** ballet costumes: boys' experiences

Boys' Ballet Costumes

Figure 1.--Most American boys have viewed ballet differently than many European boys. This painter thought it necessary to show that this dancer was a red-blooded, jeans-wearing and baseball-palying American boy. HBC is confused, however, as to why the boy seems to be picutured wearing a skirt. As one HBC contrubutor notes, boys in ballet do NOT wear skirts. Another HBC reader who teaches primary school believes that this is actually a girl, a tomboy who likes to play baseball as well as dance. We unfortunately do not know who the artist was or who the subject was. A HBC reader has resolved this question for us. I just saw the picture you have on the HBC Site showing a boy getting ready for a ballet dance class. Beside him is baseball equipment. I've seen the original picture and what you have on your HBC WebSite is a "fake" reworked picture where someone has transposed a boys head onto a girls body (probably using a image program such as Photoshop). The original picture of that drawing/painting was actually a tomboy girl who likes to play baseball. Another reader tellss, "I just learn that the ORIGINAL picture is one of those 'paint by numbers' kits that are usually available in art supply stores. It seems that somebody just altered the original to make it a boy instead.

Ballet is a major activity in Russia and boys have participated enthusiatically. I do not know if all the changes sweeping Russia is affecting this. The same can not be said about American boys. The same lack of enthusiasm is true in Britain, but I am less sure of the attitudes of boys in the various European countries. Some American mothers used to take dance lessons, but this no longer occurs. It is now more likely to be the boy's own idea. Macaully McCaughlin, for example, was very enthusiastic about ballet.

Boys in Ballet

Several boys have described their interest in ballet and how they first got involved. Often it was their older sister who began taking dancing lessons and they got interested. In some cases their parents were dance instructors. One boy reportsm for example, "I just turned 16 in June and I dance ballet and I'm a guy. My Mom has a good friend that has a small studio and they needed guys so they bugged me till I said I would give it a try. I didn't care much at first but now I like it O.K." Some boys have pursued ballet through a simple love of dance.

Schools With Boys

For those who are considering putting boys in dance classes, I would add that you should seek out companies that have boys, particularly in the upper levels. Dealing with the peer pressure is tough for 10-year-old and older boys, and you really can't tell when they are through it... a young man who was probably the best student tapper our company has ever had (one of three whom I actually liked to see dance -- normally I hate tap), quit dancing because of the peer pressure at age 16.


We unfortunately do not know who the artist was or who the subject was in the paonting seen here (figure 1). We have, however received quite a number of comments about the image.

A HBC contributor reports that the image here is a doctored fantasy image. He stresses that boys in ballet do NOT wear skirts. [HBC note: HBC concurs in part with the contributor. that boys in ballet do not wear skirts. HBC assumed that this was an original image and does not know to what extent the image has been altered. When loading the image, HBC did wonder about what the boy was wearing. It does appear that he is wearing a skirt of some type which HBC agrees is not realistic. HBC thougt that perhaps it was some kind of blouse that he had not yet put on. HBC does not know who the artist was and what the original image was. Based on HBC's experience with such inages, it would not have been easy to alter.]

A HBC contributor reports, "I have studied the painting depicting a boy who has changed out his baseball clothes and is dressing for ballet. Although I agree with the conclusion of HBC that it is a romanticised painting, I reach this conclusion from different clues. "Is the boy wearing a skirt?" I think the answer is that he is wearing a tunic. Usually for ballet, a boy would wear a T-shirt or a leotard. These are tight fitting. This boy has a garment that has loose fitting and rather full shoulder straps. It has a loose fitting bodice. Boys seldom wear tunics, but have occasionally done so for Greek and interperative dance. They would usually be worn with briefs or shorts and not tights. The tights are wrong The other curious fact is that the boy has been playing baseball. Presumably it is summer. Why is he wearing leg warmers? No I think the artist was over stating the contrast between the masculinity of baseball and his (or her) perception of ballet. Amusing perhaps, but not realistic."

A primary school teacher tells us, "I think that the "boy" in the ballet picture with the baseball stuff is really a "tom-boy", that is, a girl who plays "boy" games like baseball and wears jeans and has short hair, but who also participtes in (and maybe even likes) the feminine art of ballet...I wouldn't be suprised if the artist is commenting on the "true" nature of little girls or at least what they grow up to be. If you look at the hands of the dancer, they are certainly drawn as the hands of a pre-teen girl rather than a rough-and-tumble, baseball playing 12 year-old boy. (Watch a class of 30 boys and girls tie their shoes sometime and you will see what I mean.)"

