You gotta fight… for the right… to PLIE

My preschooler wanted to dance.  At the children’s museum, he tugged a pink tutu over his sweatpants, donned too-large tap shoes, and tried to imitate the moves on the instructional video.  For his birthday, he requested a dance costume and ballet slippers.

Clearly, I have done something right, raising a child whose gender-identification knows no hard and fast boundaries.  He is a free spirit, a maverick, a dude who is comfortable enough in his dudeliness to want to dance his ass off.

We signed him up for dance class, an “enrichment” that an outside vendor provided at his preschool just before the Tuesday afternoon preschool class began.  He was the only boy, but Benjamin had never had a problem in any group activity.  He is an exuberant joiner in whatever the grown-ups have planned, always happy to play soccer or spin hoops or glue sparkly doodads onto picture frames.  There was no reason to assume dance would be any exception.

The first day, the teacher looked at me.  “You know he’s the only boy.”

“Doesn’t bother me,” I replied.  “I don’t think it will bother him, either.”  And it didn’t.  That first day, he enjoyed class well enough, and when I picked him up after his preschool day, he told me he had practiced arabesques.  Granted, his version of the elegant ballet move was a little different from what I found online, but, hell, he was enjoying himself.

We bought him some jazz shoes, since all the girls had pink ballet slippers.  We’d have gotten him ballet shoes, if we could have found any in size 10, extra wide.

He went into the second class cheerfully.  As I put on his shoes, the teacher came over.  “You know he won’t be doing the ballet in the recital.”

“Why not?”

“He can do all the dances in class, but in the recital he will do the boys’ program.”  Now, that might have made sense to her, but I couldn’t figure out how he was going to do the boys’ program since he was the only boy.  Nor was I quite sure why it was that ballet is only for girls.  Yet, the more I tried to wrangle an explanation, the more I became confused.

“Just tell me why it is he’s not allowed to do all the dances,” I asked about three minutes into the conversation.

“Because if dads hear their sons are doing ballet, they freak out,” she said, not for the first time.  “We’ve worked too long and too hard to build up a boys’ program.”  Well, obviously it was working out beautifully, given that they now had a grand total of one boy in the class.

“So, he’s going to dance by himself?”

“No, some of the girls will do the boys’ program with him.”  Oh, now that made perfect sense.  He couldn’t do ballet, but the girls could do the boys’ program.

I’d have continued the conversation, despite the vertigo it was giving me, but my kid started crying.  I am not sure if he was upset because she had been saying all this crap right in front of him or because her assistant had just called out, “OK, girls, follow me.”  We cut off the conversation and I knelt down, because now Benjamin needed convincing to stay in the class.

I caught up with her later.  “Look,” I said.  “This is not 1956.  Why can’t he do all the dances?”

She gave me the line about working hard to build up a boys’ program.

“Well,” I replied.  “I’ve worked too long and too hard to convince my boys that they can do anything a girl can do.  And, also, do you think you could remind your assistants not to refer to all the students as ‘girls’?”

That night, my husband and I decided that, as long as the child would be getting equal stage time, we wouldn’t make a fuss.  And, the next week, I marched on in, ready to stand by my man, all 37 pounds of him.

Except he didn’t want to stay in class.  “I don’t want to sit next to the girls,” he told me.  Now, you must understand that I read Ms. Magazine and Bitch. There was no earthly was I was going to stand by while my child quit dance class simply because there were no other boys in it.  I tried to convince him to stay.

“Sometimes I do things when I’m the only woman,” I told him.  “If you like to dance, you should stay.”

“I don’t want to dance,” he whimpered, looking out on the sea of pink tulle before him.

The assistants were trying to call the room to order.  “Quiet down, girls!” they commanded, oblivious to the p-nis in their midst.  Or perhaps trying to drive its owner away.

I pulled one outside.  “Do you think you could stop referring to the kids as ‘girls’?  He’s a boy, and he’s kind of sensitive about being the only one.”  She gave me the old whatsyourpoint stare and headed back in.  That probably should have been my cue to leave, but I didn’t want to give my kid the message that we’re down with quitting.

I convinced him to stay and just watch the class.  I figured the teacher would reach out to him after a few minutes and try to draw him in.

