Dancing Costumes

Figure 1.--Fred Astaire started his dance career at quite an early age.

Dance is a series of artistically rhymetic movements of the body expressing emotions. People are born with an inate need to move. Children in particular are not only able but eager to move. This is a basic instinct; we all take a natural joy in movement. Dancers take this instinct along with another basic human instinct--to excel--and impose upon themselves the discipline of dance training. It is usually, however, not the boys themselves who chose to pursue dance. There are some natinal differences here. Russian boys seem eager from an early age. American boys may need considerable urging--often from mother. Dance training is available through various dance programs. Younger boys often participated in school dance programs. Older boys had the ritual of learning social dancing. Other boys participated in ethnic dance while some pursued various forms of clasical dance such as ballet or tap.


The origins of dance are lost in the mists of pre-history. Hunan dance probably developed as our species developed. Actually, anthropologists note that many animals, especially birds and fish, instinctively perform highly ritualized rhythmic motions in circumscribed areas. This often is associated with courtship and mating. These instinctive motions are for all intents and pirposes--dances. The instinctive sense of rhythm in primitive man must have found expression in more or less conscious dance movements. Some of the eraliest human dances were probably imitations of animal movement--as in common in promitive societies today. Early man discovered that dancing channeled his exuberance, gave him pleasure, and expressed his feelings about the most important events of his life. At an early stage in human development, man must have concluded that through dancing he could communicate with the unseen spirit world, which controlled the visible world in which he lived. Primitive dancing was not the frivalous socal dancing of our modern world. It was serious business, intimately bound up with the very life and welfare of the tribe. Primitive man unable to understand or channel the forces of nature, channeled his emotions and energy into religious ritual. One of these ritualistic expressions was dance. Primitive man danced to celebrate birth, mairrage, heal the sick, mourn death, and pray for good hunting, rain, or victory in war.

Dance forms changed as human socitiety developed. As more complex settled, agricultural and pastoral societies developed, dance gradually became searated from religion and magic. Instead dance became more closely associated with the pleasure of movement and the and the conducting of social relationships. Thus primitive dance developed into folk dance, which includes children's play dances and adult courtship dances. Folk dance, as adopted by the upper classes in urban centers in the West, was in turn transformed into social, or ballroom, dancing, which is most characteristic of urbanized Western Society. Although folk and social dance have lost much of the original seriousness of purpose of primitive dance, they have retained their ritualistic roots. At the same time, they have gained refinement and variation of technique and style.

Highly civilized, sophisticated societies have created theater dance, performed by trained professionals for an audience. Theater dance emphasizes stylization, refinement, and skill. Often it is stamped, particularly in the West, by the unique gifts of an individual dancer or choreographer Nevertheless, it still retains a ritualistic basis For example, ethnological theater dance, such as classical Creek theater dance and Hindu temple dance, is essentially religious, concerned with worship and the affairs of the gods. But even such relatively secular forms of theater cLanee as Western ballet and so-called modern dance, may take primitive ritual as inspiration for their choreography.

Boys' Interests

Younger boys in our modern era often participated in activities or even programs involving dance. Older boys, especially in America, wanted no part of these programs. Dance in other countries, such as Russia, appears more acceptable.

Mothers in the early 20th Century incouraged their boys to participate in dance programs. Often these were boys from affluent families who wanted their sons to become more cultured. Generally the boys resisted, prefering sports. Some mothers, however, were concerned about rough sports. Interperative dance was particularly popular in the 1920s.

Some boys showed an interest in dance from an early age. Most did not. Mothers by the 1940s had increasing difficulty involving boys unwillingly in dance programs. Some boys, however, got involved in dance through their sisters. Often they would have tio go with mother when their sisters took their dancing lessons.

Many American boys somewhere between 10 and 13 traditionally took dancing lessons. This appears to be less common today. For some it is an escrutingately painful experience requiring that he dress up in his best suit. Other boys are involved in various ethnic dance programs (German, Greek, Native American, Irish, Scottish, and others). Some European countries (especially Russia) with a tradition in ballet manage to interest the boys. In Britain and America, ballet is a hard sell--although some boys become interested in tap dance or folk dancing like square dancing. Black Americans in recent years have shown a great interest in break dancing. Many of these dance forms have distinctive costumes or dress.

