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Behind the Curtain

In Support of Dance Education for All
By Susan McGreevy-Nichols
Posted on 8/27/2019 1:58 PM

For over 20 years, the National Dance Education Organization has envisioned a nation that affords every citizen equal access and opportunity to quality dance arts education regardless of gender, age, race or culture, socio-economic status, ability or interest. We were disappointed to hear disparaging and offensive comments made about boys who study ballet on a national news outlet last week. Research and anecdotal evidence indicates that dance is a powerful tool for helping children of all genders grow physically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively:

  • Dancing utilizes the entire body and is an excellent form of exercise for total body fitness, improving range of motion, coordination, strength, flexibility, endurance, and kinesthetic memory. 

  • Dance promotes psychological health by providing students with the opportunity to express their emotions and develop self-awareness. 

  • Dance fosters social encounters, interaction, and cooperation. Students learn to communicate ideas to others, work within a group dynamic, and understand themselves in relation to others. 

  • Dance provides the cognitive benefits, helping children to learn to solve problems and create meaning through movement. This teaches the student to function in and understand the world. 



In the days following the controversial Good Morning America segment, NDEO received many poignant and powerful stories from our members about the importance of dance training in their own lives, and for their students of all genders. We were touched by the heartfelt and passionate response, and are pleased to share some of our members’ responses here: 


“I grew up in a small town in north-central Utah in the 1940s and 50s. I was the only dancer (boy or girl) in my elementary-middle-high school class. I was subjected to cruel and relentless bullying. Fortunately, I had the internal strength to follow my calling despite the difficulties. Many men I know, however, gave up their pursuit of dance because of peer ridicule. Ms. Spencer’s cruel behavior concerning boys in ballet exemplifies the kind of overt or internalized misogyny that has made generations of men and women are afraid that their son might want to dance. In America, dance is largely thought of as a girl’s or woman’s activity. Among misogynists, a man who pursues dance is considered womanized and women’s professions are considered less important than men’s. The study of dance, taught by a qualified teacher, helps students develop more of their psychomotor, cognitive and affective potential. I am still teaching, choreographing and performing at age 79. A lifetime in dance and movement has been a precious gift. If your child wants to study dance, honor that desire and find a qualified teacher. You might consider dancing with your child, as it is never too late to benefit from regular engagement in integrated and expressive movement.”- William (Bill) Evans, Professor Emeritus, SUNY Brockport & Univ. of New Mexico

The Good Morning America moment for dance education provides each of us with opportunities for confronting not only harassment and bullying of male dance students, but also the disrespect, gender stereotypes, homophobia, toxic masculinity, misogyny, fear of “others,” among many other dehumanizing actions and language directed toward and about dance. Looking on the positive side, we hold the power to explode the GMA Moment on an international media platform, re-telling dominant homophobic narratives, perceptions and attitudes about boys in dance in vivid and compelling detail for audiences around the world.” - Doug Risner, Professor, Wayne State University and NDEO’s Online Professional Development Institute


 

“I am a dancer/dance educator and I am also the proud dance mom of a girl and a boy, who both dance. I love that we have opportunities for all in dance. We shouldn’t cherry pick what's appropriate for boys and what's appropriate for girls. As parents, educators, mentors, we should be encouraging our youth to follow their passion. Do we not want the next generation to be passionate, fulfilled, well rounded and confident in who they are? Dance strengthens, connects, and allows us to communicate. There should be nothing to "tolerate" here. We should be excited, positive, loving and joyful as our boys head into dance class. Let's remember we are here to support, encourage, cheer, challenge and love our youth. No matter what they choose to do.” - Jennifer O’Neill, Master Teaching Artist, Center for Community Arts


“The arts and dance regardless play an important part in all of our lives. Ms. Spencer’s comment is so outdated. If women can now be TV anchors and sports commentators, why can't men be dancers and artists? Let everyone pursue their passion and contribute to society through it. Why limit by classification and compartmentalize by gender? Let us all appreciate one another and what each of us can bring to the table regardless of gender, race, religion, color of skin or profession.” - Yoav Kadaar, Director of Dance, West Virginia University


