Column: Cheers for boys who trade in soccer cleats for ballet slippers

By Stephanie Hayne

Visions of little girls in pink tutus dance in many fathers’ heads. From birth, they dream of the curtain rising to reveal Daddy’s princess bathed in the soft glow of the spotlight —the star of the show.

“She’s really good, you know,” says one proud papa as he nudges another admiring dad. “She’ll be with the National Ballet before we know it,” he adds with a smirk.

Their dreams are different for their little boys. They lie somewhere between NFL quarterback and brain surgeon.

When a young girl aspires to be a prima ballerina, we think it’s cute. When a boy aspires to the same, we can’t help but ask ourselves why.

I think we’re asking the wrong questions.

Why now —in the year 2001— do we still titter at the thought of a boy in ballet slippers? Why do we enroll our sons in the local soccer league and our daughters in tap and jazz?

It would seem that more boys than ever are interested in dance. From doubled enrollment in the School of Dance’s “Boys Only” beginner class to the arrival of the school’s only male instructor (see “Spotlight shines on teacher’s new technique,” page 16), it appears that boys are leaping into dance at a breakneck pace.

Some credit recent blockbusters like Centre Stage and Billy Elliot for the recent increase in toe-tapping testosterone.

But can these films, that portray young male dancers overcoming prejudice to pursue high-profile careers in ballet, change the way our society thinks?

Can they make ballet-for-boys look cool?

Outside the theatre, we see a parallel situation with girls and sports — a male-dominated arena in which girls have found their niche.

However, there are overwhelming differences between the perception of women in sports and that of men in dance.

Although it’s been an uphill struggle for female athletes to get the kind of respect and recognition doled out unquestioningly to their male counterparts, it’s never really been shameful.

In fact, girls with strength, speed and a general zest for winning have often been praised. They may not receive the same coverage, the same facilities or the same funding, but because they exhibit traditional male qualities, they are patted on the back and told to keep up the good work.

Boys who dance are not bestowed the same encouragement. Because they exhibit traditional female qualities, like grace and style, they are laughed at or deterred from pursuing their dreams. They’re called sissies.

But can you imagine a ballet without male dancers? Swan Lake without the prince? The Nutcracker without, well…the nutcracker?

When we go to the ballet, we marvel at the beauty of the dancers on stage, male or female.

“Wow – wasn’t she fabulous?” “Gee – didn’t he shine?”

Still, if a little boy goes to his sister’s recital and asks if he, too, can take ballet, we smile and wonder if he wouldn’t rather play soccer.

The movies only take us so far. Until we reach a kind of gender equality that allows both sexes the kind of freedom and choice that means little girls can play football and boys can take tap, fathers will always dream of the perfect pass rather than the perfect pirouette.