Figure 2.--Girls were often enthusiastic participants at dancing classes, but the boys were often less excited about the idea.

Dance Experiences

Some experienes boys have had with dancing include:

Dancing lessons

Many boys were sent off to dancing school only after considerable resistance to learn the box step. They often remember the experience with considerable distaste. Formal dancing lessons have become less common in the modern era. Many boys do, however, receive dancing lessons at school. The private schools make a special effort in this area, but dancing lessons are also offered at many state schools.


May Day is celebrated around the world. Traditional May Day celebrations were pre-Christian agricultural festivals. Eventually the significance was lost and the practices survived merely as popular festivities. It is a festival of happiness, joy and the coming of summer. Many schools around the world use the observance of May Day as a rich source of multicultural activities that can complement the May curriculum. Dancing around the Maypole is an often popular activity for the younger children, although the boys may need a little encouragement.


A variety of school theatrical or talent programs often has dance numbers. This was probably more common in the early 20th century than is the case tofay. Some dancing schools also have recitals with a variety of dance numbers. A wide range of costumes are worn for these numbers. Some photographic images are available from these performances. Unfortunately there is odten little available information available on these events.

Other experiences

National or Ethnic Dancing

Many countries have a rich tradition of ethnic dance. Children are often encouraged to participate as part of efforts to preserve the country's cultural heritage. There has been a great revival of interest in ethnic dance in America as second and third generation Ameicans seek to discover their roots. Information on ethnic festivals in America is available at the Folk Things website.

Some of the different forms of ethnic dance include:

German dance

Everyone is familiar with German olka and ump-pa-pah bands and assciated dancing. The dancers usually perform in lederhosen. Unfortunately I do not yet know much about the dancing.

Greek dance

A kilt like costume was worn mainly in the central and southern regions of Greece. The costume derives its name from the pleated white skirt (foustanela) made of many triangular shaped pieces of cloth sewn together diagonally. The foustanela was worn by the Greek fighters of the 1821 revolution and today it serves as the official uniform of the Evzones, Greece’s Presidential Guard, who can be seen guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens. The foustanela skirt consists of 400 pleats symbolizing the years during which Greece was under Ottoman rule. The remainder of the costume is composed of a white shirt with very wide flowing sleeves, an embroidered woolen vest, a sash worn around the waist, and shoes (tsarouhia) with large pompons.

Native American dance

No other event captures the American Indian spirit like the powwow or "wacipi." Dancers in colorful dress move gracefully around the ring, a steady drum beat directing their movements. Tradition is passed from one generation to the next. Today's powwows often feature competitions in categories such as traditional, fancy, grass, shawl, and jingle-dress dancing. Entrants wear different styles of clothing according to the dance. While a fancy dancer dons bustles and beads, a shawl dancer wears a long-fringed shawl over an elaborately beaded dress, moccassins, and leggings.

Figure 3.--Boys doing Irish step dancing generally wear solid color kilts of different colors or black long pants rather than plaid kilts like the Scottish. They do both hard and soft shoe routeins.

Irish step dancing

Irish dance has developed quietly in Ireland for centuries. Irish immigrants brought their traditional dances to America beginning in the 1840s, driven from their homeland by the Great Famine. Their dances had a profound influence on traditional American folk dances like square dancing and their music was a powerful ingredient in country music. Modern Irish dance, however did not begin to become popular until after World War II. The independence of Ireland in 1921, rising income levels after the War, and the increasing interest in Irish heritage by Irish Americans all contributed to the expanding interest in Irish dance. This interest was almost entirely within the Irish community until River Dance introduced Irish dancing to the public at large in the 1990.

American western square dancing

Square dancing has been America's "official national folk dance" since President Reagan signed an act of Congress in 1982 (U.S. Statutes). Most Americans, however, would likely never be caught dead square dancing -- too embarrassing, they might say. Such is generally true of folk customs--they are not popular. Thus it remains a dance that few have really tried, particularly as adults. But dedicated square dancers just ignore the negative quips and enthusiastically continue with their Do-si-do's, Spin Chain the Gears, and Ferris Wheels.

