Photo: courtesy of Lamp/Photography
Its rush hour at any given Saturday morning dance studio in Australia. The sound of dance teachers rallying their students is awkwardly interrupted by the unfamiliar sputtering’s of a Suzuki GSX-R veering into an already over- crowded car park of SUV’s.
The regular dance crowd is caught off guard as they watch both riders disembark, wearing the mandatory black open-faced helmets and protective jackets. The pint sized passenger excitedly hurdles off the rear of the bike to reveal his trademark long blonde hair, black tights and red Nike shoes. As both rider and passenger approach the studio hand in hand, the young ballerinas quickly realise who it is.
It’s the new boy Jules … and his dad.
As the boy’s 40 year old father Chris, chats personably with another dance dad, his nine year old son eagerly readies himself whilst chatting to the other girls (and boys) from the level 4 ballet class.
“The other kids are really nice and the teachers make the classes fun,” says Jules who has only recently begun two ballet classes per week.
After this year being selected in the Australian Ballet School’s Interstate Program, it became clear to both parents that they should incorporate more ballet into his dance training and selecting Ransley Dance Studio seemed to be the perfect facility.
“Finding a dance school that encourages and promotes boys and also caters for their natural competitive nature is quite hard,” says Chris who along with his seven year old sister and wife is Jules’s number one fan.
As Chris unashamedly hugs and kisses his son goodbye he demonstrates the unique emotional connection that affirms the love he has for his son.
“It’s our job to provide a loving stable home. The rest is up to him. We do a lot of travelling, camping, and expose our kids to lots of different things. We’ve lived and travelled overseas a lot so he’s had a wealth of experience that not many nine years olds have had. As long as we give him a safe place to land, I think he’ll always be open to new and interesting experiences.”
There is no doubt that Chris is a rare breed amongst a culture that attributes success to status and money. In Chris’s eyes – success comes from being the best person that you can be. He’s never had any set idea of what he wants to see in his son and for that reason hasn’t dictated any particular path or direction.
Photo: courtesy of Lamp/Photography
“I just love watching him dance. Seeing him on stage brings a tear to my eye every time. How can any father not be moved by that.”
Whilst the majority of boys his son’s age are lacing up their footy boots for Saturday sport, Jules is happily ignoring all the ill-informed adult stigmas and gracefully pirouettes his way around the dance floor.
Nevertheless it is the sad and unfortunate truth that many fathers just look at the stereotype of a dancer (especially a ballet dancer) as effeminate, weak and not tough.
The irony lies in the fact that most of the fathers that are supporting their son’s interests in dance are quite the contrary. These dads are thankfully progressive enough to understand that the fore mentioned prejudices just aren’t the true identity of a dancer.
The passion that many boys have for dance is personified as I speak with Anthony Ikin. Ant (as he’s affectionately known) began his journey into dance via gymnastics and sports aerobics at the age of 7. Now at 33 and although no longer performing and competing, he has successfully forged an incredible career out of his appetite for dance and the stage.
Photo: Anthony Ikin
“My dad was a businessman and never saw dance as a career option, but I’ve achieved many things that any business owner would want to achieve because I’ve followed my passion.”
After years of travelling the globe as a Commercial Dancer and choreographer, he affirms (to any other parents that may feel the same way) that Australia is a leading contender in the world of dance. “There are so many career opportunities that are now available, especially for boys,” explains Anthony as he animatedly describes the many positives that dance has provided him over the years.
Anthony’s ability to turn ‘negatives’ into ‘positives’ has enabled him to carry a lot of confidence with him through life.
“Being teased was never really an issue for me. I don’t look back at it negatively, I see it as a positive.”
As with many other dedicated male dancers, it never really bothered him that he was the only boy in an all-girls environment.
“I just didn’t care! Those experiences enabled me to develop such thick skin that I carry into business as well.”
Although Anthony had a supportive father (and still does) there are still a few things that he’d do differently.
“The thing that I found quite difficult, was the ‘handshake’ mentality. It was extremely rare to have the deep conversations and emotional connection.”
Anthony attributes this style of fathering as being quite generational of the time and believes that many dads of that era would have had similar emotional connections (albeit disconnections) with their sons.
“It wasn’t that he didn’t love me, or show his love in other ways – it was just how it was.”
Anthony is confident that the next generation of fathers will change the way males are perceived in dance. “My dad just wanted to protect me, I can see that his intentions were always positive. I can feel that the generational attitudes of fathers are slowly changing.”
Another father, who modestly discloses similar protective qualities is 42 year old workshop manager Troy Wynter. Troy’s 16 year old son Mitch, is now dancing with the Queensland National Ballet after being granted a scholarship to pursue his passion full time.
Troy admits that he was quite anxious in the first year or so of dancing and weather it would lead to anything.
“It was the unknown and I wanted to protect him from the boys that were giving him a hard time”.
As Troy reflects back on the last four years he realises that his anxieties were unwarranted.
Photo: Mitch Wynter
“It has all worked out”, which he attributes to the boutique dance school (located in the next suburb) and the dance teacher that really believed in him.
“Mitch trusted and respected his teacher wholeheartedly,” which resulted in an amazing friendship and mutual respect.
“She really understood the differences and capabilities of male dancers which kept me wanting to dance,” says Mitch.
Thanks to dance shows such as ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and movies such as ‘Step Up’ the luring qualities of dance is slowly beginning to attract more boys. As a business owner with entrepreneurial qualities (not unlike his father) Anthony is aware that even though the majority of his classes are made up of 95% girls, it’s the boys that are a standout.
Both Chris and Troy reiterate the necessity to attract and sustain boy’s interest in dance.
Who knows? Maybe the key to attracting boys is convincing their fathers that it’s ok for their boys to dance.
If Anthony, Mitch and Jules are anything to go by – there truly is really nothing to fear.
Thank goodness these dads gave their children wings.