Ballet typically connotes an overly pink, pretty, and female group of students. Yet, the physical demands of ballet are perfect for young boys whose energy levels run high. As Jonathan Wells, director of the all-male London Boys Ballet School, reminds,
“Ballet really isn’t girly.”
Here are 13 ways to get and keep male students in your ballet classes:
- Tailor themes to your student-base. Anyone who has seen the film or play “Billy Elliot,” knows that wanting to participate in ballet is often a hard thing for boys to admit, let alone practice. Rachel Hester, a dance teacher of three brothers in ballet says, “Often, in ballet classes for that age group, the class will be full of girls and the activities geared around them, such as running around being fairies.” Since this is not something boys necessarily want to do, it is why many ballet classes can’t attract them.
- Watch your language. Hester states that one of the first steps she takes is in renaming the class. “I don’t use the word ‘ballet’ – I talk about dance and movement and challenge them to see who can jump the highest and furthest.”
- Present ballet as a sport. Ballet is very physical and requires great strength, agility, and skill. To be successful in grabbing the interest of boys, market this aspect of your dance classes. There are energetic boys out there who could use the outlet that ballet offers with hours of running and jumping. What boys learn in dance class may even help them in their other sports. When it’s presented as a “manly” effort, it becomes more appealing.
- Use neutral decor. Dance studio owners who have a very feminine decor may reconsider and redecorate. Pink and flowery limits the clientele you’re able to draw. Be more neutral with colors, especially in your main entryway. Present a more athletic look and feel with clean lines and posters or artwork that show both men and women.
- Understand what motivates each student. Catering to the interests of pre-teen and teen boys is important to engaging and retaining students. Males are very competitive. Finding ways to get them to “compete” against each other encourages them in ways they are accustomed.
- Choose your exercises carefully. While it is still possible to teach the classical technique, set specific exercises for the boys. Teach combinations that are more strength-based and energetic, rather than graceful and elegant.
- Actively recruit students. Keep an eye on the students in your other classes. Boys may be more apt to join a hip-hop, tap, or tumbling class. Recognizing their talents for ballet may be something you notice when they perform in these classes, but students or parents might not be aware. Explain why their son might be a perfect candidate for a ballet class, and what’s in it for him.
- Consider an all-male course. There will always be peer pressure. Boys may be more able to deal with it if there is an option of an all-male ballet class. A mother in the London Boys Ballet School found it helped her child, “My son had danced before, but there was only one other boy in the class, and you could tell that he didn’t like being in the minority. But then he did an all-boy course with a male teacher and it made a massive difference.”
- Be flexible about boys ballet attire. Allow boys to wear sweats or boys ballet shorts instead of tights. While big and baggy clothes compromise safety and should not be allowed, being more flexible and allowing a more athletic look may be more appealing. Additionally, some experts recommend introducing boys to a dance belt early on so they are comfortable wearing one before they even need it. By the time a boy is 10 or 11, it should be a requirement for support and safety reasons (and make sure you have ballet/dance studio insurance of course!).
- Create class schedules that work for boys’ needs. Just because a child is in a dance class doesn’t mean he or she isn’t interested in other things. Boys, especially, may be more willing to stick with ballet if they know they can still find a way to participate in soccer, football or other sports. While it’s not possible to accommodate every student, if, for example, football games are on Friday nights, scheduling a dance class on Fridays at 5 p.m. won’t be attractive to boys who wish to participate in both activities.
- Hire male teachers. Even if not full time, find local dancers or college instructors who can come speak to your class or hold a workshop.You are always looking for dance workshop ideas, right?
- Plan a field trip. Arrange for students to meet professional dancers after a performance.
- Share Youtube performances. Search for performances by potential role models such as Carlos Acosta, Benjamin Millepied, Mikhail Baryshnikov, or the late Rudolf Nureyev to inspire boys with the successes of these men.
Building a dance studio that withstands the test of time requires flexibility, openness, and ingenuity. Expanding your clientele by finding ways to welcome boys into the studio is certainly a great help to your bottom line. What you may discover, however, is that the joy of teaching boys ballet really comes from seeing how much a boy can enjoy the class. Providing the opportunity really benefits you both.