Why Boys Should Do Ballet

© Karolina Webb, and the Ballet School

Why is there still a stigma surrounding boys and ballet? Your husbands and sons may go pale at the thought of wearing tights, says Alice Rose, but if ballet school is good enough for Rio Ferdinand, it’s good enough for them.

At the breakfast table, one morning.

Me: “Boys, what do you think about having ballet lessons?”
Boy One (aged 6): “Eurgh, no – ballet is for girls.”
Boy Two (aged 4): “No way – I’m not wearing pink tights and a tutu.”
Boy Three (aged 2): “Me wear tutu!”

I hate to admit it, but gender stereotyping is alive and kicking in our house. You won’t see a shred of pink, sparkly, fluffy frilliness, but you will find heaps of muddy wellies, assorted weaponry, a fine collection of camouflage boiler suits – and a fizzing cauldron of testosterone. It’s not all bad. When they’re not whacking each other over the head, my boys hug, bake and have lots of girl-friends. But anything pink is disdainfully labelled ‘girlish’ and regarded with deepest suspicion. So it’s no great surprise that they’re not leaping with joy at the thought of ballet lessons.

I blame their father. My beloved husband grew up on army bases and was educated at all-boys schools from the age of seven, so his definition of masculinity is, to put it politely, fairly narrow.

In his world, men don’t wear jewellery (no question of him wearing a wedding ring), don’t show emotion (although he has been known to get severe hayfever during Masterchef), and as for being in touch with his feminine side, he would deny that he even has one.

When our eldest son asked if he could join netball club at school, my husband bought him Spurs shin pads. He’s not a complete stranger to ballet: accompanying an elderly cousin (a former ballerina), he has snored through three of the Royal Ballet’s finest productions. As for the thought of his own boys doing it? He’s firmly of the ‘No son of mine…’ persuasion.

Yes, he’s an extreme example. But every father of boys I’ve quizzed has said something along the lines of ‘If they really wanted to do ballet, I’d let them, but I’d hope they grew out of it pretty quickly.’

Image: Shutterstock

Image: Shutterstock

 
But hang on, guys, we’re missing a trick here. Forget the tights, look at the positives. The physical benefits of ballet for boys are obvious: discipline, co-ordination, posture, concentration… There are psychological and emotional benefits too: ‘It’s a great antidote to all that alpha-male nonsense,’ says a mother I know. And of course, the tights-and-tutus image is just plain wrong – there are plenty of strong male role models in the ballet world if you look for them. Take Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake for a start, with its aggressive, menacing male swan ensemble.

Look at Carlos Acosta’s agility and athleticism. Think of Sergei Polunin, ballet’s brilliant bad boy who co-owned a tattoo parlour and walked out on the Royal Ballet, now trying his luck in Hollywood (OK, maybe not such a good role model, that one). And then there are footballers: Ryan Giggs worked with a ballet teacher on a stretching and muscle-strengthening exercise programme to sort out his hamstring problems – he does yoga, too.

Rio Ferdinand says that his childhood ballet lessons gave him balance and a sense of timing – he took four classes a week for four years, and won a scholarship to the Central School of Ballet when he was 11.

Mrs Sally Hobbs, head of co-ed prep Orchard House School in west London, believes that more boys should be encouraged to take up ballet. “It is very beneficial for boys, particularly those who take part in team sports,” she says. “It helps to develop and improve numerous skills such as muscular strength, balance, speed and agility along with flexibility and mental focus.” At Orchard House, they teach Dalcroze eurhythmics – rhythmical movements to music – to all pupils as part of the early years curriculum. “I feel very strongly that children are growing up in an atmosphere of anxiety and tension – their lives are frenetic,” Mrs Hobbs says:

“A love of music is a wonderful gift, yet so many parents will only want to hear what their child got in a maths test and not that he or she was in raptures during a quiet listening time in assembly. Ballet calms down the performer and the spectator.”

Susannah Woodgate’s son started ballet lessons at the age of four, inspired by the example of his (female) cousins. “He has totally loved it from the word go,” Susannah says “He loves music and rhythm and is very athletic in his build – he’s really made for it. Until recently, he’s insisted on wearing what his mother calls ‘the whole pink number – yes, tights, tutu and shoes, head to toe pink!”

He was teased a bit, and has now opted for the more traditional black leggings. Does he mind being outnumbered by girls? “It makes him feel a bit special being in the minority,” says his mother. “I’m sure he secretly enjoys that.” And what does his father think? “I don’t think he feels negatively about it, since my son is still young. He might start to question it if he is still doing it in five or 15 years’ time!”

Caroline Anderson wanted her son Jake to have the same ‘delightful, creative experience’ of ballet lessons as his older sister, and says the classes at Vanessa Donkin’s Ballet School in Notting Hill ‘fired his imagination.’ Now aged 10, he’s now a Junior Associate at the Royal Ballet School, “the discipline and concentration required really help him focus – great for school work – and physically, the training is fantastic for fitness.” Says Caroline.

