When Can We Finally Talk About Why Boys In Dance Get Bullied?

A still from the new documentary, DANSEUR. Image courtesy DANSEUR

According to the new documentary DANSEUR, 85% of males who study dance in the United States are bullied or harassed. A quote in the film from Dr. Doug Risner, faculty member at Wayne State University, states, "If this scope of bullying occurred in any activity other than dance, it would be considered a public health crisis by the CDC."

So why is it allowed to persist in ballet? And why aren't we talking about it more? These are the questions that DANSEUR seeks to answer. But primarily consisting of dance footage and interviews with male dancers like ABT's James Whiteside, Houston Ballet's Harper Watters and Boston Ballet's Derek Dunn, the film only addresses these issues superficially, with anecdotes about individual experiences and generalizations about what it's like to be a male dancer.


The film often comes across as tone-deaf: Though there is lots of discussion about the challenges that professional male dancers face (not having their career taken seriously, being a "prop" onstage for women, etc), there's no acknowledgment that ballet is almost entirely run by men, who often ride a "glass escalator" into positions of power in the field. (And yes, ballet may be a traditionally feminine art form, but one of the country's major companies is currently being sued for having a "frat-like" culture.) Nor does it tackle other complex gender dynamics at play, like the fact that alongside being bullied, boys often receive scholarships and preferential treatment from teachers because they are so scarce, or that women face outsized competition due to sheer numbers.

Still, DANSEUR accomplishes an important goal: To show boys facing bullying that they're not alone, and to present role models of (mostly gay) professional male dancers. We spoke to one of these roles models, Boston Ballet principal John Lam, about the film, why his parents still haven't seen him dance as a professional, and why ballet's issues don't end with bullying:

What He Thought of the Film

"I thought it was a powerful message for our youth, especially now within our political temperature," Lam says. "Bullying has essentially been a growing pain of being a male dancer. People don't discuss it or allow kids to know that others have gone through it." Director and producer Scott K. Gormley was inspired by his son's experience with bullying to make the film, according to Lam. "I'm a father myself so it hits me a little deeper," he says.

Why His Parents Won't Go See Him Dance

Early in the film, Lam mentions that his parents have never seen him dance as a professional. As a viewer, it's easy to assume that this is because they don't approve of men doing ballet, or of Lam being gay. But the reality is more complicated: "The American culture says that our parents are going to be there in anything that we do," says Lam. "My parents are refugees from Vietnam. Coming here, all they cared about was making sure I was safe, fed and doing well at school. They do love me dearly. But in terms of what I do for a living, they haven't really come through with that. I think it's a lack of a cultural education, and I don't blame them. It's sad but at the same time it helps me become a stronger person. I think that has been a blessing in disguise."

Why We Need to Talk About More Than Just Bullying

The film implies that ballet is just as competitive for men as it is for women. When asked if he agrees with that sentiment, Lam brought up another important facet of the argument: "I believe that if you're a white male that's tall and can partner, your career is going to be much easier than a dancer from any other ethnicity," he says. "I only say that from personal experience. I've dealt with things like, Oh we don't want you in that part. They can't tell you it's because you have Asian eyes and dark hair but the presumption is that an Asian dancer has never done that role before."

The Conversation
Dance News

This week the kids of "Dancing with the Stars: Juniors" got to take charge of their performances: They got choose the songs they performed to AND were also given a lot more say in the creative process of their routines. Many of their choices were rather surprising, but it was fun to see these pint-size performers put their own stamp on their pieces—after all, that's how dancers become artists.

Keep reading... Show less

This year, do not miss out on the world's most prestigious dance competition! Every dance competition offers a different experience. At Showstopper, they make it their top priority that your competition experience is unmatched. Here are just a few reasons why Showstopper is uniquely the best…

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Fashion
Photo by Lucas Chilczuk

Flip your fins in shimmering costumes worthy of the life aquatic.

Modeled by Laura Haver and Brynlie Helmich.

Photography by Lucas Chilczuk

Keep reading... Show less
Giveaways

It's contest time! You could win your choice of Apolla Shocks (up to 100 pairs) for your whole studio! Apolla Performance believes dancers are Artists AND Athletes—wearing Apolla Shocks helps you be both! Apolla Shocks are footwear for dancers infused with sports science technology while maintaining a dancer's traditions and lines. They provide support, protection, and traction that doesn't exist anywhere else for dancers, helping them dance longer and stronger. Apolla wants to get your ENTIRE studio protected and supported in Apolla Shocks! How? Follow these steps:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
via giphy.com

Finding the perfect song to choreograph to can sometimes be a very tricky task. But thankfully, our queen Ariana Grande is constantly releasing dance-worthy bops. Whether from her hit album Dangerous Woman or her most recent Sweetener, there are a ton of songs from the "God is a Woman" singer that need to be on your dance playlist STAT. Here are 10 of our favorites.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
(photo by Jim Lafferty)

Amanda LaCount was born to move. The second the music comes on at her Dance Spirit cover shoot, the bubbly 17-year-old is shimmying her shoulders and tossing her hair. When she launches into a full-out freestyle to Whitney Houston's "It's Not Right But It's Okay," you can't take your eyes off her.

