When “Good Morning America” host Lara Spencer laughed at the notion of 6-year-old Prince George’s enrollment in ballet as part of his school curriculum there was backlash from everyone, from the entire cast of the musical “Cher,” who protested by taking their ballet practice to the street (outside the “Good Morning America” studio), to Patricia Ward Kelly, the widow of Gene Kelly, who posted a message on Facebook calling the mocking of “a boy’s study of ballet in a nationally televised morning show…both unacceptable and incomprehensible.”
“I have news for you, Prince William, we’ll see how long that lasts,” Ms. Spencer said when reading a statement from Prince William that his son “absolutely loves ballet.” Her tone could be described at best as flippant, at worst as derisive.
Ms. Spencer apologized for her offhand remark, but not before the #boysdancetoo and #boysdoballet hashtags received hundreds of posts across Instagram and Twitter. The whole event sparked discussion about the obstacles faced by boys who want to dance and shined a light on the fact that while girls are usually widely encouraged to try activities that were historically considered boy oriented, the reciprocal situation often receives much less support.
If you are of the belief that boys deserve the chance to follow their passions without fear of ridicule, this Sunday, September 15, at 4 PM Turning Pointe Dance Center will be hosting a screening of “Danseur,” the 2018 documentary about the unique challenges male dancers face. The film will be screened at Falmouth Academy’s Simon Center for the Arts. Admission is $20. After the screening the film’s director, Scott Gormley, and John Lam, a principal dancer with the Boston Ballet who is featured in the film, will both be on hand for a question-and-answer session with the audience.
While it might seem that Turning Pointe owner and artistic director Laura Sciortino might have been motivated to bring the film to Falmouth by Ms. Spencer’s August comments, hosting the screening has been many months in the works.
“I have been dying to see it,” Ms. Sciortino said of the movie. “I kept waiting for it to show up in the theaters but of course it wasn’t popular enough.” After doing some research Ms. Sciortno discovered she could host her own screening of the film. “It’s been a year in the making to get it here but in the end it’s perfect timing,” she said.
“What I’m really hoping for is that not only dancers will come to it,” Ms. Sciortino said. “I’ve had people say that they’d be a fish out of water coming to see a movie about dance but I say absolutely not. This is what we’re trying to do, is teach our community and our world what they’re going through and to get rid of the stigma.”
Helping to erase the stigma and bullying that can surround boys who dance is something Ms. Sciortino has always been passionate about. “Everyone deserves to do what they love,” she said.
According to Ms. Sciortino, of the 300 children who dance at the Turning Pointe studio, less than 10 percent are boys.
In addition to hip hop, which is more popular with boys, Ms. Sciortino said she has several boy ballet dancers, some of whom are “very serious about it.”
“It’s unbelievable to hear about what they go through,” said Ms. Sciortino, who touted bullying as one of the main reasons why so many boys drop out. “We get them until they are 9 or 10,” she said, “and then they start to get made fun of at school and we start to see them drop out. Why is that? What can we do? It’s sad to me. Something is being taken away from them.”
According to the film, 85 percent of the males who study ballet in the United States are bullied or harassed.
Male dancer and choreographer Yves de Bouteiller, whose professional career includes performing as principal dancer with the Milwaukee Ballet and artistic director of the Channel Islands Ballet, is one of the instructors at Turning Pointe. In Lara Spencer’s mockery of boys doing ballet, Mr. de Bouteiller observed that Ms. Spencer “echoed the commonly misguided and uneducated view that ballet is not ‘for boys,’” meaning, not a masculine enough art form. “Pursuing ballet training,” said Mr. de Bouteiller, will not determine sexual orientation or affect masculinity. “It will not make a straight man gay, the same way playing football or basketball will not make a gay man straight.”
“You are who you are,” Mr. de Bouteiller said, “and you can be proud of it, pursuing any dream you want without letting anyone else, on TV or elsewhere, tell you what you can or cannot do.”
Fifteen-year-old Darien Santos, who dances at Turning Pointe, said he’s been bullied “as recently as last week” because he is a ballet dancer. Because he has the support of his family and friends the bullying has not made him want to quit dance, but he is “sad for the many boys that decide to quit dance because of the bullying that comes with being a boy in dance.”
I asked Ms. Sciortino if she thought the issues surrounding boys and dance had gotten any better in all the years she’d been dancing and she responded that it has, attributing some of the improvements to the popularity of TV dance reality shows, including “So you Think You Can Dance,” and “Dancing With The Stars.” “It’s certainly cooler to be on a TV show,” she said.
“I think it has evolved and I think a lot more people are more accepting,” Ms. Sciortino said, “but there are still a lot of people who aren’t.”
“There are a lot of people who don’t understand that dance is a career and that you can actually make money at it,” Ms. Sciortino said. “You won’t get rich but it’s a wonderful life and a career and people don’t understand that, and I think it can be treated as a joke sometimes.”
“People don’t always realize what they are saying or what effect their words have,” Ms. Sciortino said.
Ms. Sciortino also said people don’t always understand how disciplined and athletic ballet is: “To become a pro at it you’re starting at it very young, many more years before say, a football player has to start.”
Speaking of football, Ms. Sciortino added that when she danced with the Milwaukee Ballet, “Once a month the Green Bay Packers would come and take ballet class with us for balance and flexibility.”
Although she hasn’t seen the film yet, Ms. Sciortino expects it will touch on a lot of these issues.
Tickets to “Danseur” are available at turningpointedancestudio.org. A portion of the proceeds from the event will benefit Turning Pointe’s scholarship fund.