Boys' Ballet: National Trends

Figure 1.--While not popular with most boys, some are very enthusiatic about dancing. The black leotards and dancing shorts worn by these boys show that they are Europeans--probably Russaians.

While developed in Italy and France, no where did ballet become as popular as Russia. There ballet is highly regarded and boys who are interested in classical dance are not looked down on by other boys. Part of the reason may be that after the 1917 Revolution, ballet was supported by the state and considerable prestige and benefits were conferred on boys and girls from an early age. American boys and boys in many other countries are very shy about dancing lessons in general and ballet in particular. There appears to be, however, growing interest with ballet among boys in several countries. There are many countries, however, that HBC still has no information concerning the instructional program or the popularity of ballet among boys.


Ballet is a virtual rite of passage for the Americam girl. Large numbers of girls take ballet and other dancing lessons. Such is not the case for boys. Some boys are interested, but to shy to participate fearing what their friends might say. Therecare, however, some boys that are enchanted by ballet. Often they participate secretly, embarassed by what their friends might say. Some boys have written books about their experiences. One boy wrote a photo essay in 1982. Another boy in 1998 wrote a book about his experiences. Others begin at an early age, but report tremenndous pressure from their piers in pree-teen and early teen years. Many see it as not worth the hassle and drop out.


Argentines as many Latin Americans have looked down on ballet dancers. Embued withe machismo, a strident male ethic, Argentines did not think ballet dancers were very manly. Few Argentine boys in that atmosphere desired to pursue ballet. There appears to have been a sea change in the late 1990s thanks largely to a graceful Argentine dancer, Julio Bocca. His success has generated a surge of male enrollment in Argentine ballet schools.


Australia is not noted as a country with a strong dance tradition. One Australian mother living in Bendigo, Victoria reports that dance is a major activity in her city. She dances as an adult and is encouraging her sons (aged 5 and 8 years) to do so too. Some boys describe their experiences in dance school.


We have no information at this time about ballet education or schools in Austria. Austria of course is a very small country, albdit with an enormous heritage of fine arts. Tis is of course especially the case in music. We have less information on dance. A reader reports on New Years eve 2008, "I watched the New Years Day Concert from Vienna yesterday. There was a children's ballet. The dance was the visual part of a strause Waltz. There were three girls and 3 boys. All about 12. The physic of the boys showed them to be very athletic. They enjoyed the dance too. It was about fairies and sprites. The sprites (the boys) ran away when the fairies tried to kiss them!"


The Balletschool van Antwerpen (Municipal Institute for Ballet) was founded in 1951 as "The Ballet School of the Royal Flemish Opera" is well known both nationally and internationally. HBC believes that the municipality involved is Antwerp. The Institute has a Primary school (SILO 2). Boys and girls are admitted to the ballet section of the primary school from the age of eight (third schoolyear). The curriculum includes general subjects (which meet the legal requirements) and dance tuition. In the third and fourth year the pupils have 5 hours of ballet tuition a week and this increases to 10 hours in the fifth and sixth year. During these 4 years the pupils are tought the basics of classical ballet. The school teaches pupils also other dance disciplines, such as character dance. Boys and girls have the opportunity to learn some small choreographies. Pupils who pass their examinations at the end of this primary school period can progress to the Municipal Institute for Ballet. Pupils from other primary schools may of course audition as well. The Insitute believes that for those students intending to make up ballet as a profession, it is considered best to start ballet education at the 8 years old.


Bulgaria placed considerable emphasis on ballet, reflecting both Russian and French influences. I'm not sure when ballet was pursued in Bulgaria, but it was given some attention by the communist Government after World War II.


HBC has little information on ballet in Canada. One HBC contributor, however has submitted an image from a Canadian ballet school. Some information is available on the National Ballet School.


Cuba in ballet as in much else is raically different than much of the rest of Latin America. Throughout much of the rest of the region, little regar is given to ballet and the general attitude is that boy's doing ballet are sissies. Not in Cuba. Since the Revolution, ballet dancers have become stars--assuming the cult status of movie an rock stars among younf Cubans.

Figure 2.--Ballet requires hours of hard work and attention to detail. This teacher in an English school is working on the boys posture and leg positions.


Headmasters at small British prep schools often have promote activities to get a sufficient number to make it worthwhile. One headmaster tells the story of talking up ballet lessons one day. He must have given a good pep talk because to his surprise three boys held up their hands. He had a meeting in the afternoon as was away from school during the afternoon. The boys that volunteered were younger boys not aware of just what ballet was. Of course the other boys filled them after they had volunteered and apparently teased the devil out of them. The boys desperately tried all day to see the headmaster, but he was out. On his return three desperate little boys were awaiting him, terrified that they had signed up for a life time of ballet lessons with the girls.


France was one of te principal countries responsible for developing classical ballet. HBC is not sure, however, about the current status of ballet in France. I'm not sure how popular ballet is with French boys. Ballet is promoted in France by the National Academy. Some information is availanle on the National Academy, but HBC is less sure about how French boys look at Ballet. Limited information available from France suggests that the attitudes of French boys are not dissimilar from those of American and English boys.


Ballet does not appear to be popular among German boys. HBC has found only limited information about German boys studing ballet, but does not have detailsedf information on the status of ballet instruction in this major European country. One possibe factor is that younger German boys have worn tights for warmth during the winter, although this is not as common as it once was. This may make ballet costumes more acceptable to German boys than boys in other countries where tights are not commonly worn by boys.


An Irish dancer tells HBC that there is no way to continue doing ballet in Ireland after secondary school. There are no colleges for ballet in Ireland. The nearest is in England which means that it is expensive for Irish dancers.


Italy played a key role in the development of ballet. HBC has, however, little information on ballet instruction in modern Italy. The only information that HBC has succeeded in finding is some on La Scala. HBC still has little information about what Italian boys think of ballet and the types of costumes they wear.


Classical French culture was very influential in the Czar's court. Many Russian aristocrats spoke better French than Russain which they looked down on as brutish. Ballet was one of the French traditions they most admired. It is interesting that ballet, after the Revolution, became a Russian passion and was no longer restricted to the upper class. Part of the reason may be that after the 1917 Revolution, ballet was supported by the state and considerable prestige and benefits were conferred on boys and girls from an early age. Interesting even after the Revolution continued to support classical ballet. Perhaps this was useful as a symbol of Soviet achievement in the arts. Perhaps the pasison of the Russian people demanded it. The Bolshoi ballet school is wprld renowned. They train selected children there from an early age.


Boys in Sweden seem th have some of the same experiences as their counterparts in America. A swedish dancer writes, "I'm 14 year old boy from Sweden. I started ballet classes when I was 8 years old. It is good to have a sympathetic man in the teaching staff to understand problems boys might have. Most boys don't know what ballet is really like. Many think it is girlish. Some are afraid of wearing dance tights. A man in Culture House where I take ny lessons helped me and I didn't have problems like this. I wear very nice dance clothes even in practice. Maybe expensive but I feel better dancing in the proper gear. I dance all time with best friend, who is a very pretty girl. We are sort of like brother and sister. We have cinfidence in each other and we know exactly what we can do. I have another good friend, a boy. He has also danced from age eight. He also has a girl partner all the time. We often dance together and with other, too, but is very good to be partner who know well."


HBC has obtained a variety of images, but can not identify the specific country. It is usually possible to destinguish American from European dance schools--but not identify the specific European country. HBC believes that many of these images are Russian, but can not confirm this. HBC would appreciate any insights readers might have as to the nationality of these images.


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Created: February 14, 1999
Last updated: 4:45 PM 1/6/2009