Historical Background

"Ballet boy!" One South African writer notes, "One can hear it flung from the mouth of a prepubescent boy and echoed in the giggles from his group of grey uniform trousers and uniform gelled hair. Ballet boy - an attempt to shame one of the rank back into line." The same reactions might be noted in America, England, and many other countries. The interesting aspect is that this is not true in every country. HBC of course questions why these attitudes exist in some countries and not in other countries. The stigma appears to be historical in origin. Margot Fonteyn has pointed to Russia where boys face no stigma in pursuing ballet. Folk dancing thrived througout Russia which until the Revolution was a basically rural country. Male ballet dancers in Russia were accepted and admired, becoming national heros--rather like modern sports stars. In England, America, and many other countries, the Industrial Revolution moved men away from rural life and folk dancing. Dancing became seen as a woman's activity. Where ballet was performed, wowmen sometinmes had to dance male parts.

Role Models

This is purely theorizing on my part, but I think it would be ideal if the company could (a) have boys in the advanced classes drop in on lower-level classes with boys, to be teaching assistants, so that the younger boys realize they are there; (b) if there are enough boys, have a boys-only class for 10- to 12-year-olds with flexibility on both ends; (c) for the boys who move up out of that class, do some emphasis on pas de deux, lifts, other stuff that makes the boy as a boy an essential part of the dance, rather than having him look like a blue duckling in a crowd of yellow ducklings.

Boys' Concerns

There are a variety of reasons why boys in America, Britain, aod other countries do not want to do ballet. Oe observer speculates that probably because little boys like to play with guns and do video games. Even if they have tendencies to want to dance and express their sensitive side, peer pressure keeps them from doing it. Girls are encouraged to do this activity not only by their peers, but also by the rest of society. Boys who enter into the arts are usually encouraged to play an instrument or sing. Male dancers have the stigma of being gay. Whether or not this is relevant is not important - the stereotype exists. It's usually not until an individual reaches the point in life that he can deal independently with his feelings, ingore everybody else, that they can do the activity. In Russia, there is not the same social stigma attached to the activity, it is treated just like any other athletic activity and is encouraged. Many professional male athletes (ie wrestlers and football players) find the regimine and structure of formal ballet helps to improve their athletic skills.

Girls' Concerns

The primary concern expressed by girls about boys in balert is that there are not enough of them. Dancing with boys is important preparation for dancing in actual ballets where there are both male and female roles. One dancer complains," Unfortunately, most of don't have the convienence of having a guy in a studio/academy to dance with, or the ability to drive somewhere to get that experience." Another girl reports, "Okay where I dance we have ONE guy, well actually we have two but the other is totally useless. Anyway, I don't really mind though because he's nice. He's like my big brother and he's really strong. He picked me up over his head once. But he's graduating in two years and then we will have no guys!WWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!! Many girl dancers have commented on this subject. "Yeah, Ii would do anything for one since i don't have any!, but maybe this summer!!" Another girl commented, "You think you got it bad, there's two guys where I dance. One boy is 13 and has the stomach of a beer-drinking 30-yr old, it's enormous, he couldn't lift a girl if he tried. The other boy is 15 and has only been seriously dancing for a year, but he's not really tall, in fact he's shorter than me and the other senior who are the only two who are good enough to do the pas de deux anyhow. In the end the smaller girls who are only 14 get to do them pretty partner work and i get nothing. So I have no partner so i don't get to do anything like that at all. There you go thats my rant over--you'll find that blokes in ballet school are very had to find!!!!"

Not all girls agree, "Not to totaly confuse you, cuz it's your choice in the end. But I don't think you HAVE to get pas de deux experience if you plan to go pro. It does help, but not imperative. I've seen many gals go pro, without any pas de deux experience."

Parental Concerns

Parents also have concerns about their sons taking ballet--in part reflecting the concern of the boys.

