My Tiny Dancer

Jessica Malouf essays

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My son is a dancer. He takes ballet and has for over a year. He’s five-years-old. I don’t think that he danced any more or less than any normal kid before ballet. Sure we had the occasional living room dance party but nothing out of the ordinary. But now, my boy is a ballet dancer. He can arabesque, passé, pas de chat, tendu, and assume 5th position like nobody’s business.

He started ballet last year after he and I watched an inspiring documentary about kids in ballet, including boys. All of the children were amazing, but the boys were breathtaking.  After watching this movie I asked, “Hey Sulli, would you like to try ballet?” His answer was a simple and firm, “Yep”. 

After a swift Google search we found a ballet studio that had a class we could fit into our schedule. I was a bit dismayed by a statement on their website that students needed to wear black leotards and pink tights, but a quick phone call assured me that Sulli’s shorts and t-shirt would be just fine. Was that excitement on the phone that a boy wanted to dance? Perhaps.

The first lesson was free. An appreciated trial to make sure he liked it. I imagine it’s hard not to enjoy twirling around with a gaggle of mini ballerinas. He loved it. 

Sulli and I have tried many other activities, from soccer to gymnastics, but there is nothing he has loved so much as dancing. He delights in it. He spins, jumps, leaps, points, twirls, and creates bizarre and goofy movements with his body, all as practice to attain something beautiful.

At class the other night, another dancer’s mother asked me how long he had been dancing. I told her over a year. Her next comment wasn’t unexpected, but caused me to take a big, slow inhale nonetheless…“Well, this will help him so much when he is in sports”. It was a well-intentioned statement, really it was, and one I hear quite a bit. This is the sentiment of someone putting the sight of a boy in tights into a comfortable perspective. It still made me a bit sad. Sulli isn’t into sports. My son’s exploration of dance is unrelated to sports. I have a boy who loves to dance much more than throwing or kicking a ball. Stories of football players taking ballet to improve their game has changed the perception of males in dance, but only strengthened the stereotypes associated with a male dancer who dances just for the love of dance. 

All cultures differ. Our culture, for whatever reason, doesn’t favor boys in classical dance. In other countries, many more boys participate in or even dominate ballet without any concern about sexual orientation. Ballet is an endeavor that pushes the human body to its limits of strength, flexibility, coordination, and beauty. In ballet, I have watched Sulli develop poise, awareness, patience, confidence, and self-control (he dances with a sword yet never once points it another person). He is balanced, strong, graceful, and light. He is joy in motion. 

I don’t know if he will stay in dance. I hope he will but will understand if he doesn’t.  He starts kindergarten next year and I don’t know how he will feel about dance after exposure to the pressures of peers. We have tried to raise him to be strong and unconcerned about the opinions of others, but there are few of us who can tolerate disparaging comments for any length of time.  He is only human.

No matter what happens, I will always be glad he danced. Even if he decides to be a football player.

About the Author

Jessica Malouf

Jessica is a Montana implant hailing from a Western suburb of Chicago. She is a mother of one and a physical therapist working for the Community Bridges brain injury program.

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