“Good Morning America” host Lara Spencer certainly caused a furor throughout the dance community over her insensitive comments about 6-year-old Prince George taking a ballet class.
As you know by now, Spencer made a remark during a segment on the Aug. 22 morning show as she and her co-hosts were breaking down the school curriculum of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s young son.
“Prince William said Prince George absolutely loves ballet … I have news for you Prince William, we’ll see how long that lasts," Spencer said with a laugh.
The GMA host issued an apology on Instagram the next day to try and stem the backlash from the dance community. And apparently she didn’t stop there, reaching out to “So You Think You Can Dance” star Travis Wall to find out how she could best make up for her mistake.
“I could just hear the horror in her voice,” Travis said in an Instagram video of his own.
Three days later, Travis Wall hosted a massive crowd of boys and girls that came out to Times Square to dance with him in front of GMA. Awesome!
All that is well and good – but it was not only what Lara Spencer said that offended me as a male and as a former professional dancer turned dance educator; it was also what took place right after. There was audience laughter, co-hosts chuckling, and it became a spectacle of a TV segment that went on for more than a minute.
Spencer’s remark and the “piling on” of the others reminded me of how I used to feel sometimes as a young male dancer. All of those looks, smirks, chuckles, and sometimes worse were hard to take when I knew I was doing what I loved.
If just one co-host had said something like, "I think boys taking ballet is a cool thing," that would have changed the whole dynamic of this insult entirely. Instead, it played out just like it does for so many young male dancers that are bullied by their ignorant peers.
It starts with one person making a joke about it (the bully), the others joining in on the humiliating laughter (the accomplices), and finally, the young boy (the recipient of the humiliation) feeling awkward, segregated, and embarrassed.
I think Good Morning America, Lara Spencer, her co-hosts, and even the audience members had a real chance to encourage and lift up all the young boys out there who are interested in ballet… and they ALL missed that opportunity.
While those associated with GMA may have missed their mark, I firmly believe that this unfortunate incident provides tremendous opportunities for individual dance teachers and dance studios alike.
Now is the time to go beyond the status quo and to give whatever extra time and support you can offer to your current young male dance students - and also work to foster an environment that is safe and inviting for other boys who are interested in dance but are leery to pursue it.
That’s one reason why I launched Man In Motion in 2012: To bring together some of the most talented male dance instructors and choreographers from NYC’s metropolitan area and make them available to local dance studios where they can do the most good.
Since then, I’m proud to say that with a network of 75+ male dance educators that are highly skilled and well-trained, Man In Motion has served more than 100 dance studios at various times… and who knows how many thousands of young dancers.
One of the things I am most proud of is hearing from so many studio owners who tell me what a blessing it is to have that male influence there in class for their students, boys and girls alike.
With that same theme in mind, Man In Motion produced a four-part documentary series for social media called “Male Mentors In Dance.” The project was designed to encourage young male dancers and to promote mentorship between male dance educators and these students.
Then in 2018, Man In Motion produced a dance video designed primarily for those young boys who are dealing with personal issues that affect their self-image and overall confidence.
“This Is Me” introduces you to five teenage boys that have a passion for dance, each with their own personal issues - like body image, sexual identity, just fitting in, living up to the expectations of others, or a general lack of confidence.
The scene then shifts to a variety of dance routines to the featured song, performed by the cast of 31 boys and girls ranging from10-18 years old and set in locations throughout New York City.
The “This Is Me” video received a great response from both boys and girls, from parents, within the dance community, and throughout social media – and we look forward to doing similar projects in the future.
So what can a dance teacher or dance studio do to provide a better overall experience for young male dancers and to encourage others to consider joining the classes? Here are just a few ideas:
First of all, recognize that no matter how much a young boy may love to dance, there may be times when it’s a bit challenging for him to participate in an activity with mostly girls, both from inside the studio and out. Just acknowledging that fact will increase your awareness to what his needs might be.
Focus extra effort on creating the most positive experience for the boys as possible. Pay particular attention to how they deal with body coordination, dancing with the girls, being assigned parts, and costuming so they can enjoy every conceivable aspect of the activity.
If possible, provide the boys with a “male mentor” at the studio - or at least point them to a male role model in dance that they could follow, based on their favorite genre(s), body type, personal dance goals, etc. Having someone to “lean on” once in a while helps boys deal with their unique issues.
Going the extra mile for your current boy dancers would be likely to give your studio a reputation and create an environment that brings even more boys to your roster of young dancers.
For more information about Man In Motion, or to discuss ways to enhance your mentoring of young male dancers and foster increased participation from boys interested in dance, feel free to contact us.