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How To Get More Boys Irish Dancing

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Nina is an adult Irish dancer based in Belgrade, Serbia. For more, connect with her on twitter @GingerLujka.

Recently I was discussing an interesting issue with one of my dancing friends: she was asked by an agency to provide a group of 15 Irish dancers to perform at a folk dance festival. The problem was – the agency was asking for an all-male group. Not only was it impossible to find 15 male dancers in one school, but three regional schools put together couldn’t gather the amount needed.

Unless it’s hip hop, boys seem to have a lot less interest in dancing than girls.

We need to encourage boys to dance and show them that dancing can be a great and fun way of expressing oneself. But in order to do so, we first have to consider some of the things that make boys reluctant to take up dancing

1. The first and the most important issue is, of course, bullying.

A lot of boys, even if they want to dance, get put off out of fear of verbal and physical abuse by their peers. We should teach our boys that dance is no less ‘manly’ than any other physical activity – it’s more demanding than many sports and it requires great endurance and stamina. Competitive dance helps build their self-confidence and through working towards achieving goals such as trophies and placements on competitions they learn discipline and persistence.

If by an unfortunate case your boy experiences bullying on account of his hobby, show him your support, don’t act as if it’s not a big deal and make sure that the parents of the bully as well as the school authorities are informed about the incident. Let both of the children know that bullying others is something to be ashamed of, not dancing. Teach your child not to be intimidated into quitting by other people’s shallow interpretation of a noble and precious discipline that is Irish dance.

2. Usually, boys would rather choose any sport over dance.

Even if they enjoy dancing, as many boys do, when faced with a choice of hobbies, most of them would go for football, basketball or some other team sport, usually because that’s where their friends go. You can help your boy combine these two by suggesting dance as part of their fitness program. Regular dance practice helps better motor coordination and thus can help your boy become a better athlete. Also, if your boy chose to be a dancer, regular sports practice can do wonders to his stamina and flexibility.

3. Taking a dance class means being surrounded by girls.

At a certain young age boys think of girls as creatures from another planet that can be intimidating if confronted singlehandedly, without other boys at their side. In most schools boys and girls are equal in numbers and in sports practices very rarely do you see genders mixing. But in a dance class boys are almost always outnumbered by girls.

Many dance blogs nowadays suggest making a separate, boys-only, dance classes that aim to make boys feel more secure and relaxed. But, somehow, I’m not so sure this would work out with Irish dance.
Irish dance has this unique characteristic that the same steps when performed by girls look graceful and feminine, while when performed by boys look strong and powerful.

Mixing boys and girls makes them more comfortable with each other and creates an environment of equality and tolerance. I believe that as parents and teachers we should encourage boys and girls to train together as a group, because no other sport can provide that opportunity for them. Inter-gender friendships made in childhood are very often the longest lasting and the most sincere ones.

Also, there are some things that boys might find attractive about dance, and that’s the sort of things we want to encourage if we want to see more boys doing Irish dance.

1. Costumes

I like dance costumes for boys. They are elegant, stylish, and everyone looks good in them. And, unlike girls, they don’t have to spend an endless night before a competition worrying about spray tan, make-up, wigs or hair. Even though personally I have a soft spot for kilts, one of the best things that happened to Irish dance was allowing boys to compete in trousers and vests or jackets. This opened the door for many elaborate designs, at the same time permitting boys to perform in simple but elegant outfits if they prefer. Boys, just like girls, can feel insecure about their appearance and a costume that makes them look great on stage surely boosts their confidence and helps them perform better.

2. Heritage

If you are Irish or Irish descendant, you definitely should, in my opinion, encourage your children towards dance and/or music. We live in times where tradition isn’t valued very highly, but I don’t think anyone one should forget where they came from. Irish dance is one of just a handful of national dances that has became popular worldwide, with people of all races and nationalities dancing and competing and with dance schools sprouting all over the globe. If you are Irish, this is definitely something to be proud of.

3. Role models

The Irish dance community, like any other, has its celebrities and fans. Young boys are very inclined towards role models and they tend to fix on one person and then imitate them in every fashion, and there’s very little we can do about it except maybe point into the right direction. Instead of looking up to a spoiled pop star or local ‘bad guys’, your boy could be looking up to great achievers, world champions, qualifiers, great performers, teachers and generally dancers who set the bar high with their positive attitude, healthy life styles and discipline.

Of course, this is just scratching the top of the iceberg and there are many, many more issues concerning this topic. It would be interesting to hear parents’, teachers’ and dancers’ opinions and experiences, so please, feel free to comment!

Photo credit: Flickr user Steven Saus

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