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My 6-Year-Old Son Takes Ballet—You Got a F#$%^$#@ Problem With That?

Edward Villella in Balanchine's "The Prodigal Son." (Photo at LIFE.com)

Readers of this blog may be aware that my older son is a hockey player, but I have yet to discuss the younger Berlinerblau, the one who saw The Nutcracker at the Kennedy Center and fell in love with dance.

When my wife told me that she was going to audition him for the Washington Ballet’s children’s program my first reaction was “Awesome, it’ll make him limber and strong.”

Upon a few moments reflection, however, doubt began to creep in. True, he starts dancing whenever he hears music. And, true, he’ll even throw in some jazz hands if you ask him nicely. But does he really have enough talent for ballet?

Luckily, as often happens in our country, a possible lack of talent is no impediment to male advancement. See, when it comes to ballet, boys are “the diversity.”

Ballet needs boys like the National Hockey League needs the peace-loving Amish. Ballet needs boys like biblical scholarship needs women.

This truism was confirmed at his tryouts which featured: 1) a thousand leotarded little girls with their hair tied back in cringing, tensile buns, 2) a thousand cringing, tensile mothers, and, 3) two little boys marshaling the sum of their cognitive faculties to figure out what was unusual about this scene.

I confess to feeling a bit guilty when mommies congratulate me on my son’s acceptance into the Washington Ballet’s “Creative Movement” class; so rare are male participants that unless a boy detonates a suicide belt during the audition he’s basically going to get in (the mere possession of the explosive device itself is not sufficient grounds to disqualify these treasured commodities).

I nod sympathetically as they sigh “My little Amy tried out for the ballet, but she didn’t make the cut. Poor thing, cried for three days, wouldn’t eat either.” But what I really want to say is: “Your little Amy obviously lacks the requisite physical endowments necessary for an aspiring ballerina. This type of art isn’t for everybody, cookie.

But then, just when I thought I couldn’t be enjoying this whole experience any more, tragedy struck. It happened on the ride home after school. Strapped in to their respective booster seats my son and his two buddies made a bee line for the intersection of gender and stupidity.

You do ballet!” screeched the first one. If that other little schmuck says “ballet is for girls,” I thought to myself, he’s going out the window in that booster seat. He then said that, though he didn’t use the word “girls.”

Later that evening, the child was inconsolable. He lamented: “Like, (sniff) half the kids in ballet are (sniff), are girls” (an inaccurate observation which confirms my hunch that aesthetes rarely grow up to be demographers).

We spent the evening cheering him up by Googling images of ripped male ballet dancers soaring so high and with such propulsive masculinity that they appeared to have been launched off the deck of an aircraft carrier.

The benefits of that intervention, however, were shortlived. By lunch period the next day, word of my son’s hobby had spread to the entire kindergarten.

Now, in a pre-postmodern society the mocking he endured at recess would have marked the end of his career in dance. Forty years ago most boys would have absorbed the scorn and hurled themselves into the stasis and tedium of baseball.

But postmodernity has its charms, namely the existence of liberal kindergarten teachers who would grinningly crash the Gates of Hell on their rollerblades in order to stamp out the slightest traces of sexism and homophobia.

Justice was meted out swiftly. The taunting perpetrators were identified and hauled in. Snack privileges were revoked. An open class forum was held in which debilitating stereotypes were dismantled. Images of propulsively masculine ballet dancers streamed on every computer screen in class.

When Mrs. Berlinerblau—who knows my shtick all too well—caught me getting into the repressive spirit of things and composing an e-mail to the principal suggesting possible expulsions and therapy for the offending children, she knowingly told me to cut it out.

So here he stands, on one foot. His critics have been silenced and re-educated. His teachers offer him encouragement and occasionally undeserved praise.

His greatest hope is to dance in The Nutcracker next year as a mushroom, or perhaps even a mouse. I don’t know if he’ll make it but if he does, this journey will become even more fictionally compelling than it already is.

And if he doesn’t, there’s always hockey.

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