By Leora Winter

When the average person hears the word “ballerina,” many of them picture the elegant female with pointe shoes and a pink tutu. What many people do not realize is how important male dancers are to the arts.

According to the Census Bureau, 71% of dancers and choreographers are female, making them the more common gender in the occupation.

Dancing has many benefits for both men and women. As a physical activity, dancing builds strength, flexibility, and agility. It also helps develop creativity, discipline, teamwork, and many more mental skills.

While it is difficult to find an abundance of male dancers in big cities, it can be an even rarer occurrence in small, rural areas like Canton.

Part of the disconnect between men and dancing is the cultural differences between rural areas versus urban areas. Rural areas, especially in the Southern states, tend to have a larger population of blue-collar workers than cities.

After the Civil War, the South was the poorest region in the United States. Because of this, for years, there was not a lot of room for the arts in the Southern lifestyle, and most men especially gravitated toward work. This affected regional culture and that culture has been passed on to the present day. Many men spend their time working, often physical jobs, rather than expressing themselves through dance. This makes male dancers scarce in certain areas.

In urban areas, the arts are much more prevalent in daily life. This is because cities house larger populations of people, and there is a more diverse cultural landscape. Urban areas have a denser population of white-collar workers and wealthy citizens. According to a Monthly Labor Review journal published by JSTOR, “Among whites, the percentage employed in white-collar occupations is also significantly higher in metropolitan areas (56 percent) than in non-metropolitan areas (41 percent).”

Giving some insight on the dance community in rural areas versus urban areas is Christine Newnham. Christine is the owner of Aspire Dance Arts in Canton, GA.

Photo Credit: Aspire Dance Arts

She has been dancing for 26 years and teaching dance for 17 years. The ratio of male to female dancers in her classes is 1 to 20. She notices a difference between the volume of male dancers in rural areas versus urban areas. She said,

“Anything in a city is considered ‘bigger’ and more ‘professional’, and that’s no different for dance. While men do attend dance class in rural areas, urban areas tend to attract a higher concentration of male dancers. Urban areas tend to be where people are discovered and where top professionals teach and offer master classes, so the concentration of dancers is higher in general.”

Another factor that can contribute to men not wanting to dance is society itself. Since the beginning of time, many societies have taught young men that they must present masculinity and show power. They tell boys not to cry or express emotions. Many male dancers can confirm that dance makes them feel free to express themselves. It gives them a chance to defy social norms and be who they are inside.

Jamie Newnham, who also owns Aspire Dance Arts with his wife Christine, has also noticed the prevalence, or lack thereof, of males in dance.

Photo Credit: Aspire Dance Arts

Newnham has a background in musical theater, and he is also a certified personal trainer. When asked if there is anything he thinks is important for people to know about male dancers, he answered,

“Here are thousands of boys out there that missed their chance to become professional dancers. Guys now working in a job they half-like, dreaming of stepping on stage or even taking a class that [they] never did because of how people might treat them or because of what people, parents, and friends said to them. Dance is art, and it’s beautiful and expressive, and everyone deserves the chance to experience it. Encourage, don’t discourage. You may well be steering someone away from something they love and would be incredible at.”

Having experience dancing in a densely populated area, Kai Scanlan gives his input on the subject. Scanlan is an 18-year-old tap dancer from Swindon, England.

Photo Credit: Kai Scanlan.

He started tap dancing at 9 years old. He dances and choreographs at Tap Attack, and he is in his third year of training at Wilkes Academy. Scanlan also competed at the IDO Tap World Championships for 7 years (2013-2019) with Tap Attack.

In the area Scanlan lives, male dancers are extremely common.

“In my class at college, there are nine other boys who all dance, and that is my class alone. If you go to open classes in London, there are so many male dancers, as well as so many professional working male dancers on the biggest stages doing some of the biggest jobs,” he said.

He recently started choreographing for the GB Team and has won three gold medals as a choreographer.

“Both aspects are so rewarding, and they have given me huge confidence and life lessons as well as just really learning about myself as a dancer (and teacher).”

Scanlan is regarded as an inspiration to younger generations of dancers. His talent helps show the diversity of male dancers and how important they are.

“I have also appeared on a few TV shows in the UK, across channels like BBC, CBBC, and ITV. Again, they have been rewarding for me as I have been able to be myself on these shows, and it has given me a platform to showcase myself as a dancer and choreographer,” he said.

Juxtaposed to Scanlan, Johnathan Koonce is a 17-year-old dancer from Pickens County, Georgia.

Photo Credit: Johnathan Koonce.

Growing up in a rural area in the American South, Koonce had a very different dance experience than Scanlan. He danced for four years. Two of those years, he was the only male dancer in his class.

Many male dancers experience discrimination and stereotyping and Koonce said he has been a victim of both. He said, “I have experienced some stereotyping of being a sissy or even homosexual.”

Some people assume that dancing, especially ballet, is only for girls. These stereotypes make some men feel they cannot pursue their passions because they are afraid of being ridiculed or embarrassed by their peers.

Ryan Spencer is another male dancer from a rural area. He dances at Aspire Dance Arts under the direction of Christine and Jamie.