Scottish Highland dancing

Higland dancing along with the kilt are two beloved symbols of Scotland. Its origins lie in the art of the ancient Celtic Scots. Modern Higland dancing is usually performed solo and is characterized by its typically sharp movements and the accompanying music. It's typically dance to the tune of the bagpipes. The dances are made up of different parts, called steps. There are usually four or six steps to a dance. Traditional Highland Dancing generally refers to a relatively few dances, especially the Highland Fling, Sword Dance, Seann Truibhas, and the Strathspey and Highland Reel or Reel of Tulloch. The basic movements in Higland dance are both strong and graceful. The hands are used expresively, quite different from the traditional dance of the neigboring Celtic people, the Irish. Higland dance was traditionally performed by Scottish men. Highland dancing is now performed by both men and women.

Dance Styles

Quite a rage of dance styles are available to the enthusist. Often boys are primarily involved in the ethnic dance styles described above. In addition to the ethnic dances, several different styles or desciplines are available, ranging from classical ballet to the free-form break dancing of urban hip-hop culture.

Tap dancing

Tap dancing is an indigenous American step dancing form. It is related to the step dancing of Ireland and Scotland, but developed out of a dance form that was created by black slaves in the southern United States. The current evolution of tap dancing consists of a performance in syncopated rhythms and executed with lud audible foot work--including tapping with both the toes and heels in specially designed shoes. While initially considered a slave dance it eventually was accepted by main stream America. It was popularized in the 1920s by film stars and became one of the more acceptable dance styles for boys.

Break dancing

"Breakin" like all dance is a form of expression. It is a outgrowth of hip-hop urban culture. It is probably the first dance style where ideas and movements have developed more on the internet than in formal instruction or written artickes and books. The internet abounds in messages like, "I need some help on my power moves. I can start my windmill by kicking instead of by a baby freze. I want to cleen up my flavor, but most of all I wwant help on my power." Which elicits replies like, "To do your flairs try to swing your legs in a circular motion, windmills the same way as a flair but try to roll on your shoulders and let your head roll on the ground, for halos put your to elbows in your gut and throw yourself and keep one hand one the ground all times so you could catch yourself, airtracks start by a flare and when you go all the way around once, before you go around agintry to throw yourself as high as you can and catch yourself. Will get hurt badly headspins, just keep swinging your legs and always push until you fell ready to let go. hope you learn."

Figure 4.--These boys are studying ballet at an English school.


The origins of clasical ballet are not fully understood, but are know to have begun in Italy during the Renaisance and and then refined in France. Ballet is a type of dance in which a company of trained performers either singly or in groups interpret music by means of the choregraphic art. Ballet requires enormous physical dexterity and strength and years of mental and physical training. It has become a passion for girls in Europe and America, but boys have viewed dance, especially ballet, differently--depending on what country they come from. The costumes used for ballet reflect its origins in the Renaissance. Boys usually wear tights, often black, with leotards or "T" shirts for practice and a wide range of costumes for performance reflecting the themes of the various ballets. Common performance costumes for boys include princes, soldiers, mice, clowns, and much more.

Interperative dance

American dancer Isadora Duncan (1878-1927) is noted for her founding of new dance techniques based largely on the dances of the ancient Greeks. With her graceful barefoot movements, flowing Grecian costumes, and maverick views on everything from ballet to marriage, Isadora Duncan sparked a revolution in American dance and challenged society's rigid expectations of women. Often called the "Mother of Modern Dance", she revolutionized dance, introducing an improvisational, emotion-driven form that would give birth to a new American style of dance. Isadora Duncan has been one of the most enduring influences on 20th century culture. Ironically, the very magnitude of her achievements as an artist, as well as the sheer excitement and tradgedy of her life, have tended to dim our awareness of the originality, depth and boldness of her thought.

Ballroom dancing

Boys growing up in the most of the 20th Century will recall the agonies of dancing lessons. Dressing up in your best suit or blue blazer and being catrted off rather unwillingly to pair up with a like number of girls to learn the intricacies of the box step. I don't think they do this nearly as much today as dancing is so different now. Some boys did not find the experience nearly as excruciating and were actually enchanted with ball room dancing. There has in fact been a revival of ballroom dancing and major competitions always include a junior section.