And yet with every gig she lands, Amanda is challenging some of the dance world's longest-held biases. "I'm curvy," she says, "and I like being curvy. My body is not a bad thing. It's who I am." Here's how Amanda went from talented tot to hardworking pro—and from insecure preteen to body-positive role model.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Photo by Lexi Colvin, courtesy Schwartz

Courtney Schwartz seems to be every comp kid's idol. Each week, she assists Talia Favia in a different city for Radix Dance Convention, but it's her high energy, super-cool movement, and genuine passion that truly inspires.

Keep reading... Show less
Dear Katie
Photo by Travis Kelley, courtesy Kathryn Morgan

In our "Dear Katie" series, former NYCB soloist Kathryn Morgan answers your pressing dance questions. Have something you want to ask Katie? Email dearkatie@dancespirit.com for a chance to be featured!

Dear Katie,

My feet naturally sickle when I point them, especially when I'm moving quickly or jumping. How can I fight the sickle?

Kelsey

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun

Colder weather is (finally) here, which means it's time for a good dance movie binge. But which iconic films should you put on? To narrow your search, we went ahead and ranked 30 of the greatest dance movies of all time.

Of course, we know a list like this is bound to be controversial—so if you disagree with our lineup, have at it in the comments!

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

There's no question that life as a dancer can be difficult—long hours, rigorous rehearsals, and the risk of rejection and injury can take a toll. But dancing also gives us so much to be thankful for! In honor of Thanksgiving, we asked nine dancers to share what they're most grateful for this year. From overcoming adversity to new artistic opportunities to growing families, these artists have a lot to celebrate.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
via giphy.com

Finding the perfect song to choreograph to can sometimes be a very tricky task. But thankfully, our queen Ariana Grande is constantly releasing dance-worthy bops. Whether from her hit album Dangerous Woman or her most recent Sweetener, there are a ton of songs from the "God is a Woman" singer that need to be on your dance playlist STAT. Here are 10 of our favorites.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer

There's no question that life as a dancer can be difficult—long hours, rigorous rehearsals, and the risk of rejection and injury can take a toll. But dancing also gives us so much to be thankful for! In honor of Thanksgiving, we asked nine dancers to share what they're most grateful for this year. From overcoming adversity to new artistic opportunities to growing families, these artists have a lot to celebrate.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News

If you follow New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns on Instagram, you'll have noticed that for the past several months, her feed has included wedding prep pics in addition to her usual performance posts and cross-training clips. This past weekend, the big day finally arrived, and Mearns married Broadway and television choreographer Joshua Bergasse in a dreamy beach ceremony in North Carolina.

Keep reading... Show less
How To
B-boy Ray "Nasty Ray" Mora demonstrating toprocking (photo by Josh Salcedo, courtesy Mora)

For most people, the word "breaking" brings to mind flashy feats on the floor. But those eye-catching tricks aren't the whole picture. Breaking actually features four different categories of movement: toprock, footwork (or "downrock"), freezes, and power moves. And while toprocking—the part of breaking that's done standing up—is often overlooked, it's one of the most critical parts of the art form.

"As b-boy Mr. Wiggles taught me, breaking is like a sentence, and toprocking is the introduction," says seasoned street dancer Valerie "Ms. Vee" Ho, who teaches at Broadway Dance Center, Pace University, Peridance, and Juilliard. So how can dancers start their sentences off in a way that'll keep people listening—and watching?

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Milo Manheim sweeping Witney Carson off her feet during their Foxtrot. (Screenshot via YouTube)

Last night's "Dancing with the Stars" had it all: cowboy boots, a double elimination, and two perfect scores! Get your feet in those stirrups, because this recap's about to be a wild ride.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Cathleen Meredith is a plus-size performer who's started her own talent agency for fellow plus-size dancers (photo by Elliott Ashby, courtesy Meredith)

For Decades, Thin has been very In in the dance world. The stereotype is especially prevalent in ballet, where young dancers can feel huge pressure to be as skinny as possible. But dance's body-diversity problem isn't limited to the realm of leotards and tights—it's an issue that dancers of all genres encounter. Those who don't fit the thin ideal often find themselves shut out of professional dance, sidelined not because of a lack of talent, but because of a body directors and choreographers deem "too big."

Thankfully, long-overdue change is—slowly but surely—coming. And we'd like you to meet five of the gifted, determined, stereotype-shattering performers leading the way. They're living proof that talent knows no size.

Keep reading... Show less
Giveaways

We're giving away this Pumpers Dancewear mermaid costume that's featured in our November fashion story. Enter below for your chance to win it!

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored

Giveaways