“While Ms. Spencer’s comments on Good Morning America were frustrating, it was also comforting to see the dance community band together in support of boys in ballet. Moving forward, we should continue to publicly acknowledge the benefits of the dance in hopes to educate the public. We should recognize that we do not always need to cite outside influences, such as that “famous football player who took dance once,” to engage the male youth in dance. We have an entire catalogue of talent, fame and athleticism within our community. It is ok to encourage the love of movement with all. Our time to really help educate begins now.” - Ashley Dowling, Owner of Alton Dance Academy


“The tone of Lara Spencer’s comments about Prince George taking ballet classes was what really struck me as insulting.  As a male dancer with a wife and three children, I find it highly offensive that she suggests that somehow the young Prince will come to his senses when he realizes what he’s doing and quit, because (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) real men don't dance. Ballet is an art form every bit as grueling as football but with aesthetic restrictions.  As Balanchine pointed out, “Someone once said that dancers work just as hard as policemen, always alert, always tense. But I don't agree with that, because policemen don't have to look beautiful at the same time."  Even NFL lineman realize the rigors and advantages of ballet’s strenuous exercises. Pittsburgh Steelers nose tackle Steve McLendon benefited from ballet more than he could imagine. In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, McLendon states ballet is “harder than anything else I do”.  Shouldn’t  ABC and the anchors of Good Morning America be more tolerant and progressive?  What is the point of bullying a young boy’s interest in dance?” - Erich Yetter, Dance Program Director, Anderson University 

“Many adult male students today are finding dance for the first time in higher education. Dance courses in diverse genres, including ballet, are generating a growing community of men enrolled in dance for their first time.” -Bridgit Luján, Professor, Central New Mexico Community College


 

In my early training as a dance therapist I was greatly influenced by a male professor who exemplified grace, empathy, and compassion in ways I had never known. He made me the therapist I am today, challenging me and pushing me past my own limits. I continue to bring honor to his work and dedication to our field by embracing his skills and framework while maintaining my own style and personal touch.” - Erica Hornthal, President, Chicago Dance Therapy 

“Ballet training teaches dedication, and that it takes commitment and hard work to go from good to great. To succeed, you’ll need to adopt self-discipline as well as work well with others. It’s no secret boys training in ballet is somewhat of a rarity in the U.S. It’s a confusing truth that’s often due to parents limiting a child’s potential based on societal ideologies that are baseless and stereotypical. I implore everyone to do better and judge less. The world will be a better place for it.” - Nathan Bland, Owner and Director, Berks Ballet Theatre Conservatory of Dance (Read more of Nathan’s comments here.) 



NDEO remains committed to advancing and advocating for dance education for all students. We will continue providing research, support, and resources for dance educators to help them offer the best possible dance education for their students. We will continue to provide a platform for important discussions on issues of access, equity, gender, and power in the dance field. We will continue to work to build knowledge, connect the field, and cultivate diverse leadership in ways that will benefit the entire dance education community, and help educate the public about the value of dance education for all.

Here’s how you can get involved:

  • Members can join our Men In Dance Special Interest Group, to continue discussing issues surrounding boys and the study of dance. You can connect with this group via our online Men in Dance Forum, and at our 2019 National Conference in Miami, where two special events will be taking place on Saturday, October 26. The Men In Dance Special Interest Group meeting will be held at 8am, and a special session “Creating and Performing Together – Boys Speak Out” will be at 2:30pm. 

  • If you are not yet an NDEO member, but you believe in the importance of dance education for all students, please consider joining today! We are stronger together than any of us can be on our own. You can learn more about membership at www.ndeo.org/membertypes.

  • If you would like to support NDEO in this important work, consider making a donation to the NDEO Works! fund. Donations of any amount help us keep pace with ever-increasing demands to expand and improve member services, programs and advocacy. 

Dance education matters more than ever today, and it provides life-changing benefits for all students, regardless of gender or gender expression. We stand united with our members and others in the dance community who are working passionately to advocate for access to dance education for all and for equity within the field.

 

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