“My four-year-old son has been laughed at by grown men and told he’s not a ‘proper boy’. His crime? Taking ballet lessons.”
It’s five years since Clare Mackintosh blogged about her son’s experience of ballet, but sadly, not much has changed.
The idea that ballet is a “girl’s hobby” is still prevalent, with boys making up just 1.8% of candidates taking Royal Academy Of Dance (RAD) exams each year.
But all that could be set to change thanks to RAD’s new initiative Project B, which aims to get more boys at the barre by 2020 and prove once and for all that ballet isn’t “just for girls”.
Project B is made up of four components - B: Active, B: Inspired, B: Involved and B: Engaged - with the ultimate aim of challenging misconceptions about ballet and encouraging participation among boys.
B: Active is a collaboration between RAD and Marylebone Cricket Club, launching in multiple primary schools near Lord’s Cricket Ground.
The six-week pilot scheme will offer pupils a series of workshops highlighting the strong connections between dance and sport, developing skills required for both, such as strength, stamina, balance and fitness.
As well as encouraging more boys to try ballet, the coaches hope the initiative will inspire more girls to play cricket.
B: Inspired is designed to make ballet choreography more appealing to mischievous boys.
RAD male dance ambassador Iain Mackay has created a new set of moves that combine traditional steps with popular culture - think pirouettes followed by dabbing - that are suitable for all ages.
If boys aren’t quite ready to try out a class, they can learn these moves at home using the new video tutorials on the Seenit app.
Under B: Involved, RAD has invested £30,000 to reach boys at a grass roots level, providing boys-only classes so youngsters can access ballet “regardless of geography or financial situation”.
And finally, B: Engaged will encourage more male dancers to pursue a career in teaching, providing financial support to those who enrol on RAD teacher training programmes, in the hope of increasing the amount of male role models in ballet.
Eight-year-old ballet student Elijah hopes the scheme will mean more boys join his class.
“I think boys should dance even though lots of them think it’s for girls,” he told HuffPost UK.
“Boys should dance because it gets you fitter and it’s a fun thing to do.”
Malakai, 12, doesn’t mind being the only boy in his class because he “gets to know the girls a bit better”, but he would also like to see more boys try ballet.
He said some of his classmates were “shocked” when he told them about his hobby.
“It’s not the sort of thing you imagine a boy to do, but then they understand I do it for fun and fitness and they respect me for being courageous,” he said.
Matthew Cunningham, director of strategic development and fundraising at RAD, believes the number of boys doing ballet is so low because ”historically there has been a perception that ballet lessons are something girls do.”
However, he’s confident the tide is turning.
“In the last few years we’ve seen an explosion of dance as a mainstream activity for boys, girls, men and women, and we’re keen to build on that momentum to get boys to the barre through things like Project B,” he told HuffPost UK.
He also told parents there are “so many reasons” to encourage boys to do ballet.
“Whether it’s about the health benefit, or becoming a better sportsman through building up the core strength that’s at the heart of ballet technique, or building social skills, or just having fun, there’s so much for boys to gain through learning to dance,” he said.
For any parents still on the fence about ballet for boys, it may help to remember that children are often far less concerned about gender stereotypes than adults.
As Elijah said: “My friends don’t really mind if I do ballet or not - I’m still the same person”.
Find out more about Project B and your local sessions on the RAD website.