Monday, September 23, 2013

Boys and Ballet

Capezio Teknik Ballet Shoes in white leather.

My son started 6th grade at his new middle school two weeks ago. The school he got into requires the kids to pick a talent that they study during the three years they are there. My son is starting his second year of ballroom dance at the wonderful Dancing Classrooms Academy in Manhattan so he picked dance as his talent at school and was accepted into the program. The students will eventually study modern dance and jazz, but they are starting with ballet, which led to an experience I never thought I’d have: Buying ballet shoes for a boy.

The teacher required all the boys to have white shoes. White? I asked my son, Are you sure it’s white? And not black? No, it was white. So last weekend we went to the flagship Capezio store in midtown Manhattan to buy him white leather ballet shoes. It felt very weird to me but no one batted an eye in the shoe department. “For boys’ ballet shoes the color choices are white or black,” the young man helping us said. None of the mothers buying dance shoes for their daughters seemed surprised that we were there and even my son seemed okay with it. He put the shoes on, stood up, did a pliĆ©, sat down, and said, “They fit.”

Where did this kid come from, I ask you? I have no dance in my background and nor does my husband. My son is completely comfortable on the ballroom dance floor doing the waltz, the tango, the swing, the rumba, the salsa, the cha cha and the foxtrot. In fact he taught me the meringue!

The shoes with the box they came in.

He is not bothered that there are only 5 boys in his class or that they are starting the semester with ballet. I’m not bothered either, ballet is one of those worlds that I find inherently fascinating, and part of me is thrilled my son will take some ballet and even be in the school’s production of The Nutcracker this December!

These are full-soled shoes but you can also buy a split-sole option.

But I worry, oh do I worry, that he might be made fun of at some point by boys who consider ballet, or any form of dance, too feminine. Reading Raising Cain: Protecting the Emotional Life of Boys by Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson has not helped. They have a whole chapter devoted to the culture of cruelty that boys face in adolescence. A mother worries!

If you have any advice on this subject, do share it. I have been telling my son that ballet dancers—male and female—are disciplined, focused, and strong. All that worry aside, here is what I’ve learned so far about boys in ballet:

Boys wear a white T-shirt and black dance pants or tights, although in France the standard color for shoes is gray, because they prefer gray tights, or so I’ve read on the site Boys Do Ballet (another great site I just discovered is Dave Tries Ballet).

The elasticized bow: not just for show!

The ties in the front of the shoe are NOT just for decoration. I have been brainwashed by the fashion industry thinking they were just for show! Pas de tout! They tighten the top of the shoe. So my son tightens the bows and then sticks them under the top of the shoe as shown in the top photo.

Have you known any boys who have taken ballet?


une femme said...

I think it's so wonderful that your son is into dance! If anyone gives him a rough time, he can remind them that NFL players regularly are given ballet lessons to help them with balance and agility. ;-)

vero said...

Remind him that a boy who knows how to dance will get the best date!


I love this post and your honesty. I'd be concerned about teasing too, but he's not alone in class, and not at a typical school, so hopefully other children who are also "creatives" will accept his field of interest, just as he accepts theirs.

It is certainly ingrained in us to expect our children to only be interested in things typical for their gender. So our challenge is, I think, is to allow our children to pursue their interests unencumbered by our own expectations or judgments. You are doing this so well, Jill! I think children these days have so little time to just be KIDS, be innocent, and to be happy doing what they like to do because THEY like it, not because it's what someone expects them to like. I think your son will be a wonderful, well-rounded young man one day, because of these early experiences.

Here's to a great school year for your little dancer!

Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

Jill, it is almost impossible to get away from teasing of some kind...
my daughter was called Boo Radley for having pure white skin;
My oldest son was called BIG BOY, because he is a big boy, but some teased that wasn't a good thing
My youngest was teased because he has a slight lisp...

All three are joyful, well balanced young adults because I really think it is the parenting of how they handle teasing which makes a huge difference. We give them the confidence to persevere. You can build him up and esteem him every day for all the benefits of dancing and esteem him in such a way that he will withstand if teasing comes his way because he will be secure in who he is.
I am excited for him...there are so many benefits. I thing all three of my children would say that they learned great lessons through being teased and all love others and have more compassion. You will get through this and more, mom!!

Angele Style said...

I study classical ballet 5 times a week at a Professional Dance Studio. In every class there are at least 5 males ranging in age from 19 to 70. When one loves to dance there is no amount of teasing that will thwart you. The male dancers I know find those who support them. They are adored in class and if you focus on finding him the right dance teachers he will be able to ignore the haters. Dance is all consuming and if he has parents that support him in his choices he can ignore the rest.

