What to do when boys tak­ing dance are bul­lied

24 Hours Toronto - - NEWS - JOANNE RICHARD

My friend’s young son quit dance last week. The 10-yearold loves jazz and bal­let — not any­more. “It’s for sissies,” he ranted.

The teas­ing took its toll. We still hear it all the time — girls should take bal­let and boys should do sports.

The machismo we can’t shake lim­its pos­si­bil­i­ties. Dance is as ath­letic as soc­cer, bas­ket­ball and hockey — but en­trenched gen­der bi­ases deem it an in­ap­pro­pri­ately fem­i­nine pur­suit for boys and men.

Kirsten Mc­goey’s mid­dle son loves bal­let and tap: “He loves pink, he loves ponies, he loves sparkles and rain­bows, to dance, sing, twirl ... he says he loves them be­cause they’re awe­some,” says Mc­goey, a Whitby pho­tog­ra­pher who is crush­ing gen­der bi­ases one click at a time. Her #aboy­can­too photo se­ries, which fea­tures boys ages 4 to 18 who love to dance bal­let, play with dolls, paint their nails, bake, fig­ure skate, and more.

“These boys are in­flu­encers and they don’t see the world as other peo­ple do,” says Mc­goey, mother to three boys ages six to 12. “They like what they like and don’t iden­tify male or fe­male to their choices.”

So­ci­ety’s nar­row lens be damned — gen­der stereo­types are taught, so too an open-minded view to the as­pi­ra­tions and ac­tiv­i­ties boys and girls are suited for, says Mc­goey, of aboy­can­ “They can teach us so much. They’re pro­vid­ing in­spi­ra­tion for other #aboy­can­too boys all over the world,” in­clud­ing Swe­den, where her pho­tos will be in an ex­hibit start­ing next month.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr. Karen Habib, “in a pa­tri­archy, an­yarrigo, thing re­lated to women or fem­i­nin­ity is de­val­ued or sex­u­al­ized. So boys or men who en­gage in those types of be­haviours are also de­val­ued, crit­i­cized, and/or bul­lied be­cause they chal­lenge the sta­tus quo.”

Chal­leng­ing pre­vail­ing gen­der norms is go­ing to take courage, says the psy­chol­o­gist at drkaren­ “Boys need to be told that this is not about their in­ter­ests, but about other peo­ple’s lim­i­ta­tions.”

Joey Ar­rigo knows all about turn­ing gen­der norms on their head. Ar­rigo is a dancer and he is pow­er­ful and spell­bind­ing.

His mom en­rolled him at age three to de­velop co­or­di­na­tion and body aware­ness. Now 25, his move­ments con­tinue to open minds and shape the new sta­tus quo. You may rec­og­nize him from So You Think You Can Dance Canada .He trav­elled the world with Bad Boys of Dance and now is the lead per­former in Cirque du Soleil’s pro­duc­tion of Volta in Toronto.

who is from New­mar­ket, Ont., plays the cen­tral char­ac­ter, Waz, in Volta, which is themed around self ac­cep­tance and find­ing your­self after be­ing led astray by out­side in­flu­ences like so­cial me­dia and re­stric­tive so­ci­etal ex­pec­ta­tions.

Danc­ing against the grain wasn’t easy. Bal­let classes got him ridiculed and teased dur­ing mid­dle school — “kids would tell me that what I was do­ing was wrong or it was for girls. But def­i­nitely those mem­o­ries have been su­per sup­pressed in my mind be­cause of all the hap­pi­ness and the joy that danc­ing and per­form­ing have brought me over the years.”

Don’t let oth­ers limit your reach: “It doesn’t mat­ter what other peo­ple think; it mat­ters what you want. Laugh and dance and keep do­ing what you love. If deep in­side your heart is telling you to dance then you have to dance, you have to dance!”

Ar­rigo tells as­pir­ing youth to use their en­ergy to fuel their artistry and pas­sion — not their In­sta­gram fol­low­ing. “That’s not the truth at all.”

Habib en­cour­ages par­ents to ex­am­ine their own truth, gen­der lim­i­ta­tions and ad­her­ence to rigid norms: We en­roll daugh­ters in the hy­per­sex­u­al­ized dance world of makeup and skimpy cos­tumes; and sign boys up for phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties that re­sult in a high in­jury rate and sup­port a cul­ture of hy­per­mas­culin­ity.

“We may want to think more crit­i­cally as we make choices and of the en­vi­ron­ments we sup­port,” says Habib. Both boys and girls should be en­cour­aged and cel­e­brated for ex­press­ing them­selves, what­ever the ac­tiv­ity they choose, and we need to rec­og­nize there are many ways of be­ing a boy and a girl.

“Fa­thers and other male role mod­els will need to stand with and cel­e­brate their sons’ ac­com­plish­ments.”


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