Special steps

Many schools take special steps to accomodate boys. One school reports that boys are very welcome in the school and that they currently have 9 boys aged from 4 to 14 years of age taking part in both ballet and tap classes; quite a considerable number given the rural location of most branches. Boys are encouraged to take part in shows, exams, workshops etc., in fact every aspect of the school, and both the RAD and IDTA offer a balanced syllabus in ballet and tap which can be taught in the same classes as the girls. Most of the exercises are similar to the girls, with slight changes to arm positions, finishing positions and sometimes a different variation to the music. In addition, some of the higher grades have extra allegro (jumping) exercises just for the boys, to build strength.

Small number of boys

Often when there are only one or two boys in a class, parents worry that the boy may feel inhibited. One school tells parents that there experience has shown that boys more often thrive on being the only boy as it gives them a sense of being special, especially when their strength starts to show in the later grades and they learn to `out jump´┐Ż the girls! Like all the pupils at the school, the boys are encouraged to attend any available external courses, particularly those specialising in the teaching of the boys syllabus.


Tights are a major concern for many boys. "Do boys have to wear tights...?" is a question often asked by prospective parents. Many schools require tights, especially beyond the preparatory pre-ballet classes. For other schools the answer is a loud NO! Boys may be allowed to wear shorts, tracksuit joggers, cycle shorts in fact anything that they will be comfortable in. Usually, after a few years when confidence has been built, those who wish to study ballet beyond grade 3 are happy to wear the RAD navy uniform tights, but they are not compulsory and no boy will be prevented from dancing or taking exams in whatever is comfortable, so long as it is suitable to move in.

Figure 2.--Boys in ballet costumes are a common comedic paradoy in America and Britain. For some reason the boys for these parodies are often pictured in tu-tus, a girl's ballet costume. This is a scene from "You Can't Do That on Television".

Special Approaches

Some ballet and other dance schools that are successful at working with boys have adopted specvial approaches. Many schools report attracting a few younger boys, but by middle school, boys are put under great pressure to stop dancing. While mothers are often supportive, many fathers are not.


Ballet costumes are commonly used in commedy parodies. The costumes are used to accentuate comedic situations by American an British writers. In these countries the popular culture strongly relates ballet and dance in general to girls. Thus boys dressed in ballet costumes are often perceived as humerous. The public reactiin to these parodies appears to vary widely from country to country. HBC has less information on other countries such as Russia and France where ballet is more acceptble. Presumably boys in ballet costumes would be preceived as less humerous in these countries as ballet is more accepted in the popular culture. Interestingly, the comic device used is generally to outfit boys in girls ballet costumes like tutus, a garment a boy taking ballet would never wear. It is unclear to HBC why ballet is used as such a subject as parody. And why the parody often takes the step of outfitting boys in girls' costumes, something that would never occur in relaity.

Reader Comments

A reader writes, "It is obvious by your website that you're dealing in a broader topic than the participation of our nation's youth in dance. But that is a fine start. I noticed that the other boy respondents stated with frightening accuracy that a preponderance of the reason boys don't get into dance is the negative peer pressure. As you know quite well, this was the primary subject of the excellent hit film "Billy Elliot." My wife and I loved it immensely. Neither of my two sons ever took dance but I now have two beautiful and talented little granddaughters. Last year I was so fortunate to get to go see both of them in a dance recital--(they're both still pretty young). It was a large recital with probably over 200 kids participating, and out of all of those, although there were indeed several little boys dancing, when the older, more advanced group came out to perform, there must have been about 30 young ladies, all with darling outfits and the ONE SINGLE boy who was part of the performance had on some costume that surely seemed ugly to me I was glad he had stuck it out and stayed with his dance activities, but why give him an UGLY costume? I was not a happy camper! Your points on the site are well taken--the girls do indeed need to be a POSITIVE encouragement to any of the boys that have some talent because they're not likely to get it from the goofball attitudes of the general public. My other son and his new bride do not have any children yet, but in the event that they have a son and he wants to take dance lessons, I am going to be there to cheer him on! Militate! You guys must actively militate against outmoded and illogical notions of sexual stereotyping! No, don't get me wrong. I am NOT pushing gay lifestyles here. I am pushing the boundaries out on the topic of aesthetics and dance. Anna Pavlova was a legend in her time--grace personified, but somewhere along the line, she needed a MALE partner!" [White]


White, Karen L. E-mail message, June 22, 2006.


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Created: July 22, 2000
Last updated: 3:57 AM 6/12/2009