Posted on behalf of Support U volunteer Patrick Lavery…
This blog responds to Lara Spencer comment on Prince George’s interest in taking ballet classes. Being in the dance industry, I’ve reached out to fellow male dancers for their honest opinion about their experience growing up, thoughts on Lara Spencer’s comment, and their opinions on being a man in a predominantly female field. I cannot thank all of them so much for taking their time to respond to my question and for getting involved in the conversation because by talking about our experience, we can hopefully promote that Boys Dance Too and that we are here to show that there is nothing to be ashamed for being true to yourself.
When I was eleven, my birthday present was to start dance classes, something that I had asked my parents to do for quite some time. Prior to this, I had tried too many activities from karate, rugby, football, to even learning the piano. None of these stuck and after literally two lessons, I would end up leaving as I was not enjoying them. Taking dance classes was the only thing that stuck to me. After the first lesson, I was hooked. The sensation of moving to music, the endless amount of possibilities and ways of expressing myself through dance was unlike anything that I had experience. So when I was starting secondary school that same year, I wanted to show my love for dance and tell everybody about this cool and amazing activity that I was pursuing…
The response was not positive…
From that moment onwards, I had gotten maliciously bullied. I was called a fag, gay, girl, sheman, puff, the list goes on. I would be on the phone to my mum, drenched in tears, begging her for help. I would get into fights, brawls, even turn on friends in order to defend my sensitive self. I started to hate myself and hate my passion for dance.
What makes this worse is that this was a norm, not just for me, but for many male dancers.
Connor Bray, currently a third year Dance university student, said to me that he felt shame during his time at school, saying that he had become the victim of bullies.
He says: “I remember once, walking home from school and being smashed over the head with an empty vodka bottle which resulted me being in hospital. Just because I dance.”
Many of my male dance friends have all said that they have felt scared, lonely, and found growing up as a male dancer tough. We still live in a world where societies idea of gender puts barriers from how we should act to what we should do. While boys put on the football kits, the girls went to put on their tutu’s and pointe shoes. As a consequence of this, if a man does something out of the “norm”, both our manhood and our sexuality is put into question.
Founder of 201 Dance Company, Andrea Walker, grew up in Italy where, to this day, being gay is still not seen as something to be proud of.
He says: “Because I was dancing my sexuality was questioned by kids at school on many occasions, hurtfully so. Today I am a proud gay man, but 15 years ago it was hurtful to be corned by assumptions and made to feel outed when I didn’t feel ready.”
Not just for Walker but also people such as dancer and owner of Calvary, Samuel Ozouf, it appears to not matter if you do Hip Hop, you will still be shunned upon. It doesn’t even matter what song you dance to or what style you do, nobody is safe from scrutiny. When talking about Prince George’s curriculum, which ballet classes were on the agenda, the news presenter Lara Spencer said:
“I’ve got news for you [Prince] William, we’ll see how long that lasts!”
Lara has since apologised for the comment she made, and I do feel that she is honest with her apology, but I would be lying if I did not say that the wound is still raw. I agree with what one of my male dancer friends has said, that she is not dance practitioner and her words should mean any weight to us, but her comments can still, as I quote from him directly:
“infect the minds of boys starting in dance.”
My male dancer friends provided thoughts on her comments and some, such as former dancer Drew Card, say that while he doesn’t think she wasn’t trying to be malicious, he says that:
“she is just one of many misguided people who have spent their entire lives growing up to believe that there is still a difference between what is considered male and female.”
Others have said that with her media presence, she should be encouraging others and showing the work that goes on behind the scenes. Recent Masters graduate Sam Rice reported that if it were about rugby or boxing, the coverage would most likely be different. The worst part, as mentioned by Walker, is that unfortunately her comments are something we, as male dancer, are too familiar with. We’ve heard it all before, no matter how far into the industry we are or not, or how long we’ve been dancers for.
What should be said is that the response from the dance community has been incredible. From the massive outdoor classes, to the social media posts, everyone has been extraordinary judicious with the comments made by Lara Spencer. What this has shown is that toxic masculinity is very much at large and is something that we cannot and should not ignore. This conversation needs to be kept on going, it needs to be challenged, and it needs people to continually show that boys dance too, and that any man (or woman and person) who chooses to become a dancer is brave and courageous.
To end this post, instead of just me giving final thoughts or putting a really cheese outro, I decided to ask my fellow male dancer friends that if there was anything they wanted to say to any current or future male dancers, what would you like to say. With that, here is what they have to say in their own words.
“Being gay does not make you a dancer and being a dancer does not make you gay. It’s as simple as that! If you want to dance you must dance! It’s a pleasure & an honour to be a part of the dance world.”
Drew Card – Instagram @officialdrewcard
“Don’t feel ashamed for dancing. Do what you love and don’t let anyone ruin that for you – because you will regret it.”
Sam Rice – Facebook @SamRiceDance
“Dance changed my life for the better in so many ways, and people who try to make you feel small for something you love is a true indication of their character, not yours. Also being a dancer is the closest you will ever be to being super-human.”
Andrea Walker – 201 Dance Company Website www.201dancecompany.com
“Never feel guilty for doing something that you love. Simple. You can never truly be happy with life if you are hiding away or feeling guilty for a part of you that makes you, you. Being a dancer has made me the person I am today. And I nor no one else should ever feel guilty for that.”