Yeah.  Not so much.  She had her girls to attend to.

When I peeked in a few minutes later, he was sitting by the side, watching while she led the girls through the routine.  “Now, turn around.  Step to the side.  Fix your hair.”

Whoa, Nellie.  Hold the phone.   Fix your hair? Fix your hair? That’s the dance move?

No fucking wonder he didn’t want to be in the damned class.  I didn’t want him there.  Nor, for the record, would I want his sister in a class like that.  Dance is about art and grace and exercise and hopefully becoming aware enough of your body to stop walking into walls.  It is not, unless I missed the memo, about fluffing one’s hair.

Well, folks, apparently I did miss the memo, because when I called the director of the program, he patiently explained to me that Benjamin should never have been allowed in the class because they segregate the boys and girls into separate classes.  Since there were no other boys, there was no boys’ class offered, so he should not have been allowed to join in at all.

In the process of ripping him a brand new anus, I asked why it is exactly that they segregate the boys and girls.  “Because boys don’t do girly moves,” he patiently explained to me, as if that just made everything OK.

It goes without saying that our refund check is in the mail.  And our daughter will never do this dance program.

But I am left wondering what has happened to us, the Free to Be You and Me generation?  Things were supposed to be all fixed by the time we raised our children.  Instead, it all seems even worse than when we were little.  When did it become OK that all the shoes in the toddler girls section are pink, so that in order to find my daughter brown shoes I needed to buy the ones marked “boys”?  When did we decide we were fine with the toy marketers informing us that two-year-old girls and two-year-old boys like to play with different things?  Hell, they aren’t even potty trained yet – they have no idea what their p-nises and v@ginas are for, let alone that that anatomical difference has marked them for a lifetime of gendering.

Why aren’t people mad as hell and not willing to take it anymore?  Because I sure am.   But I’m also very, very sad.

Because my boy now thinks that dance is only for girls.

42 responses to “You gotta fight… for the right… to PLIE

  1. So screwed up. So very very screwed up. Damn.

    Has no one heard of Lynn Swan? Does anyone remember Misha before he was on Sex and the City? Doesn’t anyone know what kind of ATHLETES dancers are? Good lord, it’s like the 50s all over again.

    I think you should publish this in the local paper or something.

  2. Hair fluffing isn’t in any ballet I’ve ever seen. But if it were, I’ve got to say, I’m surprised at how lousy people’s sense of humor is. Let the boys fluff their hair if they want to. Anything they do onstage is cute.

  3. Wow. As I mentioned I just can’t believe this would happen so near NYC.

    I hope he will try to dance again someday. Mr. Boys don’t like girlie moves should NOT have anything to do with children as he is clearly incompetent.

  4. Huh? Huh?! Huh?!!!
    I am extremely pissed off— For Benjamin. For My Boys. For All those Girls Who Now Think Boys Shouldn’t Dance Either.
    UGH.

  5. people are ignorant. so it’s a very good thing there are people like you to push them out of their comfort zone.

  6. Fuck. I’m so sorry, Emily.

    I second Magpie – I think you should send this in to the local paper.

    In the meantime, if you have the time, you might call the local Park and Rec. We had a boy or two in my dance classes when I was little. And if they’ll take him, and if you have the time, and IF you’re so inclined, you could rent The Nutcracker at the video store. Show Benjamin some of the kickass dances in the second act, and see if he gets interested again. Or you know, Fred Astaire movies. Or Gene Kelly. (Though both those latter ones involve tap shoes, which as a mom, you might not want to listen to all day!)

    That’s my assvice. Mostly because I feel so helpless and want to scream at someone on your and Ben’s behalf, so giving assvice seems helpful. Even though I know it’s not. ARGH.

  7. Screw the dance teacher and the horse she rode in on!

  8. OH MY GOD THAT IS SO FUCKED UP. I would personally like to have a serious discussion with this school. So they apparently think that the interests and abilities children have necessarily vary by sex and that it’s a good idea to reinforce that? And also to humiliate and exclude children? Jesus Christ.

    You should really see about doing some local rabble-rousing on this. “Girl moves”? “Fix your hair”? WTF? I just can’t believe it.

    In a related note, I just signed my girl up for a little kid pre-sports class. She’ll be the only girl. All the girls take the ballet class, I was given to understand.

