Why don’t more guys dance?

I’ll never forget the reaction when I posted on Facebook a few years ago that I took ballet classes and even performed on stage.

There were a few people who knew me, and it didn’t make a difference with them. But I spent most of my career in journalism in the ultimate “normal guy” profession — sports writing. Nevermind that I’m still the sports fanatic I always was, nuts about college football, the NFL and Major League Baseball and still like playing golf, enjoyed sandlot football or even softball (even though I’m not the most athletically talented person in the world).

I’ve got quite a few “oh my god, can’t believe you do that, run for the hills” reactions. Some of the friends who regularly responded to my status’ didn’t as much anymore after I revealed that I dance. And it’s not just my former sports writer peers.

Why does it seem to scare the daylights out of people that maybe a normal guy would like to dance?

There are quite a few reasons why very few boys or men dare to set foot in a ballet class, or modern or jazz class. Hip-hop, well that’s a little cooler and a little more acceptable.

There are the dreaded stereotypes. If you are male and you like ballet, you must be gay. It’s sissy, it’s powdered wigs and tights, it’s little girls twirling in tutus and tiaras.

I do find a certain irony in the first stereotype. The first time I walked into a ballet class was also the year I played high school football.

Be on a team with 85 guys, share a lockerroom and open showers with them and no one questions your sexual orientation, but take a class where you are the only boy in a class with girls wearing leotards, and suddenly, you’re gay. Go figure.

I’ve actually found this stereotype not to be true. The one male teacher I have, the handful of guys I’m in class with on a regular basis aren’t gay. I know a couple of dancers who are, but so what? They don’t exactly fit the sissy stereotype either.

The tights stereotype, I think in this day is a bit overrated. Yeah, in some traditional ballet performances, you’ll see the guy in the “tights,” but the majority of the roles I’ve seen, you have your share of regular costumes. I’ve been in the Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, Firebird, Dracula and will be in Billy the Kid in a few weeks and have only had to wear them under costumes.

As for class, I’ve never thought of it as that big a deal, especially with football players, wrestlers and track athletes wearing Under Armour and other clothes that in my opinion are pretty much tights, but called by a manlier name.

As for it being a sissy activity? I think the “Miss Susie School of Dance” studios have had a lot to do with that stereotype being alive and well. They cater to the “isn’t that little girl cute twirling around in her tutu and tiara” crowd. Don’t get me wrong, I know that’s what appeals to young girls and even some women who are drawn to that side of ballet, but is it a wonder that parents with a 5-year-old boy would run as far as they can from that activity?

But the truth is, ballet is anything but a sissy activity. I think the vast majority of people would be shocked if they were to observe a class beyond the beginner level about how athletic it is.

I’ve seen guys soar higher in leaps and double tours than any basketball player trying to dunk, and that includes Michael Jordan. Try catching a leaping girl and putting her on your shoulder and make it look effortless. And any dancer doing multiple pirouettes, male or female, is no sissy.

Sure, there are girls wearing tutus and tiaras. But usually the ones who do end up doing 32 fouettes during a combination. That is not an easy thing to do.

It takes a lot of stamina and strength to go from exercise to exercise, or combination in a 90-minute class, or multiple classes in a day, or to perform two or three major roles in a performance. People do not realize how athletic ballet really is. It is as much of an athletic activity as football or basketball, sometimes moreso. I covered hundreds of high school, college and pro athletes, and some of the athletes I’ve ever seen are dancers.

It’s the part of ballet I wished others could see.

But stereotypes are hard to look past. And cultural attitudes are hard to break.

10 responses to “Why don’t more guys dance?

  • Kristen Gillette

    This was perfect! Ballet dancers are so much more appealing to me than a football player will ever be because they work so hard.

    Also, I didn’t know you were a journalist too!

  • Kristen Gillette

    Reblogged this on Adult Ballerina Project and commented:
    A pretty much spot on post on why guys should be dancing more.

  • geekyballerina

    Your part about “Miss Susie School of Dance” really hit home. My studio owner insists on having “Princess Party” classes for the under-7 set and it drives me crazy since it shuts out the boys! When I get a chance to teach little ones I work really hard to keep it gender-neutral so that it’s fun and welcoming for everyone. But it feels like welcoming boys is a battle and I wish it weren’t.

    And I’d rather do 32 fouettés than a men’s variation any day!

    • loveballet89

      Good for you for doing that in your classes. I don’t have a problem with princess parties and the tutus and tiaras side of it because I know that draws a lot of little girls to ballet.

      But if that’s the only side people see, then it makes it that much harder for boys to dance. And it seems not a lot of schools make an effort to go beyond that stereotype of ballet, and it’s a shame.

  • joeylovesdance

    It is a wonderful article. I am taking ballet classes in late stage as a guy from India. The most challenging thing for me is the girl’s look at u in the ballet class and think and wonder whether I am a gay.
    I am just a normal guy. This stereotypical comments pushes many normal guys to get into dance room, though they have a passion in dancing. If this attitude is broken, many men would be in dance room.

    I certainly agree men who are dancers are equally stronger to a basket ball player as it involves lot of exercise and strength.

    Men who are dancers has a disciplined life style to keep them fit and strong and light in heart.

    • Dancescribe

      Just now saw this comment one year later. Joey, I hope you’re still dancing. Sorry to hear about the girls in your class. The girls and women in the classes I take are really welcoming.

  • rahyuhnjeymz

    I think that the stereotype you describe in your article holds true with many guys who might otherwise take up ballet. You’re a prefect example of not just a normal guy taking ballet but a normal guy taking ballet that loves manly things like college football. I am a 27-year-old male with no prior ballet experience who just started ballet last Friday with an introduction to adult ballet workshop. I think that the stereotype most certainly played a part in why it took me 27 years to enter a ballet class. I’d like to think of myself as a pretty normal guy, who loves sports. I played rugby in college and now as a young professional I am doing ballet. Hopefully, experiences like ours will change that stereotype for others.

    • JustScott

      I do wish the perspective would change. But I’ve also met people who reinforce the stereotype. Getting people to see ballet through a different lens is a difficult thing. But I’m glad you found ballet. And I don’t regret plunging in.

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