No matter where my son, Julian, has danced, most often he has been one of just a handful of boys—if that. Dance studios seem to have a difficult time attracting…and keeping…young male dancers.

No matter where my son, Julian, has danced, most often he has been one of just a handful of boys—if that. Dance studios seem to have a difficult time attracting…and keeping…young male dancers.

 

Some boys seem to have a desire to dance from an early age, and, once started, there’s no stopping them. Season one So You Think You Can Dance (SYTYCD) winner Nick Lazzarini said at the age of just one year old he would prop himself up and 'move to the music' to which his mother frequently listened. At four, she enrolled him in a dance class, and Lazzarini’s been dancing ever since.

 

Some boys, however, need more enticement to dance. For them, dance teachers and dance studios have to go out of their way. For instance, take a look around your studio. Is it all pink? Are all the posters and paintings of girls in tutus? Do you only sell clothing suitable for girls? Is all the choreography and music 'girly'? Do you have a boy’s dressing room? If so, it’s time to make some drastic changes so the studio becomes boy friendly.

 

To get boys in the door, you’ll also want to have classes that interest them. Studios can offer a variety of break dancing and hip hop classes, which most boys see as 'acceptable' forms of dance. Once exposed to the other styles of dance in the studio they sometimes feel inclined to try another as well.

 

Tap classes—especially boys’ tap classes—provide another great lure. Young boys love to make noise—especially together. Emmy-award-winning choreographer Jason Samuels Smith began dancing at age seven. Influenced by his mother, a dancer teacher, he studied a variety of dance styles initially. Samuels Smith’s passion to make noise (and music) drumming eventually was replaced by one for creating rhythms with his feet.

 

A studio offering competition opportunities can provide the male-dancer ticket, since most boys love to compete and prefer to feel involved in a sport. Benji Schwimmer, SYTYCD season-two winner, competed and performed often as a child. The 'rush' of having people responding positively to his dancing, Schwimmer said, was like 'none other I’ve ever experienced.' This kept him dancing when he was younger.

 

For teenage boys with any inclination toward dance, a room full of female dancers provides enticement enough, and studios can advertise dance as a social activity—especially with hip hop classes. Award-winning ballet dancer and founder of The Bad Boys of Dance all-male dance company Rasta Thomas admitted he started liking dance when 'I started liking girls.' If you can keep the boys in the studio until puberty kicks in, you stand a good chance of keeping them there.

 

Additionally, studios and teachers can use the following tips to bring boys into their classes and keep them there as well:

 

  1. Offer boys’ only classes.
  2. Offer free or discounted classes and/or scholarships for boys.
  3. Allow boys to try any dance class for free.
  4. Offer a dance 'team,' and call yourself a dance 'coach.'
  5. Encourage your male dancers to dance like boys, and give them good 'macho' male roles.
  6. Allow male dance students to wear masculine clothing or to wear attire in which they feel comfortable. (Don’t require ballet tights be worn until boys becomes serious dancers.)
  7. Sell dance as a co-ed 'sport' that requires strength and agility; offer a ballet class or a jazz class for athletes.
  8. Alleviate your male students’ fears by educating them that they will not 'become' gay if they choose to dance.
  9. Give male dance students good male role models.
  10. Communicate with your male students often about what they are going through both in the dance studio and outside; discuss teasing, feeling different, etc.

 

Some studios make an effort not to put the spotlight on the boys. They don’t want to give them too much attention. However, when it comes right down to it, young male dancers are special. And one way to keep them coming back to class is to let them know they are, indeed, appreciated.

 

Nurture them…encourage them. Ask them (or their parents) what they want or need. If they don’t get their needs met, they will go elsewhere—and another studio will be more than happy to have them.

 

I can attest to this fact; we have had to leave dance studios Julian has loved when they could no longer meet his needs as a dancer and were unwilling to do what it took to make changes to accommodate his needs. Male dancers often don’t get their dance needs met in studios focused on girls. So, be sure you can meet the needs of your male dancers. Get them the training they deserve, or they will find a studio with teachers who can.

 

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Nina Amir is a freelance writer, nonfiction book editor and writing coach who often writes about dance and is working on a book about how to mentor boys who want to become professional dancers. She also blogs about being the parent of a male dancer at http://www.mysoncandance.wordpress.com..