By Michael Kleber-Diggs
There is a critical shortage of young male dancers in pre-professional programs and dance schools across the United States. In part one of this two-part appeal, I shared five reasons why boys should study dance. (Missed Part One? Read it here.)
Before I share the next five reasons why boys should study dance, I need to tell you a quick story. This story will help me explain a few of the other points, and I hope some readers will notice that it’s kind of a sneaky 11th reason to study dance. Anyway, here’s the story:
Last year, my daughter, who is a dance student at Out on a Limb, and I attended Hong Kong Ballet’s staging of Turandot at Northrup Auditorium in Minneapolis. For several reasons, it was a night that I will remember for as long as I live. My daughter and I had a blast, and, for the first time that I noticed, she appeared to me as a young woman and not my little girl. After the show, we went out for pizza, and we talked about what we’d seen: our favorite parts, how amazing the dancers were, the story of Turandot, the set, the costumes, the wonderful renovations to the auditorium, and what it must be like for the dancers in the Hong Kong Ballet and other companies to tour the world staging shows. My conversation with my daughter was exactly the kind of conversation I would have with any of my adult friends. It stood out to me for that reason. Many other things contributed to a wonderful evening, but I’ll share just one more. I noticed that after watching my daughter dance for eight years, I had grown in my ability to appreciate dance as an art form. I saw things I missed in previous dance shows I’ve attended. I understood how difficult it is to perform a particular passage as well as the dancers in the Hong Kong Ballet performed them. I realized on that night that I don’t just love watching my daughter dance. I love dance.
With that story told, here are five more reasons why boys should study dance (in no particular order):
Dance Offers a Life of Grace and Excellent Posture – that night at Northrup, during the intermission of Turnadot, it was completely obvious who among the audience members were professional dancers. They walk tall and upright. They move at all times with almost comical grace, and they sit like charm-school teachers. While my daughter and I played a game of “oh, he’s a dancer – she’s a dancer for sure,” I found myself wishing I was so graceful. I even wanted to sit that well. And yes, I’m being a little bit silly, but there’s some truth in here too. Dancers study movement until they achieve total control of their body. Dancers tend to be strong and graceful. Their strength and grace are evident in almost everything they do, even in the way they stand. That strength and grace and control lasts for a lifetime and exists as a kind of membership in a really cool club. I totally want to be in that club. I cannot think of a more worthwhile endeavor for a young person, especially for a young man.
Studying Dance Opens a Lot of Opportunities – Excellence in dance advances your life in many other ways. People who study dance go on to become dancers, choreographers, teachers, audience members, artistic directors, and patrons. As much as I appreciated that performance of Turandot, my daughter - who knows the difference between an arabesque and an assemblé and what distinguishes a plié from a pirouette - appreciated it even more. The most I can hope is to be a balletomane, but dancers are artists who really appreciate the skill and craft at a different level. Dancers have advantages seeking jobs on Broadway and in Hollywood. Dance improves athletic ability and encourages a lifetime of physical fitness. I may or may not know a 60 year-old dancer who can still do the splits and tap at the speed of sound. Studying dance as you go through high-school advances opportunities for college admissions (even if you don’t study dance at the university level). Dancers go on to be artists of other kinds. They also take their commitment, effort, self-confidence, perseverance, team-work, intelligence, and creativity forward with them in all of their endeavors. Dance is awesome for more than just dance. You should dance, young man.
Boys Who Can Dance Are the Life of the Party – young men who study dance go on to become the best dancer in the room at every homecoming dance, prom, spring formal, and wedding that they attend (even their own wedding). Everyone wants to dance with them. If you are like me, and you want to be the life of every party you’re at, then dance is for you. If you’re more of a wallflower type, you should still study dance, just tell people that “union rules prevent you from dancing at non-union events.”
All Eyes on You – as a young male dancer at most dance companies and schools in the United States, once you achieve a threshold skill level, you will be all but guaranteed significant parts and lots of stage time. In most shows you will play more than one role. You can be in most Nutcracker performances in your city. You’ll often be prince charming and the evil prince too. If you convince a male friend to join you, you’ll also help local dance companies stage shows that are difficult for them to take on today because they don’t have enough boys to make the shows work. You’ll get parts. You get multiple parts. You’ll be on the stage a lot with all eyes on you. This experience will help you grow as a person and as an artist. You’ll gain comfort and self-confidence that will serve you well in whatever it is you choose to do.
A Lifetime of Passion – my father in law is in his 80’s, and he plays tennis on a regular basis. One of my favorite golf buddies is well into his 60’s. There are a few sports that you can enjoy your entire life, and dance is one of them. It is rare to enjoy football, hockey, basketball, baseball, soccer, rugby, and boxing past a certain age. Dance is different. You can dance every day of your life. It’s a passion that welcomes so many different kinds of people for so many different reasons. Dance is trying to welcome more boys. Answer the call. Become a dancer. Once you start, don’t make my mistake; keep dancing. Learn from my experience. Embrace this art and the lifetime of joy it offers.
If you’re a young man in the St. Paul and Minneapolis metropolitan area, I know a great place to study dance – Out on a Limb Dance Company and School. My daughter is a student there, and it is an amazing place. A young man walking in there to study dance would be welcomed (as the young ladies have been welcomed) into a loving community of wonderful folks who are committed to sharing their love of dance with as many people as possible. Out on a Limb is a family. As a Limb Dad, I promise to high five you every time I see you. You’ll be very popular there. But that should be no surprise. Boys who can dance are always very popular (make that my 11th or 12th reason you should dance).
[Note on the series: at most, four or five of the items listed in my ten reasons boys should study dance apply only (or mostly) to boys. The rest of the list makes the case for dance in general. I hope that anyone who reads this article will be inspired to pursue their passions, whatever they may be, but especially if their passion is dance (and especially if they are a boy). Thanks to Out on a Limb Dance Company and School and their On Pointe blog for allowing me to be a little silly on a serious subject.]