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By Ettie Berneking
Vox Magazine
Photograph by Brenden Neville
April 29, 2010

 

Paxton Krehbiel, 11 years old, sits against a wooden pillar at Dancearts of Columbia as he pulls on black tap shoes. His dance instructor, co-owner and director of Dancearts, Marie Robertson, corrals Paxton and three other boys into an empty dance studio. Their metal-toed shoes click loudly on the floor as they wait impatiently for class to start.

Other than Robertson, there are no females; this is one of two boys-only classes at Dancearts, the only local studio to offer such a thing. Robertson stands in front of the boys and yells out a few commands that sound like jumbled jargon to the untrained ear. “Two Irish forward, two Irish back, buffalo, flap ball change,” she yells out. The music kicks up, and with knees bent and hands on their hips, the eager young lads jump, toes clacking against the floor.

“These classes are a way of making the boys feel more confident in dance class,” Robertson says. She’s been offering boys tap class for 15 years. In 2009 she was going to discontinue the class because only two boys enrolled, but some determined parents recruited more students who were interested in tap.

Today, there are still only five boys in the tap class, but Robertson has extended the concept and now offers a male-only ballet class, which has three students. “Gentlemen, make sure you keep your faces up,” she calls out to the four tap dancers behind her.

The all-boys classes not only help the young lads feel more comfortable with dance, but there are moves, especially in ballet, that only males learn, such as lifts, says Ken Braso, one of the ballet instructors at Dancearts: “In professional companies they’ll break up the men and women several times a week.” This helps the dancers focus on moves specific to their gender.

Paxton began dancing at age 6 after the Minnesota Ballet recruited him for an upcoming show of The Nutcracker. They were in need of male dancers for the 2004 production and heard of Paxton through some acting and modeling he was doing in St. Louis. Although he had never taken a dance class, the ballet company gave him a call. Two years later he decided to give tap a chance. “Finding the all-boys tap class was major incentive,” his mother, Larkellen, says.

Braso thinks the low turnout for the boys dance classes might be a result of living in a country that puts a lot of focus on sports. “It’s very basketball and soccer heavy,” he says. “It’s hard to compete with that.” But Paxton says he’s not really into sports, and he’s got a theory on why more boys play soccer than dance: “To me it seems like most boys just do sports ’cause they feel tougher, and they think it’s a tougher sport,” he says. “I think when you get older, more boys want to do ballet cause they get to be with the girls.”

 

Copyright 2010 Vox Magazine

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