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Animated Edition - Issues 1996 - 2001
Man dancing
Animated, Spring 1997. How do young men get as far as training in dance and what problems do they encounter along the way? Alysoun Tomkins reveals some startling facts
Yesterday evening I sat and watched a remarkable performance by the children of Lucas Vale Primary School in South East London. I counted the number of performers, male and female. It was no surprise that girls outnumbered boys. It is an accepted fact that at some moment in their development boys (or their carers) decide that dance is for girls, in fact it has been said that boys express this opinion at the age of three. Boys of 10-15 years whom I have spoken to think of dance as ballet or something that they are not very good at. How do young men get as far as a training in dance and what are the particular problems they face along the way? These questions interested myself and a colleague at the Laban Centre and separately we have begun some research to attempt to understand the issues young male dancers have had to deal with.

This article does not attempt to suggest ways in which we, as community dance workers, can encourage more boys and men to participate in dance. Over recent years there have been some excellent projects concerned with making dance more attractive and accessible to men English National Ballet's Striking a Balance and Julia William's' work in Cheshire. There are also male only dance companies like Carol Brown's Dynion which she set up to "fight the prejudices against boys getting involved in dance" (Brown C, The Dancing Man, animated 1993).

We know that more women dance than men in this country and it is assumed that we understand why, but what I am interested in finding out is, for those men who have started a professional dance training ie. wish to make dance their profession, what has been their experience so far?

Stuart Beckett, ex Royal Ballet dancer and presently lecturing at the Laban Centre, has been researching students at both classical ballet and contemporary institutions whereas I have concentrated on the latter. As this is ongoing research there is still much data to be sifted eg. the differences between classical and contemporary dancers' experience. However some of the results are as follows:

At what age did you start to dance?
  • 1-5 years old 54.3 per cent of girls but only 6.8 per cent of boys
  • 6-10 years old 34.2 per cent of girls and 27.3 per cent of boys
  • The majority of boys - 43.2 per cent started between the ages of 16-20 years.

Where did you start to dance?
The results of the questionnaire from combined ballet and contemporary dancers showed that 52 per cent of boys and 83.4 per cent of girls started at private schools. Only 15 per cent of the male contemporary dancers started at private schools. However the male contemporary dancers alone showed that 40 per cent started in state educational institutions and 35 per cent in community dance projects.

Who encouraged you?
The majority of boys - 60.4 per cent said it was themselves with only 18.9 per cent saying it was parents. Whereas with the girls there appeared to be more bias towards parental influence.

The replies to questions concerned with other people's opinions about them dancing were of course more personal but did show common themes. Their sexuality, what kind of dance, the wearing of tights. Some related instances of physical and mental abuse which, in some cases, had forced them to stop dancing usually between the ages of 12-16 years. One man made a plea for research into the particular problems that face heterosexual men in dance.

I have only been able to touch upon some of the issues arising out of this research but I do feel that if we know and understand some of the experiences boys and men have as dancers we may he able to lessen the number who cease dancing and better support those who continue.

Alysoun Tomkins, Course Leader, Professional Diploma in Community Dance Studies, Laban Centre for Movement and Dance

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Animated: Issues 1996 - 2001