  9. Harumpf. That’s just whacked. And I’m baffled by this so-called “boys’ program” they have.

    I agree that things seem even worse than we were little, when it comes to gender divisions.

    I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with this, Emily. But glad that you’re shaking up their teeny tiny worldview.

  10. Damn. I can’t decide what part of this story pisses me off the most. It’s all just so …… AUGH!! I’m with those who think this needs to go to the local paper. That’s all I can say now because trying to put my feelings into words makes me all stabby. I blame the pregnancy hormones and the sinus infection and the pure fucking stupidity of people.

  11. So not cool!!!!! I am so irritated on your and your little guy’s behalf. And for the poor girls whose hair must be fluffed. That’s insane.

  12. Outrageous and so offensive…

    Wonder if it’s hard for the program directors to fix their hair when they all seem to have their heads up their *sses?

  13. Crapola. I’m both sorry and sad that it turned out this way. 😦

  14. that is absolutely horrible, but I have to say for both my son and my daughter i am kind of anti-dance, and for the “hair fluffing” reason you stated before, my cousin’s 4 year old—last year (so yeah 3 years old) was in dance, and for the recital they “suggested” that she wear MASCARA, powder, lip gloss ect (light make-up) and that next year they would be required to wear full make-up….. ok I get it for older kids really I do……but there is no flipping way my “babies” are going to look like tiny little made up dolls….. I think its horrible (as so I might add are the $150 little yellow polka dot bikini my cousin was required to buy)….. my word, talk about segregation how could anyone like me even afford to put their children in dance, if in fact I wanted too?

  15. Speaking from experience, it is REALLY tough to find dance programs that are about DANCE, and not about turning out pretty girls.

  16. PS: I *heart* Benjamin.

  17. So scary that these people working with children are so ignorant.

  18. Isn’t it tough, tough, tough watching our children “learn” about gender stereotypes? How I wish my kiddos would never grow to believe that pink is for girls, blue is for boys, ad infinitum.

    I SO hope your son is able to re-spark what drew him to ballet in the first place. Interestingly, there’s a site, http://www.balletformen.com, that might have some tips. (Or at least some free stickers for you to plaster all over that ridiculous studio.)

  19. Oh, please, please, PLEASE – let us have the name of the program, and that of Mr. No Boys Can Dance here. PLEASE let us start a viral campaign to hound them to Hades for their awful, outdated, sexist treatment of your sweet dancer. Please?

  20. Absolute bollocks. A boy who can dance and obviously loves it should dance whatever style he likes! I can’t stand narrow minded snobbery like that. Having said that, introduce your boy to lots of different styles of dance. My own boy is a dancer and he is the only boy in the school who does. He’s proud of it too. Best of luck 🙂

  21. what a brutal experience for them to have put Benjamin through, and so stupidly. what a bunch of bovines, reinforcing the status quo without even blinking.

    you’re right, though…i thought this so-called status quo was supposed to be GONE. and instead the categories have hardened up vigourously, and my kids go to a daycare where O comes home parroting the references to “boys’ toys” and how Nate and Denton are his “buddies” (they’re ONE) while the lovely 3 yr old girls he’s known since they were all infants he barely gets to play with.

  22. Oh, the stupidity is infuriating! I was the girl who participated in the “boys” activities (football, Air Cadets) and couldn’t do an arabesque or anything else as graceful to save my soul. I may have worked hard to prove myself, but I had the friendship and respect of each of the boys I worked with.

    And to add an inane thought, haven’t any of these dance teachers seen Glee? I thought blatant disregard for gender roles was becoming cool? I loved seeing the entire boy’s football team dance to Beyonce’s Put a Ring On It.

  23. Sigh. This is so sad.

    Gray took ballet lessons when he was a preschooler. He was the only boy in the class and I worried about it a little, but no one ever made an issue out of it and he had a great time.

    Not that that helps you or Benjamin.

  24. Oh, I wish you lived near me so he could join Princess’s class. It helps that both of the people running the studio have boys – boys that dance. And one of those boys are in Princess’s class and every child will be dancing in the recital together. As a class.