Anonymous said...

Repetto ballet flats have the same tightening mechanism. The bows are not ornamental. It's nice to be able to tighten my shoes that way.

Btw, I got my darling little readers in the mail a couple of weeks ago and just love them. I like how lightweight they are and don't leave marks on my nose. Plus, they're so chic; there's that, too!


PinkCheetahVintage said...

I love that he dances!! I think as long as his immediate circle is loving and supportive he should be fine :)

Adrienne Shubin said...

What a wonderful experience to share with your son! I wonder if he will take to ballet?
You are right to be concerned about him possibly being bullied. My stepson was harassed when playing football. It can happen to any child but I can see there being more concern when dancing comes into play.
Those shoes are so precious. I hope you'll hold onto them as keepsakes once he outgrows them.

Veshoevius said...

As someone who studied ballet for years this story fascinated me. Jill how amazing your boy is so into and comfortable with dance! True it is still a rare thing for a boy to be interested but this is what makes it so special - I wouldn't worry about him and would encorage him and don't hide the fact that it might be seen as unusual and a chosen path less travelled by - go see Billy Elliot the movie with him!. I remember the very few boys I had in my classes wore white shoes, even the older ones. One particularly talented one who ended up in a major company was a passionate car mechanic out of the dance studio. A very blokely bloke! He was 17 or so when he owned up to his mates about his chosen profession, and found they were very supportive (in Ocker surbanite Australia 20 years ago! Surely that should encourage you!)

Heather Lindstrom said...

Jill-I never took dance but your son sounds like a real natural. That athletic talent can likely lend itself to all kinds of sports and dance. I love that he is comfortable pursuing a path that is not traditional but unique. My guess is that he has been infused with confidence and interest in his upbringing. Time will tell as to whether it's a lifetime passion or a stepping stone to other interests. Thanks for sharing. Lovely post.
xx, Heather

Coulda shoulda woulda said...

Yes I did know a few male ballerinas and let me tell you that they got all the hottest girls!!! :) You should be so proud. Plus did you know that ballerinas are the strongest athletes pound for pound? They also have great discipline...x

Sacramento Amate said...

How fabulous, dear Jill you have a son with wings within.
I bet you are proud.

Diane said...

My son loved to dance and was very comfortable with his body from an early age. It sounds like your son is, too, and that's good. Go with this. Mine took ballet in college (a small, academically challenging liberal arts college) and thrived there. Please don't anticipate meanness and bullying, and encourage your son to be himself, as you seem to be doing! He'll be fine. It's terrific that he loves this.

Sacramento Amate said...

I will join you with pleasure, my dear Jill.

Kimberly said...

Lovely blog =) I'm SO happy I stumbled upon your site! I don't actually know any boys who took ballet, but I"m glad your son is excited to start!

PS. I'm currently hosting a giveaway on my blog right now. You could win a fab sterling silver or 18k gold initial necklace just by liking a FB page! I'd really love it if you could enter.

Jill said...

Thank you to everyone for their amazing, supportive, and thoughtful comments. They have touched my heart and I appreciate them so much. XO, Jill

Emily Yewell Volin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Emily Yewell Volin said...

I think you and your son would enjoy the 3 links I include below.

Congratulations to your son as he begins his ballet, jazz & modern dance training. It's wonderful preparation for life. Best wishes!

kim at northerncalstyle. said...

So great he is going to get to experience ballet. I had so many good memories taking ballet as a girl and later as a college student and adult. It's just such a wonderful discipline to learn and you never lose the feel for it.

I think times have change a lot. Boys in this school obviously are talented and I would think accepting of all the others choices. I think my son, who is also a new 6th grader, would take dance if it was a choice! He enjoys doing things that are different like cello and theatre and doesn't worry much about what others think of him. We do though worry about this!

Hopefully, the world is changing due to shows like Glee and kids are feeling less pressure to fit into stereotypical roles and such.

I hope he has a good year. He sounds like a wonderful free spirit. Good for him. I hope you keep those ballet shoes like Adrienne said!


Anonymous said...

I think it's absolutely wonderful that your boy has chosen ballet and loves dance so much! He is well on the way to being fit and healthy for life and graceful which I think is so beautiful in a man. I was only able to study ballet for a short time and it's something I've always regretted ever since. There's some great advice here and I hope he'll only encounter the least amount of bullying if any.

Just to share that, when I was planning activities for my own children, ballet was my first choice including for my boy - there's nothing more attractive than a graceful man and one who can really dance! However, the lessons clashed with their music lessons so they all started gymnastics which is great too.