By Heidi Stevens, Tribune Newspapers
January 24, 2012
Your son wants to take ballet lessons but he's afraid his pals will tease him. What should you tell him?
(from our panel of staff contributors)
Do it. He can tell his friends that there's a long history of athletes taking dance, even ballet, to improve their footwork and coordination. And besides, if your son wants to do something that rounds out his character, he should be encouraged.
— William Hageman
Sign him up for ballet but also consider enrolling him in another type of dance class: jazz, hip-hop, whatever. This is not about giving him something more "masculine" (ballet is the most physically difficult of dance forms and thus the most macho). When I was 9, I wanted to be a gymnast, but beginners had to take ballet too. I not only discovered I was a rotten acrobat but fell in love with ballet. Helping them travel past boundaries includes the ones they may build on their own.
— Renee Enna
Ballet is great preparation for other pursuits, says psychologist Anthony Rao, author of "The Way of Boys: Raising Healthy Boys in a Challenging and Complex World" (William Morrow). It also is a great pursuit.
"Ballet and dance are perfect fits for boys developmentally," says Rao, who writes at anthonyrao.com. Movement "is part of how they express themselves and learn. Versus a lot of team sports where they're sitting or off to the sidelines for large portions of time, ballet offers natural, fluid movement for how boys are built."
And that's not all: "They like to express themselves in a physical versus a verbal way," Rao says. "Visually and spatially, studies show, boys need to explore the environment around them. They like to demonstrate their physical strength, and there's no doubt dance is the most demanding and difficult of sports."
Which may not stop other kids from teasing him, of course. All the more reason to sign him up.
"I would turn this into a positive," Rao says. "'Wow! I'm really proud that you're stepping out and doing something different and letting your passion lead you rather than doing the same thing as the rest of your group.'
"You don't want to send the message that following the crowd is the way to go. That can lead to all sorts of scarier things, especially as they enter middle school and following the herd becomes much riskier."
Do acknowledge his valid fears that he may be teased.
"It might happen," Rao says. "So you demystify it for them. 'This is why people tease: They tend to feel safer when everyone conforms and does the same thing. They want to look tough and powerful, so they give us a nudge or a look that makes them feel better. But it's not personal.'"
Then you coach them on how to deal. First, Rao says, "Ask them about balancing their skill set so they don't get known for just one thing. A guy who dances and also does martial arts can't be teased as easily because people can't put him in a box."
Next, "Talk to him about leading with confidence, walking around with your head high, loving what you do, and plowing forward," Rao says. "Other kids take the cues off each other."
Finally: "Enlist help," he says. "Adults even do this. If we feel pushed around, we go to the police or we go to our bosses. Ask for help if it's not easing up."
And feel free to lean on pop culture.
"When you look at the popularity of 'Glee' and 'Dancing With the Stars,'" Rao says, "I think more and more boys are becoming interested in dance, and there will be more social acceptance to it."
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