    I love her class because they do stick to real tap and ballet moves. I don’t want her to ‘fix her hair’ or ‘shake her booty’ at 4 years old. That’s not dance.

  25. Don’t they know that separate but equal is inherently unequal?

  26. I second Fred Astaire and Gene Kelley – Kelley did some jazz stuff that was heavily ballet influenced which might be good (the dream sequence in Singin’ in the Rain? Been a while since I’ve watched!). Astaire is hilarious and has some really superb sequences (there’s a sand dance that’s particularly good, and a wonderful number with a coat rack).

    Also, if Benjamin ever voices an interest in dance again I highly recommend perusing the walls of the studio before you sign up. They’ll probably have photos of their recitals and you can at least get an idea of the focus and quality of the studio based on the types of photos and the costumes you see – basic tutus, no small girls in point shoes? Studio might be okay. Sequins, lipstick and feather boas on six year olds? Maaaaybe give it a miss.

  27. Emily, I am horrified, disgusted, and so very sorry for your boy.

    I suggest perhaps getting him the DVD: “Born to be Wild: The Leading Men of American Ballet Theatre.” It’s on Amazon for under twenty bucks. It will show him that yes, boys do dance!

    I hope you can find him a class that is willing to accept him. What disgusting, stupid, small-minded folks. Oh well, it will be a good story to tell when he’s a famous ballet dancer.

  28. this kills me. i hope he finds his way back to dance and you are able to find some place for him to learn. the best thing is that he has parents that are doing the right thing by him and fighting for him. that’s probably way more than all those girls in the class have

  29. That is very sad. Isn’t it illegal too? I think there’s a word for that and it’s discrimination.

    I wouldn’t want my daughter there either, however. It’s disgusting. Fluffing hair?

    My girls have grown up with everything being open to them. One of my children buys some of her clothes in the boys’ section because she likes the styles and has no baggage about that.

    Just the other day though one of my younger daughter’s friends said something about how sports are mostly played by boys. I had a lot to say about that, but kept if fairly civil and limited.

    BTW my kids have seen Free to be You and Me in video and on stage, without my instigating it, and they liked it a lot.

    Where we live there is a minimum of sexism, but it’s difficult to get away from altogether.

  30. Funny you include that video from A Chorus Line, because the whole time I was reading your story, I was thinking of another Chorus Line song, “I Can Do That” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oiDeDsrIFfA)

    I’m due in July and I hope whether it’s a boy or a girl, they can have a healthy appreciation for sports AND the arts and do whatever makes them happy.

  31. Just a side note, but fixing your hair is essential to the teacher making an adequate assessment of your posture and body line. Quite different than fluffing.

  32. So frustrating! Everyone else has said it all. But, I Concur.

  33. So many kinds of wrong. Argghh!

  34. Hi Ho Gene Kelly, away! Very talented, very graceful, very masculine.
    Dance is from the spirit and the heart, not the genitalia.
    Stupid heads-up-their-butts conceited dance school!

  35. I think this just plain sucks. I think on the other side, it sucks that my cousin had to fight for years for her daughter to be allowed to play ice hockey as a little girl. It’s just not okay, any of it.

    Not that it’s the same…but I’d bet Benjamin would love gymnastics. There are generally tons of little boys in the classes. My daughter’s class last fall was almost 50/50.

  36. Cheeky Monkey

    Really? Billy Elliott hasn’t made it to New Jersey yet?

    Huh.

  37. I remember when Monkeyboy was little and was in Little League, and there were always a few girls on the league, with their ponytails sticking out of the backs of their baseball caps. Even though there were probably girls only teams somewhere, these girls wanted to play regular Little League. I never knew them personally so I don’t know if their parents were discouraged from letting them play, but it never seemed weird that they were there playing a “boy” sport. They were having fun! it should be the same way for a boy who wants to dance. If Benjamin wanted to dance, he should have been encouraged to be a part of the class! Shame on those people who made him feel bad about it.

  38. That is just ridiculous. And so, so dispiriting.

  39. You just need to find a better school. My five-year-old nephew has been in dance since he was three, there are only a few boys and they work it out. One of the other boys is the dance teacher’s son. It’s not the whole world, it’s just one school full of twits.

  40. so ridiculous. so, so ridiculous.

    “go find a better class…”

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