© Karolina Webb and the Ballet School

© Karolina Webb and the Ballet School

At the Ballet School, he was the only boy in his class, but didn’t mind; at the Royal Ballet School, ‘there are lots of boys so it is perfectly normal.’ And the million-dollar question: what does his father think? “My husband is the world’s worst dancer,” Caroline says. “He is very impressed. I don’t think he would particularly want him to be a dancer as it is a tough and uncertain life, but it is a tremendous experience Jake is having and long may it last.”

Having heard all this, I’m encouraging my boys (big and small) to look beyond the tights and focus on the positives of learning ballet. After that conversation, we went to watch a production of Cats, where all four boys (husband included) were transfixed by the (male) Rum Tum Tugger, rocking the stage in a skin-tight, black PVC catsuit. “Would you like to learn to dance like the Rum Tum Tugger?” I asked at breakfast the next morning. Vigorous nods all round.

Ballet classes may not be on our family curriculum, but some other form of dance lessons just might. Watch this space.

 Alice Rose is the Tatler Schools Guide Editor at Large. She has three boys, aged 2, 4, and 6. Her perfect winter Sunday involves rain, Wales, spaniels, crumpets and duvet. All or any of the above. 

Does your boy do ballet? If so, did they choose it or did you face resistance? Should boys be encouraged to dance? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

10 Comments

  • HH says:

    “heaps of muddy willies”?? A typo, surely?!

    • MrFoxMag says:

      Crikey! We’re glad somebody is paying attention! But I suppose that if we’re going to have a typo we may as well go all out with a great one 😉

      Thanks for the spot. Hope you are enjoying Mr Fox.

  • Style After Nine says:

    My nephew discovered ballet when a local ballet school did a workshop at his school when he was 7. He’s now 13 and has a full scholarship at the Royal Ballet School. He loves all the things boys his age would minecraft, football, selfies etc.
    I think ballet’s been the best thing to ever happen to him and I got to have my proud Aunty moment watching him perform in the Opera House’s Nutcracker last year. I would love my son to show an interest one day!

  • James says:

    Boys that wish to dance should be encouraged.. http://www.BoysBalletLondon.com

  • S Potter says:

    Yes, it develops co-ordination, concentration, but also gives boys a handle on those fine motor skills which seem to elude them in the classroom: even handwriting benefits. It also gives space for the more kinaesthetic learners to shine.

  • Graham John Baker says:

    @ A Rudolf Steiner Waldorf School I did a form of movement called Eurhythmy or Eurhythmics which is done to either speech or music and although it has no resemblance what so ever to ballet it is very good 4 both children and adults to do Eurhythmy it is a very gentle form of exercise it is very relaxing and yet @ the same time very uplifting it is designed to develop the whole person and develops the mental and physical body as well as developing the soul and spirit it is very creative and really holistic it helps compliment PE sports and games and also helps compliment school work in fact children who do speech and drama and PE and singing and music often do much better in the classroom than those that mostly do maths and English and science etc however as Dr Rudolf Steiners version of Eurhythmy is only available in Rudolf Steiner Schools and other Steiner centres ballet is much more widely available in schools and after school activity centres so ballet can be taught to boys but they should also do drama and speech and PE and also music and lessons all of which help the child develop physically and mentally I started doing Eurhythmy again @ Rudolf Steiner House in London and from what I have seen of ballet it is very different

  • balance_and_reason says:

    This wrong on every level…just play sport.

  • FPFC News says:

    what nonsense, balance_and_reason. So girls shouldn’t do sport, just ballet, maybe. I detect a whiff of homophobia even? AND, if a boy does ballet and turns out gay, so the …. what? or maybe he turns out gay and a Premier League star, or heaven forbid, a macho RU player. Backs to the wall, men, Big Nigel’s coming off the field and wants a shower. This is mere schoolboy immaturity. Of course, he may be gay, straight, bi or what comedienne Hilda Baker used to say “and what are we today? Oh, we ‘re one of those…” What matters is, is he happy, and will you pay for his ballet and tennis lessons, does he go out and kick a ball around with his mates etc etc We are talking children, not adult male prejudices.

  • I would absolutely adore my sons to take up ballet for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if it was something that inspired them and they wanted to take part, I couldn’t think of a more physically challenging way to develop their strength and coordination. If it was their passion, then I would be delighted for them that they had found this, and would wholeheartedly enoencourage that. Secondly, I positively discourage gender stereotyping in my family. I don’t believe that pink, dolls and glitter aren’t for boys any more than I believe that dinosaurs, trains and football aren’t for girls. If my sons were intelligent and open-minded enough to also embrace that way of thinking, buck trends and do what they love, then it would make me all the more proud of them. My husband agrees with everything I say.

  • Mrs Fox says:

    My son does ballet, we are off to his lesson this afternoon. He is 6 now and has been going since he was 4 when he started invading his sister’s ballet lesson. He loves it, but I have noticed that since we moved, and he changed school, he has deliberately concealed that he goes to ballet.

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