I love the song in A Chorus Line where Mike sings:
I’m watchin’ Sis go pitterpat. Said, “I can do that, I can do that.” Knew ev’ry step right off the bat. Said,”I can do that,
I can do that.” One morning Sis won’t go to dance class. I grabbed her shoes and tights and all, but my foot’s too small, So, I stuff her shoes with extra socks, run seven blocks In nothin’ flat. Hell, I can do that, I can do that. I got to class And had it made, And so I stayed the rest of my life. All thanks to Sis (Now married and fat), I can do this. That I can do. I can do that!
That song has always summed up for me the huge dilema young boys face when they realize that they have a love for the arts, want to learn the craft, but sense the lack of mainstream support. It’s just not the “manly” thing to do. Imagine your brother, son, or nephew telling his family at dinner that he wants to take dance classes, not to mention that the dance class he’s interested in is ballet! Yet that song also reeks of passion, strength and perseverance. It also reminds me of Billy Elliot, a delightful movie about the secret desire of a young man to express his unique talent.
I think we all know boys with terrific voices who only audition for their high school musical because their girlfriend is in the chorus. What a shame that they don’t feel comfortable enough to find their way into voice, acting and dance classes during the rest of year. The road blocks we throw in front of them are numerous. Besides challenging their masculinity, we scoff at their dreams and give them the impression that success in life is in business or becoming a doctor or lawyer, and pulling in six figure salaries.
Yet, every once in a while an “out of the box” thinker makes things acceptable. Pete Newell, a basketball Hall of Fame honoree and former innovative coach of the University of California basketball team, clear back in the 1960s, realized that his team could benefit from dance classes. He felt that if his players would approach dance classes as seriously as they did the rest of their basketball training they would improve their lateral movement and jumping capability. I had the opportunity to teach some of those classes. It was interesting to see the varying attitudes of the players and to measure the results. I’m sure it’s no surprise to you that some of the athletes came in with real ATTITUDE and soon found out how athletically difficult this new training was. However, once they saw their performance improvement on the court they became believers. But there were a few guys who really could dance and were just too embarrassed to walk into a studio and take classes. Two players continued on with classes after the season was over. Today this isn’t an unusual form of training for top athletes. Margo Apostolos , Director of Dance in USC’s Theater Department is a renowned pioneer in Dance for Sports, having worked with teams at both USC and Stanford.
Today I was sent a news article from the New York Times that inspired this post. Be sure to watch the video to the end. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did and will make it your job to encourage all young men to pursue their interests in the arts, wherever it might take them. I hope to see many more young men in our US Performing Arts programs. (As a side note, Harvard beat Yale today 37-6!)