Dr. Scott Musgrove, Huntsville native, talks about the importance of having boys in dance.
It’s been 40 years since I walked into the “North Alabama Academy of Dance” which was a lofty name for a bare bones dance studio in a no longer existing strip mall a few blocks away from the Space & Rocket Center.
The floor was concrete with linoleum tile from when it was a U-Totem, the South’s version of 7-11 in the 60’s and 70’s; Patricia Murray, the artistic director was a demanding, challenging and altogether amazing woman who pointed out to me at a high school theatre audition that I could do something the other guys couldn’t; I could remember steps, I had some coordination and balance and with practice, I could get a LOT better.
With her guidance and hard work, I did get a lot better, which led to a series of opportunities that I could not imagine: a scholarship with a community ballet school, a scholarship to a prestigious college in Alabama, a job with a professional dance company in Chicago and then to a performance career in Los Angeles that included world tours and work in various media. It was an amazing career and although not all will choose to follow the path I took, ballet brought me skills that are unlike any other sport or art.
I was never a team sports guy, preferring to challenge and compete with myself: ballet gave me that opportunity and I was blessed with great experiences as a result. While there were a lot of challenges for me in those early years, the current landscape for young men in ballet has changed dramatically. The emergence of MTV in the mid 1980’s exposed every corner of the world to popular dancing styles; Suddenly dance was back – students flocking eagerly to studios quickly found that they had to have a foundation before they could learn those amazing moves – and the foundation was ballet.
Now we can tune in to any episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” and see the results of decades of acceptance of young men into this amazing field of artistic and athletic study; SYTYCD will leave any doubter slack jawed at the power, athleticism and artistic ability of the men and women on stage.
There are plenty of articles about the benefits of young men engaging in high school sports; greater wellbeing, better health outcomes, better grades, higher likelihood of college and better life skills, but parents often are ignorant to the well studied benefits of ballet training: fast twitch muscle and agility development, nutritional consciousness, improved sensorimotor performance, improved cognitive function, social connection, stress relief, flexibility and posture. All that and NO risk of head trauma – well ALMOST none, depending on the skill of the dance partner you’re throwing into the air above you!
For me, as a young man with undiagnosed ADHD, my grades soared when I began ballet and had to learn the task of multi-focus – those skills generalized into every area of my academic and personal life. Ballet is physically challenging, and while other sports can also be considered intense, ballet requires ever increasing levels of concentration in order to coordinate body placement, breath, muscular control and musicality.
When a young dancer moves into class combinations that include leaps and jumps, the cardiovascular system is challenged to grow exponentially in endurance and stamina. Beyond other sports with the exception of gymnastics, ballet improves body awareness (space perception), a specialized ability to judge and master understanding of one’s relative position of themselves and objects / others around them. This ability, highly developed in ballet, provides cues, such as depth and distance, that are important for movement and orientation in our environment. It’s the ballet dancer’s own super power!
Like other sports, ballet offers structured time away from our world’s ever increasing reliance on e-communication; classes and rehearsals are focused on the movement, the music and the sweat; The mirror becomes both your best friend and a worthy adversary.
There’s a mistaken belief that men in ballet are completely out of the “Alpha Male” competition of life. I couldn’t disagree more; here in dance, that competition is refined and honed where a young man can learn that individual power can come with grace and dignity and you better believe that that translates to the interview room, the presentation stage and the team meetings of adult life. The social interaction in ballet class and rehearsal is focused on relating to others IRL (in real life) and provides the opportunity for young men to experience “scaffolding” - one skill firmly learned on the back of another; the results of which translate into physical health and the confidence that comes from mastery of this very physical art.