‘No Bounds’ to the limits of boys in dance

Do boys dance? Maybe there are ‘No Bounds’ to their limits?…

Setting up a new dance department in an inner-city secondary school is by no means an easy feat. I’ve found it takes guts, resilience, determination and a lot of sugary snacks to get things up and running, but when things do start to ‘run’, it truly is a labour of love.

One of the main barriers in the early stages was the oft-repeated phrase “Boys don’t dance, Miss.” This is not an infrequent phenomenon, as many a dance teacher will tell you, but what I did find is that the boys in this school had bags of natural talent and creativity that the girls would kill for. I knew I needed to tap into this and create a new ethos in which boys do dance and look good doing it to boot.  Co-op Academy Leeds is in the fortunate position of being one of Phoenix Dance Theatre’s partner schools. Phoenix had received funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to run a boys-only provision ‘No Bounds’ and were able to offer free weekly dance classes for boys in school.  Our weekly sessions constitute one of five all-male groups set up in different geographical locations across Yorkshire – all encouraging boys to engage with dance, reducing the stigma around boys engaging in dance, monitoring progress in terms of their capability, but also in the development of the life skills which we all know result from engaging in the arts. Phoenix also want to see whether they can transition some of the boys into more formal dance settings, for example Saturday School and Youth Academy Programmes.  Even though the project is still live, the successes are already coming thick and fast, and a couple of boys have already made the transition into these provisions, with additional support from the company around transport and finances.  The groups come together at various performance opportunities and really get a sense that they are part of something greater.

I selected a small group of novices to form the ‘No Bounds’ group, from a diverse range of backgrounds, with incredible levels of energy and skill who were crying out to be nurtured and challenged.  Many of these students had been yo-yoing from one behaviour report to the next.  I was keen to show a different side to these boys and grateful that I wasn’t alone in this task.  Each week, Gee Goodison, a dance teacher who works for Phoenix Dance Theatre came to work with the boys. The boys adored him, but Gee certainly had his work cut out for him. The aim was that the boys would create a piece of dance to premiere at Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Spring Dance Platform. These boys were keen to learn from Gee but had never learnt material, performed in canon or moved on the floor before. I witnessed how their progress continued to develop over the weeks and how dance became a pivotal part of their school life. They felt proud of their work and eager to share it with others. The success of their enjoyment of dance rippled throughout the year group. Suddenly, ‘boys danced’ and I had a handful of Year 8 boys asking me when they were allowed to dance on stage and why hadn’t they been asked in the first place!

There were some stumbling blocks along the way, and some had to pull out of the group due to other commitments or lack of consent.  I was also concerned that putting these students in front of an audience of 200 people would faze them. Was I making a mistake? Could this backfire and turn them off dance and performing for life?

As I should have predicted, the boys were superb. They handled the demands of the performance like old pros. I had never seen the boys as focused, passionate or disciplined. They had something to feel proud of and being part of the ‘No Bounds’ performance meant they could be inspired by the other performers around them. The boys left the stage bursting with pride, already asking when they could do it again – and that exuberance followed them back to school.

These positive ‘ripples’ were obvious to see in my other year 8 classes. Other boys upped their game and suddenly the boys were out-shining the girls in their choreographic tasks and assessment pieces. My job of engaging the male cohort at Key Stage 3 had suddenly become 60% easier.

Rather than being met with resistance and creative excuses to not dance, I got; ‘Miss, can’t we just do dance all day tomorrow? I want to work on a back flip!’. Our work here is certainly not done, but things are looking a lot more promising for sure!

To find out more about ‘No Bounds’ click here.