Skip navigation

Dance Studio Life Magazine
Rhee’s Blog
By Rhee Gold
March 5th, 2010

 

Mature Content: This article may be more suitable for older boys.

 

Note: This article was originally published in Dance Magazine, November 2001. To this day, I receive comments from teachers and male dancers about this piece. It is obviously a hot topic in the dance education field.

 

Earlier this year, I was helping a dance-teacher friend prepare a few of her dancers for a title competition. The dancers were to be scored on a talent presentation as well as a judge’s interview. My job was to prepare each of the kids for the dreaded interview. This was not the first time I had done this; I have been part of more than a dozen mock interviews over the past couple of years.

The first couple of dancers–girls–went through the process smoothly. The third one was a 15-year-old boy who had trained with this particular teacher since the age of 3. I had seen him perform many times and I knew he was excellent. He’s the kind of kid who always stands out, not only because he is a strong technician but because he gives the audience that “I love what I do” feeling whenever he hits the stage.

He did very well with the first few questions, as I expected from such a personable kid. Then I said, “Tell me what your male friends think about your dancing.” All of a sudden there was silence. His confidence level went from one hundred to one. At first he started to ramble without really answering the question, so I asked it again. Within seconds, he was crying.

He started telling me that he didn’t want to go to school anymore because he was constantly being harassed and he was actually beaten up several times–all because he danced. He said his classmates–boys and girls alike–were always calling him a fag. He was dealing with this day in and day out, and it had obviously had a major emotional effect on him.

Instead of continuing with the interview, I gave him a pep talk and tried to explain that the kids who were making fun of him could be jealous, or didn’t comprehend how athletic dance really was. I encouraged him to keep dancing because I thought he had what it took to make it. We ended our time together with a laugh or two, but I could tell he was extremely troubled.

As I was driving home, I couldn’t get this kid out of my mind. I, too, had danced from age 3 on. I had no choice: My mother was my dance teacher and my father was in show business. And I had been through the same torment this kid was enduring. I can remember sneaking out the back door of my junior high school to avoid the bullies who would think nothing of giving me a punch or two and call me a fag every time they had the opportunity.

I remember one morning when I was walking to school: I arrived at the front door wearing a winter coat with a hood. One of the kids, who I knew was trouble, walked up to me and pulled my hood off my head to spit in my face as he called me a fag. Another time, I was walking home from school and the same kid picked up a huge two-by-four and whacked me in the stomach several times as he called me unprintable names.

When I got to high school the situation was worse; like the boy in the interview, I didn’t want to go to school either. But, through it all, there was never a question of whether I would continue dancing, because it was in my blood and I loved it. My issue was how I was going to keep myself from getting beaten up or from being brought down by the name-calling. Somehow, I managed.

When I was about 16, our family did an interview with the local newspaper. It was a story about the Gold family and how we all were into show business. Instead of being excited about my picture being in the paper, I was in fear that this article would be another opportunity to remind all the bullies that I danced. And it did. The article appeared, and so did an entirely new round of harassment.

I never talked to my parents about the situation; actually, I never discussed it with anyone for more than twenty years. I think I was embarrassed, and I didn’t want anyone to know about it. Why I was embarrassed I don’t know; it was just one of those things you push to the back of your mind. It was the interview with this boy that brought it all back to me–not just the memories, but the feelings as well.

You would think that the twenty-first century would bring a new perception of male dancers. They are everywhere, from Gap commercials to MTV, and they are portrayed in a very masculine way. So why are boys who dance still going through the persecution? I believe it’s the adults in the kid’s life who influence this kind of behavior or thinking. They are the ones I went to school with, and they still think that dancing is a “sissy” thing for guys to do. They pass their prejudices on to their children, creating an entirely new generation of kids who make fun of boys who dance.

Dance teachers and parents need to realize that their male dancers may be suffering through this torment; the kids may not bring it up because they are embarrassed, as I was. It might be a good thing to discuss at the studio or at home. It could be through rap sessions with all the dancers or one-on-one conversations with the boys. They need to know that they are not alone, that there are others who deal with the same issue. Just talking about it could make a world of difference. Another option might be for the parent and child to approach his teachers or school principal about the problem. In certain situations, counseling may be appropriate.

Often, dance teachers see young male dancers who show enormous potential and love dancing but who quit at the age of 12 or 13. My guess is that it’s because they cannot take the abuse. I wonder–how many great dancers have we lost in this way?

Hard as it may be, I encourage young male dancers to stick it out. I have no regrets; I think it was the harassment that motivated me to become what I am today. Now I realize it was a unique motivation for me. I went on to perform all over the country and even became Mr. Dance of America in 1982. Today I direct one of the largest dance production companies in the world; I am a past president of Dance Masters of America; I serve as a motivational speaker for dance educators; and I write for Dance Magazine. Not bad for a kid who could have given it all up just to stop the torment.

By the way, the last time I saw the kid who spit in my face and hit me with the two-by-four, he was a gas station attendant.

 

Copyright © 2010 Dance Studio Life

Advertisements

One Comment

  1. I started dancing at 26 and so I missed out on the ‘formative’ years of high school where the bullying would have been quite bad.

    I wanted to dance as a child but because of the perception of male dancers I was never given the opportunity. I sometimes wonder how different my life would have been if people had no prejudice and treated ballet dancers as athletes and not as ‘pretty ballerinas’.

    Thank you for this post. I just hope that the article by Rhee reaches enough people to make a difference.


Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: