Why do boys tend to give up dance classes when they reach their teens? Kate Laho and Natalie Holasz discuss the findings of a recent survey conducted by The Place.

Photo of boy sin a dance class

Hayley Madden

At The Place we provide a classes and courses programme that creates entry points into dance for an average of 650 people each week, aged from two years all the way up to 60 or more. Our boys-only dance programmes have proved to be very popular, but we noticed that there was a noticeable drop-off in participation among young teens and adults.

Of the people who took the survey, 46% said that they don’t dance because of the fear of “being rubbish”

We wanted to gain a better understanding of why classes for boys were fully subscribed but there were so few men in the standard weekly classes. We devised an online survey, that we shared via our social media channels, that asked boys, men, dads, uncles and granddads to tell us why they were or weren’t dancing and what could persuade them to give it a go.

Fear of failure

Of the people who took the survey, 46% said that they don’t dance because of the fear of “being rubbish” and not being able to do it to the expected standard. However, many said that they wished they were able to dance.

The second highest reason why the boys and men surveyed didn’t want to take a dance class was to do with peer pressure: 23% of respondents said their friends don’t dance so they don’t either. One respondent said: “If there were no men there it would be embarrassing.” And another young person who has tried dancing said: “It can be very dispiriting to be the only guy in the class”.

Some men were encouraging about their past dance experiences, with one respondent saying: “I am now a Royal Marine but I will always miss the days of my dancing life. I would encourage any boy to dance, it’s a great sport and a great way to show emotions and feelings and develop a creative mind.”

Removing the barriers

In response to these findings, we created a video campaign called Boys Can Dance to encourage more boys aged 11 to 15 years to give dancing a go. It’s at this age that dancing can have particularly significant benefits in terms of improving body image and self-confidence, fitness and interpersonal skills. We want to show that our dance classes are open to all levels and abilities, in a friendly, non-judgmental environment and that it provides an opportunity to make new friends.

We spoke to three boys who are already taking dance classes to find out why they dance and what they enjoy most about it. Bram, aged 12 and a member of Fuel, The Place’s dance company for boys aged 11 to 15 years, said that he enjoys dancing because “when I dance I get so excited and creative, I forget about all the stress and all the anxieties, the annoying things like deadlines, and it’s just about having fun with your friends”. He also said that the initial division of boys and girls helped him gain confidence and have friends already when moving into the mixed classes.

Another factor helping to remove barriers to participation is the increased profile of dance in mainstream media with talent and reality shows such as Our Dancing Town, Britain’s Got Talent, BBC Young Dancer and Strictly Come Dancing showing boys and men of all abilities and backgrounds enjoying learning to dance.

There are also opportunities to see exciting live dance shows by groups, such as Balletboyz, Diversity, Les Ballets Trockadero de Montecarlo and 2FacedDance that regularly tour the UK.

Next steps

The real success story that we’ve seen from our boys-only classes has been watching the boys build enough confidence to move into the mainstream classes. We’ve had great results with the implementation of this model for the younger boys and from this survey we’ve realised that positive attitudes towards dance continue on into adulthood.

We want to offer a genuine opportunity for those older boys and men who feel intimidated or out of place in a group of mainly girls or women, to try dance in a way they can feel comfortable with. In response, we’ve started to implement our boys-only model for the adult classes with our first male-only workshop ‘Men’s Room’ taught by Kai Thomas that ran this Easter.

We hope that if we can encourage more boys and men to take the first step and get involved in dance, it will have a positive impact on their activity levels, they’ll make new friends and develop an improved sense of wellbeing.

Kate Laho is Classes and Courses Programme Manager at The Place and Natalie Holasz is Programme Assistant at The Place.
Tw: @theplacelondon

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