How My Son’s Ballet Lessons Are Helping Him Develop Character

Recital 2014_23

I’m a big believer in learning through play. Little children learn best when their imaginations and hearts are in the forefront. This is why I love dance class for my son.

From the time they can sit up, the tiniest babies love to move. Toddlers can hardly stand up before they’re bouncing and clapping whenever they hear a beat. Dance is such a natural form of expression.

When my son first started dance, I thought it’d be a good social opportunity, but now as we’re getting ready for our second recital, I see that dance is teaching my son to one day be a strong man.

He learns to listen to others.just e_1

Since my son isn’t in preschool, dance gives him an opportunity to listen to adults other than his family. Dance class is not a place for wild free-play. It shows that orderly quiet, respectful places can be fun even if it requires waiting for a turn to go across the floor.

He learns to face himself in the mirror.

Dance class takes place in a room of mirrors. Mirrors are vital to be able to see if what you think you’re doing actually matches what you’re doing. This literal self reflection teaches the priceless skill of self-evaluation. Learning to be proud of what you see is equally important.

Dance lets him escape the man box.

This year my son is the only little boy in his class, but that doesn’t worry me. I put him in dance to help him overcome the trappings of the “man box, ” the unwritten rules about what a man can and cannot do and still be respected. These gender conformity guidelines hurt both men and women as Tony Porter explains in a life-changing TED talk:

“Growing up as a boy, we were taught that men had to be tough, had to be strong, had to be courageous, dominating — no pain, no emotions, with the exception of anger — and definitely no fear; that men are in charge, which means women are not; that men lead, and you should just follow and do what we say; that men are superior; women are inferior; that men are strong; women are weak; that women are of less value, property of men, and objects, particularly sexual objects. I’ve later come to know that to be the collective socialization of men, better known as the “man box.” See this man box has in it all the ingredients of how we define what it means to be a man. […]

“I come to also look at this as this fear that we have as men, this fear that just has us paralyzed, holding us hostage to this man box. I can remember speaking to a 12-year-old boy, a football player, and I asked him, I said, “How would you feel if, in front of all the players, your coach told you you were playing like a girl?” Now I expected him to say something like, I’d be sad; I’d be mad; I’d be angry, or something like that. No, the boy said to me — the boy said to me, “It would destroy me.” And I said to myself, “God, if it would destroy him to be called a girl, what are we then teaching him about girls?””

Dance helps my son be secure in himself and his interests. It helps him value people regardless of their genders. Hopefully, he’ll see that he doesn’t have to live his life trapped in boxes. He can be both the little boy dirty from playing construction trucks in the mud and the one dancing as Beast in ballet slippers. His classmates can be little girls in pretty pink tutus but also strong, smart, funny, and his friends.

He sees that improvement take practice and commitment.

It’s adorable to look in on the class and see how terrible they are the first few times they’re taught something new. In dance, new is not a reason to be worried. It’s just another thing to work on. From day one, it starts with simple moves that become more and more complex, building toward a recital show in front of an audience. It’s amazing as a parent to watch that progress. I can only imagine how it feels as the dancer.

He’s learning to carry himself. Recital 2014_18

Posture is important especially as our lives become more hunched over as we work and play on computers, tablets, and phones. I’m hopeful that good posture from ballet will stay with him and help prevent future neck and back pain. Plus, there’s a confidence that can’t be denied from someone who knows how to carry himself.

He was only three years old for his first recital, and we weren’t sure he’d have the confidence to walk out on stage, under those big lights, and perform, but he did. All four times.

I know some people raise an eyebrow because my son takes dance.

As a small child, he has the opportunities to explore and express himself without the baggage of societal expectations. For him to transcend any outside limitations that might try to stunt his success, he has to learn to be comfortable in his own skin. Dance is an amazing place to learn these lessons.

Dance class taps into that innate desire to express self, but it adds guidance and a platform for growth.He probably won’t study dance forever, but the skills he’s learning might one day be the difference that helps him make the cut of the team he wants to join or makes him standout at an important interview. Beyond the coordination and motor skills which are great, my son takes dance because it contributes to his whole self-development.

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