Ask Dad: How Do I Hang on to My Little Billy Elliot?

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My boy loves to dance. He always has, since he could move. We put him in ballet class as soon as he was old enough and he loved it, but now at age 4 he's saying it's for girls and sitting out (sometimes he can't help himself and gets up and does the leaps). His dad has been totally supportive. He's not getting this from us. Do I make him stay in class or is it T-ball and karate from here on? 

Sigh. You've got me straddling my two big whipping boys -- the need for true gender equality among kids and the need not to be a sick stage parent.


Every parent needs to treat extracurricular stuff like a Nickelodeon awards show: it's kids' choice. Of course you should have a say -- no meth-making 101 or naked performance art (unless they really show a talent).

The key is that he loves it. Being unable to stay seated at pirouette time is a pretty good sign. So fight for the slippers with all you have for as long as you can.

It doesn't surprise me that he's got this attitude despite you. Parents just don't matter as much as peers. We accept this when it comes to teens, but it starts the moment they leave your side and hit the playground. They model their behavior on the people they see who look like them. My daughter was taught to death there was no such thing as boy colors and girl colors, yet before preschool even she was only about the pink. And no, sorry, pink is not in the girl genes. It was a boy color as recently as the last century, and evolution doesn't work that fast.

Ask yourself why a baby born in the U.S. to British parents doesn't have a British accent, and don't dwell on what a shame it is because a Brit-speaking baby is the most adorable thing in the world. Their parents taught them to speak didn't they? It's because their peers -- and the culture at large -- taught them more. 

So you just have the simple task of pretending we have a different culture than we do.

There was a time when we could use the old "professional football players do ballet for balance!" that was so beloved in sitcoms, but that's out partly because they don't anymore and partly because at the moment pro footballers aren't the best examples -- I'm looking at you Favre.

Instead, just surround the boy with images of little dudes dancing.

Are there boys in his dance class? If not, find one that has some, even if you have to drive across town. My daughter's class only has two, but they would prove a huge example. Three and they're no longer outcasts. If you can't find one, put out an ad or group email asking if anyone else has boys that would dance in the right circumstances. You could even try to develop an all-boy class. Not the best, but better than quitting. 

Go on YouTube, find the finest dancing boys you can, and show him the videos. Show him the relevant bits of Billy Elliot.

Tell him bedtime stories about a couple of bad-asses named Nureyev and Baryshnikov, and how they danced all day and by night were the most wanted men in a magical kingdom called Studio 54. He may not appreciate it now, but maybe someday he'll thank you.

How would you encourage your son to stick with dancing?


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