Connor Bray – Instagram @condance_
“For any other male dancers starting dance or already in your dance career, I want to say be unapologetically you! Love your craft, be obsessed with it, then I promise you every voice will be dead silent. Dance is my life, it saved me in more ways I can tell you and I will never stop because of that. Let nothing and no one stop you from loving dance.”
Samuel Ozouf – Instagram @sam_uel_pictures
“Anyone who has the bravery to step outside their house and to be themselves, I salute you. Never feel guilty for who you truly are and what you truly love. You will find your tribe, you will find your community, and you will find the people who will love you for what you want to do. Don’t let anything or anyone stop you.”
Patrick Lavery – Instagram @laverydance
This is a really unusual step for a professional team to make. Normally you only see the LGBT+ Fan clubs joining the LGBT+ Pride parades. So when we started talks with Reading FC, you can imagine the euphoria of our local professional team saying yes.
Why is this so important?
This step is so important for those who identify as LGBT+. There hasn’t been a footballer to come out since Justin Fashanu in 1998. This individual received so much abuse and he was so scared about being imprisoned for his homosexuality, that he went on to commit suicide. He’s like a dirty secret.
As with any sport, representation and feeling included is important.
When people with disabilities started to see themselves represented at the Para Olympics, more people wanted to get into sport. This is also happening in womens’ football.
When someone is able to be themselves and not have to hide a secret, it is proven that that person will thrive so much more. If a footballer is Gay, it is important that they will feel supported, so they can play. Right now any player wanting to come out, will have to deal with homophobia at a grand scale. This is putting anyone off from coming out, and we haven’t had anyone since 1998.
It’s important that we have an LGBT+ representation in the stands from the fans, to say that we want and support everyone to be able to play or support football without their race, colour or sexuality being used as a way to put anyone down, be intimidated or feel second best. Because they aren’t. Blimey, they’re on the pitch not you or us! Support them don’t belittle them!
We are hoping that Reading is going to lead the way and show people this is the #TheReadingWay and follow our lead.
#LGBT #HomophobiaVSFootball #rainbowlaces #prideinfootball #RDGUK #ReadingPrideUK #TheReadingWay
Written by one of our Frontline Officers, Patrick Laverty
May 20th 2006: I was at my older sister’s place looking after her newly born son, had just finished watching a movie, and started to channel flick until I saw a sight that freaked me out as I didn’t know monsters actually existed. These monsters, which later turned out to be men in masks and using a load of pyrotechnics, turned out to be a band named Lordi, a Finnish heavy metal rock band who were at this precise moment winning the 51st edition of an internationally televised song contest. However, purely based on the looks alone and not taking note on what was going on, I never took notice of this again. That is until a year later on May 12th 2007, I was once again flicking through channels and saw that a program on BBC 1 was about to start that caught my interest. I turn the channel on, and Lordi once again came onto my screen, opening the years contest in his home country of Finland. Now curious, I decided to continue to watch this event to see if it could get any stranger. Turns out, it very much could. From innuendo airhostesses from the UK, to a Ukrainian drag performer, to a French man with a black cat on his shoulder, I discovered something that was extremely weird, incredibly kooky, but that would become an annual event that I would fall in love with. That program was the Eurovision Song Contest.
Year after year, the Eurovision became my world cup. I would follow everything from the selection of the hosting city, the selection of each country’s entrants, the rehearsals, the betting odds, the semi-finals, the grand final and so on. When it was not on, I would be researching about the history of the Eurovision, how it has changed and discovering the highs and lows of the contest. Eurovision became my everything – but I was also ashamed to even say that. No one ever wanted to talk to me about it or watch it. Whenever it was mentioned that I liked Eurovision, it would be met with a room full of exasperated groans and statements such as ‘what a load of rubbish!’ Every year would be virtually the same: I would watch Eurovision on my own and either my sister or my mother would watch it with me out of sympathy. It almost has become my equilibrium, that I would always feel some sort of shame that I was a fan of this contest and that shame would never go away.
That is until late 2018 when I joined Support U and did some research. It turned out this organisation have hosted viewing parties in the past before but haven’t done so in a few years. Now here I am, a Eurovision nerd, with a perfect opportunity to make something happen. As a result, I requested to our Founder and CEO Lorna for me to how a viewing party for the next contest. Thus after many months of planning, promoting, and creating an entire video trailer later, on May 19th 2019 I hosted my very first Eurovision Viewing Party for Support U. The proceeds of the event went to the charity and we wanted to create an open and comfortable environment for the most popular televised singing contests in the world.
Though a lot of planning had gone into it, the video trailer that I made was released on April 15th – just over a month till the event. I was concerned that this may not be enough time for marketing the event. However, it turned out to be a very popular event and one of the best nights of my life! We had a great turn out of other volunteers of Support U, other fans of the Eurovision, newbies to Eurovision, and even my own older sister coming not out of sympathy (I hope!) but out of sheer enthusiasm. We did a quiz pre-show in which a lot of people learnt some interesting facts about the contest, there was pizza, a sweepstake, a lot of drinks, but more importantly a lot of laughs and gasps as we saw Duncan Lawrence win the contest for The Netherlands in what must be said as the tightest contest in years.
I wonder how nearly 12-year-old me would react if I told him about what was to come. That it was possible to be fan of the Eurovision and not feel guilty about it. That you can love what you want to love, be who you want to be, and do what you want to do, and that people will love you for it. I’d like to think he would smile and have hope that it is possible to be all the above and more, without ever feeling shame ever again.
Look out for next years Eurovision Party held at your Support u office in Reading!!! (Dates to be confirmed later in the year)