Promoting boys dance in education

Sean Selby: A male dance teacher’s perspective

As a male dance teacher I am passionate about boys dancing from a young age, or any age in fact. I have seen what the power of dance can do for the creative thinker, the child who has ADHD, Dyslexia or even anger management. I have also been inspired by the many male dancers and choreographers who are out there such as Carlos Acosta, Matthew Bourne, Ashley Banjo, Ivan Perez and Alvin Ailey just to mention a few. However, with so many male role models in the professional dance industry, the question is why is there still a shortage in boys taking dance?

Studio Hopper

Being a black male who grew up in the West Midlands during the 80’s and the 90’s there was a limited amount of options available for boys to dance, it was also rare to find other male dancers. I remember joining lots of different dance schools across the cities of Wolverhampton and Birmingham, and I was always the only boy in the class. Don’t get me wrong this didn’t put me off from dancing, as I loved dancing all day every day, and nothing was going to stop me from doing that, however at times I found it uninspiring. Teachers would always give me the special solo in a troupe dance or a front row spot to highlight their one and only boy. It wasn’t until I joined a national youth dance programme that I was surrounded by other gifted boys from whom I could learn and feel inspired by. In those days dance was a ‘private dance school’ or ‘theatre school’ thing, it wasn’t accessible in schools and GCSE dance was in its’ infancy. So things have come a long way since then, but not far enough.

Dance in Mainstream Education –

from a professional perspective

Working as a professional dancer for many years, I was surrounded by lots of views and opinions from my peers about dance in mainstream schools, A lot of the time it was always something negative being said, “dance in schools is poor”, “dance in schools is weak”, “dance is delivered badly in schools”, “dance is not done the correct way in schools”, “dance in P.E is cheerleading”, etc. Already I thought; no wonder dance or the arts aren’t taken seriously if professional artists are valuing the arts in schools so poorly. However, looking into this more closely and starting to deliver freelance workshops in schools, I was fortunate to meet many inspiring and exceptional teachers who are great at promoting dance in their schools and who have a successful dance curriculum themselves. However, I still came across a limited number of boys dancing.

 Selby’s checklist to

Promote Boys Dance in Mainstream Education

Tips for schools who already have boys dancing

  • Use older male students to encourage younger students to dance. This could be done by letting them run their own dance sessions after school, or even at lunch.
  • Get to know your local schools, invest in helping them to offer dance. Again this could be you or one of your male dance students offering them workshops.
  • Make a big deal about it everywhere, that’s in school bulletins, newsletters, social media etc.
  • Create a platform/performance for your boys and other boys to join. This is a great way to fund free extra-curricular provision.
  • Open up your facilities for other schools who don’t have the resources to teach dance.

Tips for schools who want to promote boys dance

  • Get in contact with BalletBoyz Education team. They have the most amazing online dance class resources. Even if you’re not confident in teaching dance, the online videos are great for this, as the dancers from the company do all the teaching for you.
  • Get in contact with your regional Centre of Advance Training (CAT) Scheme. They offer free boys taster sessions.
  • Ashley Banjo online resources are great for PE lessons – this will help the non-dancer boys find dance really fun and also ‘cool’.
  • Try and get a male role figure to come into school to promote boys dancing.
  • Get familiar with schools that are doing well with boys dance. Drop them an email and ask for help/support/ideas.
  • Go to the theatre and watch more companies that are top heavy with male casting. This will help inspire your students to try something new.
  • Contact your local arts society to offer support with funding’s.

Final thoughts

I truly believe in the transformative and enriching power of dance, and more broadly a well-rounded arts education. In the current climate, with schools facing challenging decisions and the general reducing value arts subjects seem to be facing from those leading the education policy in this country, it is as important as ever that those with the access to teach and promote dance within mainstream education advocate for their subject and make as much noise as they can about how dance and the arts can improve and enrich a student’s learning and sense of self-esteem, creativity, physical fitness and communication skills. I think it is vital that we at the forefront of this crusade challenge our own organisations, and face head on any stigma attached to our subject, educating and promoting the strength of the arts at ground level. Through ‘shouting about’ projects like DiME (dance in mainstream education) and highlighting the successes and positive experiences had by those given the access and input to exciting and collaborative arts projects, we can keep the arts alive, but only if we are willing to work tirelessly, be resourceful, use our creativity and not be afraid to make noise about the true benefits and life changing effects of dance.