys do ballet? Of course they should! Ballet needs boys. Look at all the great classical ballets – Swan Lake, Giselle, Sleeping Beauty, Romeo & Juliet, Don Quixote, The Nutcracker – the list goes on – they all need male dancers. There are pas de deux – a male and female dancer dancing together and the male parts are an integral part of the plot and therefore the ballet. When did these male dancers start doing ballet? When they were in their 20s? – No the overwhelming majority of them started very young and trained as boys.

Many of the top ballet choreographers have been men; Kenneth MacMillan, George Balanchine, Peter Wright, Jerome Robbins, Frederick Ashton; the list goes on. Even today there are many great male choreographers Carlos Acosta; Matthew Bourne, Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon – did they just turn up and become ballet dancers and choreographers? No they trained as boys!

Ballet dancers are some of the most powerful athletes in the world. They can jump high; they can turn fast; they have to be immensely strong and be able to lift girls above their heads, sometimes with one hand.

Ballet is done by football players, rugby players, American football players, athletes and others for strength, flexibility, improving their reflexes and to prevent injuries. When others seek to belittle your ballet, remind them of the long history of male ballet dancers and the fact you are training to be a supreme athlete.

TIP NO. 3

TELL A TRUSTED ADULT

If you find yourself being bullied in whatever form it might be; subtle, verbal, and most definitely if it’s physical then tell an adult who you trust about what is happening to you. This adult might be your Mum, or your Dad, or your school teacher, or even your ballet teacher. Whoever it is tell them what you are experiencing so they can deal with it and confront the ‘bully’ or ‘bullies’ so you don’t have to. You should not suffer in silence or accept that it is “just the way it is”. You do not deserve to be treated in such a negative way. Things will feel much better if you tell someone you trust as a ‘Problem Shared is a Problem halved’.

TIP NO. 4

SURROUND YOURSELF WITH POSITIVE FRIENDS

If you find yourself in a group of friends who are constantly teasing you, taunting you, belittling you merely for doing ballet it is time to ditch those ‘so-called’ friends and find others who can treat you more positively and with more respect. You are not seeking a new group to confront or attack the previous group, you just need to seek people who make you feel more comfortable with who you are and feel safe.

TIP NO. 5

RISE ABOVE THE NEGATIVITY

It is possible that all the negative comments about your ballet will affect your self-esteem and your self-confidence and lead you to assume that all the negativity will stop if you just don’t do the ballet any more. It is at that time you need to rise above all those who would seek to stop you enjoying something they don’t know anything about. It is time to ignore those who make you feel your ballet is wrong and ask yourself if you want to carry on enjoying the ballet classes. It won’t necessarily stop the comments but it will give you renewed positivity that no-one can stop you dancing.

TIP NO.6

RESPOND

Now by this I don’t mean resort to physical violence; just arm yourself with some ammunition in order to disarm those who verbally bully you. A good reply to “Only girls do ballet” is “Who told you that?” or “Where did you hear that?”. Saying “Only girls do ballet” is an easy line to repeat but when the person who has said it is asked to provide evidence of the expression that becomes more difficult. Here it is important not to tease them back or stoop to their level but, merely offer clarification that you choose to do ballet for the fact it gives you more strength, more power, more flexibility, quicker reflexes, better co-ordination, the ability to be self-motivated, self-analytical and an all-round better person; and you also get to dance with a lot of girls which is pretty cool.

TIP NO. 7

FIND SOME ROLE MODELS

Who could be your role models? Vadim Muntagirov, Alexander Campbell, Steven McRae, Carlos Acosta, Matthew Ball, Federico Bonelli, even older ballet dancers such as Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov, the list of excellent male ballet dancers goes on and on.

Your role models don’t necessarily have to be ballet dancers; it could be someone you know who inspires you to work harder. Just focus on why you find them a role model and let their inspiration spur you on.

TIP NO. 8

PARENTS ENCOURAGEMENT

This one is for all the parents, or any other adult out there, watching this video who knows a boy who does ballet. It is time to move on from any preconceptions you may have about boys doing ballet.

What do you think of when you think about boys who do ballet?

That they are effeminate? Hardly. Many male ballet dancers are married with kids and you are just as likely to find a ‘gay’ man in any office or workplace as you are in any ballet company. And so what if anyone is homosexual, it does not matter at all. In the 21st century such ‘labels’ are not necessary and should not matter to anyone.

That they are weak? I think you can see that is not true – rather they are powerful athletes who can turn fast, jump high, lift girls above their heads; and keep dancing for 6 to 8 hours a day, every day.

That they are ‘girly’? I would challenge anyone to do a two hour ballet class alongside a male ballet dancer and, at the end of it, still think that male ballet dancers are ‘girly’.

Unfortunately the story of Billy Elliot is an all too familiar one, even today, in that the Dad wants his son to do boxing but Billy ends up wanting to do ballet, something his Dad finds impossible to come to terms with. If you are a Dad, or a Mum, I know some Mums who cannot come to terms with a ballet loving son; if you have a son, a boy, who does ballet then you should forget all those things you thought you knew about ballet, and encourage them as much as you can.

Ballet is no different to any art form, or any sport, and yet boys can suffer badly if their parents, and sometimes their siblings, are not behind them and supporting them.

Ballet is for everyone and it is, most definitely, for boys!

Above all remember Ballet is GOOD and everyone should have to opportunity to do it!

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