Photo Credit:: Ryan Spencer

Growing up in Canton, Georgia, 15-year-old Spencer has dealt with some of the same struggles as Koonce. He said,

“Before I started dance, I thought that hip-hop was the only style of dance for boys. Now, I believe that boys can dance in any style they choose.”

Ryan’s favorite style of dance now is contemporary. To the young generation of boys who think dancers are just female ballerinas in pink tutus, Ryan said,

“Dance is an outlet to be whoever you want to be, and you can be whoever you want to be in that realm. Do not let others determine who you are.”

Sharing his experience with dance is Lance Washington. Washington is not only a male dancer, but he also teaches dance, including multiple hip-hop classes at Aspire Dance Arts.

Photo Credit: Aspire Dance Arts

Washington is from Chicago, Illinois, and he started dancing when he was 14 years old. He has danced in Chicago, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and parts of Alabama and Florida. Lance has experienced urban and rural areas by dancing in these different places and can see a difference between them. Washington said that he was constantly teased for being a dancer, but he loved dancing, so he kept going.

“Dance has had a huge impact in my life. It has made me adaptable, loving, strong mentally and physically,” he said.

“We can bring more boys in by having more male teachers and creating a safe space for young boys to express themselves freely without judgment.”

“People need to know male dancers are just as sensitive as female dancers. We are determined, driven. We need and want acceptance and community,” he said.

Similar to Washington, Carla Jarrett has had experience dancing in both rural and urban areas.

Photo Credit: Carla Jarrett

Jarrett has been dancing for 35 years and teaching in some capacity for 20 years now. She danced at Disney and worked doing choreography there. Now she teaches at Get to the Pointe Dance Center in Jasper. Jarrett also has a son named Braxton. He is 7 years old and has grown up in the dance studio since he was 3 weeks old. Regarding her son, she said,

“He started dancing at age 2 with tap. He has always danced any time he hears music. We teach him that it doesn’t matter what others think of him being a boy and dancing. His personality shines bright on the stage and brings so much joy to the audience. As long as he loves it, he shouldn’t worry about others’ opinions.”

As Get to the Pointe Dance Center approaches its 13th season, Jarrett said, “We currently have 3 male students and 230 female students.”

That means only 1.3% of dancers are male, and 98.7% are female. This contrast can be problematic because it affects not just the male dance community, but also the female community.

“When it comes to training females in ballet in our area, it can be a disadvantage for them because they don’t get the training in partnering that schools with males would be able to provide,” she said.

Male dancers are essential to the dance world. Another way the lack of male dancers in rural areas affects the dance community is its impact on the female teachers. If a female dance teacher has a limited number of male dancers to work with, she may not be able to teach the males to her best ability because males and females learn differently. Jarrett explained that “For certain styles, male dancers do have different training. For example, in ballet, they will focus on training for partnering. Generally, for ballet, they also focus more on large jumps and turns,” she said.

Christine and Jamie Newnham also agree. He said, “I do think men learn differently to women, not in their capacity to learn at all or that one learns faster or better than another, but in that dance is an art and men and women process differently. I always felt I had an easier time with choreo if a guy was teaching me and if there were other guys in the room. Alone in a room full of capable female dancers can be a scary place!”

Christine pointed out another aspect of this as well.

“I think that male dancers typically start dancing at a later age than female dancers. As such, they process differently and have to work a little harder to ‘catch up’ in their learning. While women work hard to gain strength and power in their dancing, men have to work harder to add poise and grace to finesse their dancing,” she said.

Washington started dancing when he was 14. Koonce was 12 years old. Scanlan did not dance often until he was 9. Spencer was 7 when he began. Meanwhile, Christine Newnham started dancing when she was 6 years old, and Jarrett started dancing when she was 3 years old.

The athleticism and physicality of dance are other essential aspects that often get overlooked. Jarrett said that aside from dancing, football is another passion of Braxton’s, and “The flexibility and footwork he has learned in dance has helped him tremendously in football. There are many professional players that have taken dance at some point to help these skills as well.”

Jamie Newnham is a certified personal trainer with the American Council on Exercise, and he knows a great deal about how the body functions and moves. He explained how dancing can be highly beneficial to the body.

“Ask any dancer, and they’ll tell you that they are athletes. I would tend to agree! Honestly, there are multiple accounts of athletes from football to gymnastics that have taken dance to improve. Arnold Schwarzenegger took ballet to help him improve his posing for Mr. Olympia! But the stretching and conditioning, endurance, explosive movement, agility all of these things would help improve anyone in anything they did,” he said.

He continued, “Dancing strengthens all bodies the same! Postural issues are huge today, and dancing encourages and strengthens good posture. From there, you gain strength in your entire body in the correct way, that mixed with stretching and conditioning leads to very strong and flexible people eliminating all of the normal tightness and weakness due to bad posture!”

These talented dancers agree that making male dancers feel represented and included is important. Dancing is something that males and females can enjoy in tandem. Opening up dance classes to male students, hiring more male dance teachers, and teaching the younger generation that boys dance too are just some ways to strengthen male dancers’ participation in rural and urban areas. It is also vital to encourage all people to express their emotions in any way they want to, regardless of stereotypes or gender “norms.”


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