By Michael Kleber-Diggs
When I was five or six, my parents signed me up for dance class. Somewhere deep within my temporal lobe, faint like a vapor trail, I can almost remember making a lot of noise with my shoes. I’m told that some call it “tap-dancing.” I cannot remember why I stopped dance class except to say that, like most boys my age, it wasn’t long before I was playing football and baseball.
Many years passed with not much connection to the world of dance for me. I saw the occasional ballet or contemporary performance, and, if I’m being honest, usually focused as much (if not more) on the music than I did on the dancing. But that was then. Now, I love dance. It is among my favorite art forms. I credit my daughter (age 13) with re-introducing me to dance and teaching me how to appreciate it and all the wonders it offers. I can say with certainty that I never would have stopped dancing if knew at five or six what I know now that I’m 46. Dance is beautiful and powerful, gigantic and graceful, awesome and spectacular. It is often all of those things all at once. So I write with this urgent appeal to any young man who reads this message and to anyone who loves a young man who should be dancing. “Dance, young fellas! Dance!”
In this part one of a two-part series, I’ll build out the case by sharing five of my top ten reasons why boys should study dance. I’ll add five more reasons in part two. For now, here’s the first half of the list (in no particular order):
Girls! Girls! Girls! – Let’s get the easy one out of the way first. My daughter studies dance at Out on a Limb Dance Company and School, a place that is (in my well-trained and unbiased opinion) the best dance school in the upper-Midwest and probably in the whole wide world. Young men in the dance company and school get to hang out with beautiful (inside and out) young women several nights a week. And, as if that weren’t enough, they get to dance with them. It’s an exciting new take on a classic romantic tale: boy meets girl. Boy dances with girl. Boy and girl get college scholarships to study dance at elite conservatories and go on to become celebrated artists. Sigh… I never get tired of that story.
There is a Shortage of Male Dancers – On a more serious note, there is an international shortage of male dancers. The government of the United Kingdom recently commissioned a study of professions to determine where there are shortages. Male ballet dancer was listed among those professions where there is high demand. The study found that “[i]n respect of ballet, we were told that there is a shortage of male dancers at every level.” It’s difficult to find statistics on how many boys and young men study dance in the United States. It is known that at the highest professional level, companies are gender balanced. However, beyond the elite companies, gender balance is almost impossible to achieve. Pre-professional programs across the United States are actively seeking boys to participate. In New York, a recent audition for 6 – 10 year olds attracted 544 applicants, 65 of them were boys – that’s roughly 12%. It’s reasonable to wonder if a similar audition in Des Moines or Omaha would attract a lower percentage than that. The reasons for the shortage are well known: boys are teased for dancing, parents are not always supportive, boys don’t have a lot of male friends who dance, there aren’t enough dance role models, and there aren’t enough male dance teachers. Let’s be candid – sometimes it isn’t easy to be a boy who studies dance. Some amount of courage is required, maybe even courage more than it takes to shed a block and make a tackle. But it’s worth it. And, in time, the rewards make the quest easier to endure.
There are a Lot of Scholarship Opportunities – Pre-professional programs, elite summer-intensive programs, and leading colleges and universities with dance degree programs are working to address the shortage by providing abundant scholarship opportunities for boys and young men. If you are a young male dancer with rhythm and desire and you put forth a respectable effort, you can choose to spend the summer in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta, Seattle, and many other major cities studying dance at no cost to you, eating well, and having the time of your life. And no, it isn’t quite that easy, but it is much easier for young men than it is for young women. Consider the example from the audition in New York that attracted 544 six to 10 year-old dancers, 65 of whom were boys. Let’s say that program wanted to have 10 boys and 10 girls. Each boy would have a 15% chance of making the cut; each girl would have a 2 percent chance of making it. It’s seven times easier for the boy to make the cut. Use the demand to your advantage. Study dance; see the world.
Dance is the Ultimate Sport – One of my daughter’s favorite tee-shirts reads “Artist + Athlete = Dancer.” It’s so true. To be a successful dancer, men need to be graceful and strong. It helps if you can leap like a gazelle, and it doesn’t hurt if you can spin like a top. Male dancers don’t catch footballs or baseballs, they catch other dancers. In the course of one show, you will run and jump and catch and dance and you will do it all fluidly and artistically. It isn’t easy, and for that reason dance is the ultimate sport.
Dance Provides the Ultimate Workout – On a related note, dance is also the ultimate workout. Dance class includes stretching, strength training (arms, abs, glutes and legs), yoga, pilates or core-strengthening, endurance training, and speed work (among other things). Dancers are usually fit and strong. At the professional level, male dancers are typically seen with very little body fat and very strong muscles. There’s a reason for that – dance is the ultimate workout.
With that, I’ll conclude part one with a quick recap. Male dancers are in demand. They often receive scholarships to study dance in exciting places. They participate in the ultimate sport, and they get a vigorous workout several days a week. They get to hang out with women who are beautiful (inside and out) while they pursue together a beautiful art.
You should be lacing up your jazz shoes already, but, in case you’re not, stay tuned for part two, with five more reasons why boys should study dance.