Why do we think ballet is not for boys? - Women's Agenda

Why do we think ballet is not for boys?

After Christmas, I took my almost 3-year old son to see an Australian Ballet Company production for children: The Sleeping Beauty Storytime Ballet. The Australian Ballet Company website describes the production as “the perfect first ballet experience for boys and girls” (brownie points from me for the preferencing of ‘boys’ in this sentence).

Unfortunately, the message that this was as much an event for little boys as it was for little girls did not seem to have filtered through. When my son and I turned up to the performance (which filled the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre) we faced a foyer filled with little girls, most dressed in tutus or princess attire. Once seated, a quick glance around the theatre revealed a few other intrepid mums and dads of boys, but the fact that I could count the boys on two hands with a theatre capacity of near 500 was moderately disturbing.

I have to confess, I was surprised at the lack of boys at an event that was marketed to both genders, and targeted at the “3 and up” age group. Toddlers aren’t making their own purchasing decisions (at least not directly), so why did we decide that going to the ballet is not something that would interest boys?

Assuming I am like most parents of very young children, we probably try, wherever possible, to choose for our children the type of activities in which we have a mild interest ourselves, or at least those that are least likely to bore us to tears. Surely there are mothers of boys out there who would be excited about the opportunity to see an Australian Ballet Company production that only runs for 45 minutes, with tickets under $50?

It seems we have made a decision, whether or not consciously, that there are certain activities more suited to little girls than boys and vice versa. In making this decision, we are introducing the concept of gendered activities to our children, and creating the boxes within which they are very likely to live the rest of their lives. When we tell our 3-year-old boys, whether directly or indirectly, “this is for boys”, we are telling them what it is to be man, and “men only do these things”.

I can’t help but feel terrified by the knowledge that it starts at such a very young age, and I’m watching it happen.

Two of my nephews are enrolled in a dance school. The eldest, who starts high school this year, studied ballet for a time. Sadly, he gave that up last year, faced with bullying from so-called “friends”, even though he had a natural talent and enjoyed learning the new and difficult skill. The (male) bullies accused him of being “gay” because of his dancing, specifically ballet, and decided that was a good enough reason to verbally and cyber-bully him.

Anyone who has seen John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever will quickly tell you that there a few things more attractive to a heterosexual female than a man who dances well. Greek men have been dancing for thousands of years (and they dance together). When did dance become feminised to the extent that our pre-teen boys are bullied for attending dance class and we don’t think to take our 3-year-old boys to a children’s ballet?

The question of what it is to be a man and what masculine means is complex and difficult. The topic gained some important attention in 2015, and hopefully this conversation continues this year. Films like Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s The Mask You Live In are vital conversation starters in this space, and an excellent way to communicate an important message to a media-driven generation: that stereotypical concepts of masculinity are severely damaging to our boys and men, linked to increases in crime, violence and suicide.

If we really believe there is a long term benefit to our boys engaging in “feminine” pursuits, like dance, then as women and mothers we are uniquely placed to help them do so. For a very short period of time, we have a lot of control over how the world is filtered through to our boys. We can, if we want to, take advantage of this time and do the best we can, while we can, to deliver them a world of possibility and inclusion.

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