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Breaking stereotypes for a preschool boy who wants to dance — Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

We’re seeking a dance class for our 4-year-old. This was prompted by several classmates changing into tutus before leaving school because of a dress rehearsal for their recital. My child greeted me with, “I wanna go to dance class, too!” So I started asking questions of the girls’ mothers. Although they were forthcoming with information about the class, I got more than one funny look. One even said, “I don’t think I’ve seen any boys there.”

My husband and I like to think we’re raising our children to move past stereotypes that, in the past, limited participation in the home, in careers or just in the things we might enjoy, regardless of whether it’s typically done by a male or female. I would like to think that the dance world is keeping up with equal opportunity, and that I shouldn’t take these moms’ reactions as a harbinger of rough seas ahead if my son were to enroll, and be the only boy.

Mom who Kills the Spiders while Dad Cooks

Don’t miss last week’s column The importance of getting out in nature — Good Parenting

Dear Mom,

There are those who are more comfortable with “traditional” divisions between girl things and boy things. Or maybe they experienced, or were witness to, breaking a barrier that proved to be a rough row to hoe. There were the first female engineering students and the first male nurses. There are still gender discrepancies for mothers with full time jobs who have to worry more than fathers do about how bosses may react to a child care emergency. There are single dads, especially of daughters, who encounter bias in the wording of school invitations that thoughtlessly assume every child’s home has a mother in it.

Little League Baseball has come a long way since 1950 when Kathryn Johnston Massar cut her hair, joined a team and prompted the league to write a rule banning girls from their teams that lasted 24 years. Today Little Leaguer Mo’ne Davis gets headlines for pitching no-hitters, although the fact that she’s a girl does not escape reporters’ (and readers’) interest.

Let’s hope you’ll find equal treatment, if not enthusiastic encouragement, for your boy in dance class. There are many arguments that support dancing for both genders. It teaches posture, rhythm, coordination and instills confidence. Large motor activity is also essential to health, and success in dance as a child prevents a fear of social dancing in adulthood. And just in case you have a rising dance star on your hands, an early start builds skills during those crucial formative years.

While he may be the only boy in his class, he certainly won’t be the first-ever boy to be in dance class. I took dance classes since the age of 3 and recall my mother talking a neighbor into signing her son up for the class. He had attention issues, and our dance teacher was wonderful with him. In many ways he was just another classmate, and when we leaped around the perimeter of the recreation hall, Bobby led the charge and often added an extra lap.

As you pursue enrollment for your son, take some advice from a seasoned dance teacher and mother of a dancing son, Nichelle Strzepek. Choosing a dance class is like choosing a preschool. You want the teacher and the program to fit your child now, but also build a foundation for future education, and in this case, the possibility of a future in dance. See that the emphasis is on enjoyment as much as skills. An age appropriate dance class for preschoolers lets the children be creative and have fun. As with other sports, competition and performance pressures can wait until they are much older. See that the teacher is one who encourages each individual dancer in his or her class. Some dance schools give extra preference for boys since social stigma still presents obstacles to males entering this field, leaving the ballerina swan without back-up if the one male in the troupe isn’t there to help her fly.

Interestingly, Maria Pepe, the girl whose National Organization for Women-backed lawsuit paved the way for girls to join the Little League did not become a professional athlete. She was just a 12-year-old who wanted to play ball.

Your boy wants to go to dance class? Why not?

Bold individuals, and the swelling numbers who have followed them, are making the way across gender barriers easier and easier for all.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy@jecoannapolis.com

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