Dance Instruction

There is considerable disagreement about when boys shold begin to take dancing lessons. The debate is similar to that on athletics. I noticed a querry on the internet: How do male dancers differ in starting age and what are the reasons behind this, in your opinion? One answer:

It is wonderful for a young boy to start at 6-7 but I have found most will not be serious or have talent to stick with it. Also I have heard that until the tetesterone starts coming in at ages 11-14 (depends on kid) that they shouldn't be doing any heavy lifting or weight training.

You must have a very gifted son to have him studing 15 hrs. per week. Unless he is in a state school, like RBS. Here in the US most schools won't do that, or if they do it is usually a financial thing. Even most girls don't study that many hours per week at that age. I really don't think it is good for bones, and muscles. In females it can (not always) stunt growth spurts, but I don't know about boys, and with your son, exactly what his program consists of jazz, tap, ballet, gymnast. etc. A varied course I can understand, but I would be very cautious about 15 hours of ballet a week. I would also take him to a doctor to find out a lot more than I could EVER tell you. I am only a ballet teacher. I know European schools have the children everyday, and they have a very slow, consise program that will bw geared to the age and physical maturity of the child. But in the United States there are no standards. I would personally...please rememember this is personally: not let him study ballet more than 3 classes or 4 per week of ballet, and a few classes of gymn and a class of tap or jazz. I think, 7 classes per week for any 11 yr old is fine. But, a lot depends on the child and his/her development. Also please remember there is a burn out factor, especially in the US. I don't know how his friends take his dancing, but my son got really pressured and laughed at and bugged all through his early years. It finally made him quit in 7 th grade. Good thing, now at 20 he is making 10.50 hr. doing computer work, and going to college. But hey, I am a mom and a teacher. I would have like to see him go further, but social pressures in the United States are very hard to deal with.

Partnering, just lite type stuff can start at anytime. Holding a girl, supporting etc, but not real lifts. Again, it depends on his maturity physically.

My real advice for you is to see a pediatrican, and speak with him/her about this much dancing at his tender age. IMHO it is way too much. But when a teacher g ets a talented student we all want to make sure they get everything they can, and as fast as they can. Which is not always the correct way to do it.

Sorry if other disagree, but, find out from the doctor and then let ME know. I would like to know also what they have to say. Not just your teacher.


Dance Groups

A few childrens dance groups have performed commercially. Some schools have also formed dance groups. HBC has, however, only imited informtion on these groups.

World Dance Day

Dance is celebrated annually on World Dance Day. In 2000 it was April 29. Dance enthusists use the occasion to assess dance trends. In this last year of the 20th century, it is imperative to look back and attempt a bird's eye view of the course of events regarding dance in the last hundred years. Two major events will distinguish this past century's state of the dance on a world-wide perspective. Two new dance genres emerged at its outset, grew consistently throughout its span, and had created a new space for their respective forms by the end of the twentieth century: folk and modern dance. Folk dance appeared when amateur dancers in the cities discovered they could practice traditional, that is peasant, dances for recreation and for stage presentation. These same dances were being abandoned steadily by their original practitioners, the rural populations

Note: I have just begun to input information here. So most of the dance pages are still under construction. I can see in building this site that there will not be room to adequately deal with dancing costumes here. I plan to load some introductory material here and deal with the subject more fully at a separate site. Will provide more information on this as plans materialize, but it will be some time before I can get to it. I would be very interested, however, in any information or images you might have about boys involved in dance.

Christopher Wagner

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web Site:
[Introduction] [Activities] [Bibliographies] [Biographies] [Chronologies] [Style Index] [Countries] [Contributions]
[Boys' Clothing Home]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web chronological pages:
[The 1900s] [The 1910s] [The 1920s] [The 1930s] [Thw 1940s] [The 1950s] [The 1960s] [The 1970s] [The 1980s] [The 1990s]

Navigate the Historic Boys' Clothing Web style pages:
[Kilts] [Caps] [Sailor hats] [Lederhosen] [Sailor hats]

Created: May 30, 1999
Last updated: November 3, 2000