** boys and dance

The Arts: Dance

Figure 1.--Fred Astaire started his dance career at quite an early age. It is amazing to watch his dance, hi movements are so fluid and natural. He mks it all look so natural.

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, marriage, heal the sick, mourn death, and pray for good hunting, rain, or victory in war. While early dances were part of religious and community ceremonies, in Antiquity dancing became a form of entertainment. We do not yet know much about dance in the ancient world, but we have some informtion on Egypt. As the Christain Church rose, church leaders mainatined that dancing was sinful. Thus after the fall of Rome in the 5th century dancing was not a major cultural activity in Europe. Only with the coming of the Renaissance in the 15th century did dancing again become popular once again in Europe. It is in the European courts of the 16th and 17th centuries that the true origins of modern dancing lie, both ballet and other performance dancing as well as social dancing. 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 such 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, for the most part 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.

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

Dance Experiences

Boys have had a variety of excperience with dancing. Some of the major experienes boys have had include:

Social dancing

There is a long history of social dance dating back to ancient times. Social dancing is a phenomenon of constant change. Modern folk dancing is based on popular social dancing in earlier times. At times there have been religious objection to social dancing. Every generation recalls the popular dances of their time. The list here is very long, the Charleston, jitterbug, twist, and many more. Religious objections are now less common, except in the Islamic world. It was once a virtual ritual for middle-class and uupper-class children to atted dancing lessons. Schools often had dance instruction as part of the gym program. It was one of the rare times that boys and girls did gym together. Often boys did not care for the experiebnce as well. Today that is less common. I'm not sure some of the modern dances are actually taught.

May poles

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 today. 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 often little available information available on these events.


Some mothers in the early 20th century strongly encouraged their childre to take a variety of dancing lessons beyound social dancing. Here girls were more often involved than boys, but some mothers insisted that their sons also participate. Some of the boys were unterested, but more commonly mother needed to provide a little persuasion. A variety of dance formns were involved, incliding ballet, interperative, and tap. The schools the children attended would periodically put on recitals to show the proud parents how the children were progressing.

Teen dancing

Often pre-teen boys are not to interested in dancing, although many pre-teen girls are. By the teen years, boys increasingly become interested in dancing as well. Often teen agers dances with a great deal of movement requiring considerable enegy. Often these were dance crazes are fads which only lasted a few years. Many decades are defined by popular dances, such as the Chrleston and Lindsey Hop (1920s), jitter bug and swing (late30s-early 40s), rock and roll (1950s), and the twist (1960s). Normally their parrents stayed away from these dances which were primarily embraced by teenagers who had the energy to execute them. Swing era music and dance was especially interesting in that the music was essentially music evolving out of the Black community. It was generally frounded upon by White parents. Once the name was changed to swing and White bands like Benny Goodman began performing, it was quicly embraced by White teenagers, many of whom might not have accepted it if they had been aware of its essentially Black origins. In the 20th century many of the popular teen dances have been American in origin. As a result, they have not always been well received by authorities in other countries, especially in totalitarian countries.

Other experiences

Bavarian dance
Figure 3.--This 12 years old Bavarian won a prize in a dancing competition. Note the costume and the suspenders made of leather. Another typical element is the so called Gamsbart or hat. hat.

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. There are many different forms of ethnic dance. HBC is unaware of much destinctive English folk costume. We have seen Mummers plays and Morris dancing in which white or cream colored smocks are often worn, presumably harkening back to the smocks worn by rural workers in the early 19th century. Everyone is familiar with German polka and ump-pa-pah bands and assciated dancing. The dancers usually perform in costume--usually lederhosen outfits. 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, Greeceļæ½s Presidential Guard, who can be seen guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Athens. 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. 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. 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. 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.

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."

English ballet
Figure 4.--These boys are studying ballet at an English school for the performing arts.


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. They seemed to have trained children interested in show buiness. Other groups also provide fances for a variety of events, including movies and television. Other groups appear to have had less commercial orientations. Some schools have also formed dance groups. We note one Russian group or ensemble that was assocaited with the Young Pioneer movement. We know of no similar activity concerning Scouting. HBC has, however, only limited informtion on these groups.

National Dance

Dance is given widely diiferent attention in different countries and is viewed in very different terms. Here we are not speaking about ethnic dance styles which are addressed above, but rather attitudes toward dance and attention to dance education in different countries. Dance is an integral part of the school ciriculum in some countries, although this has varied over time as well as accross mational borders. Dance has traditionally been more a part of elementary rather than secondary education programs. Even this has varied widely. In the time of tight budgets, dance often gets even less attention than school n\music programs. Dance has been viewed in very different terms in different countries. In some such as Britian and America, dance has been viewed as efete and boys interested might keep in a secret from their parents. Here social factors were involved with boys from working class familues especially concerned about expressing an interest in dance. This is shown in the British film Billy Elliot. Dance may get more attention in private than in public schools. In other countries such as Ruissia, dance was seen as part of a great artistic heritage and great dancers often given the same prestige as star athelettes.

Country Trends

We have not yet assessed country dance trends to any extent. Here we do not mean just ethnic or national dances, but rather overall dance activities in a country. This includes social dance, ethnic/national dance, and performance dances as well as any other pertient informatiin about dance in specific countries. We are just beginning to work on country dance trends. Hopefully readers will tell us more about dance in their country. We do not yet have many country dance pages. We currently have a page on America, Australia, and Russia. Dance seems more popular in Russia among boys than most Western countries. We also have pages on specific dance types in certain countries. We have ballet pages on Australia and Russia. There are also several ethnic or national dress pages.

Movie Scenes

Boys have been involved in a few notable dance scenes in movies. There are not a large number of films which come to mind, in part because boys are not often used in movie dance scenes. These scenes are not from films about dance or do not involve a major type of dancing, but are rather production numbers, often from musicals. One such number is a dream sequence from Pennies from Heaven (US, 19??). There is also a charming Fred Ataire number in Easter Parade (US, 1948). And of course there is the marvelous Gene Kelley scene with the children in "Singin' in the Rain" (US, 1952). A much less well-known, but charming, scene comes from "The Girl Most Likely" (1957). The scene is a "Ten little indian" numbers with 10 boys and girls in Indian costumes. There is a humerous fance scene in the modern remake of Our Gang The Little Raccals (US, 1994). It involves Alfalfa and another boy trying to hide in a ballet class, but they stand out because they are so clumsey. It was apparently difficult to film the boy who played Alfalfa had ballet training and liked it and had troublr dancing badly enough for the scene. The more common depiction in American films is boys objecting to dancing. A typical depiction, although in a Renaisance setting is The Flame and Arrow (US, 1950) in which a boy objects to being taught dancing.

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.

Dance and Religion

The U.S. Library of Congress has a great deal of material related to dance. There is an impressive collection of dance instructional manuals (1490-1920). There is also a collection of manuscripts discussing the evils of dancing. Religions over time have both used the fine arts and questioned the, There are, for example, Mosaic and Koranic prohibitions on human depictions. This why there is very little painting and sculpture from the Muslim world. But perhaps the fine art that has most beeen questioned by religions has been dance. Of course dance has been a part of many religions. Muslim devishes is a good example. But dance has more commonly been questioned by religion. Many Christoian denominations, for example, have over time questioned dance.


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Created: May 30, 1999
Last updated: 2:29 AM 2/12/2020