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How do Ballet Studios Bring in More Boys?

Courtesy Ballet Austin
Ballet companies try to be equally made up of men and women, but not enough boys are signing up for ballet classes when they're young.

From Texas Standard:

Few parents put pen to paper to figure out how much they'll spend if their kids end up loving the activity they started at age three. For example, by the time your adorable toddler girl – who’s in love with ballet – graduates high school you will have spent as much as $100,000 on fees, tutus and training. That's according to an estimate by Dance USA.

If your daughter goes pro – her training could be as expensive as a doctor's. But ballet is not just for girls. Boys spend much less on a lifetime of ballet training.


Bill Piner is the Academy Director at Ballet Austin – one of Texas's most prestigious ballet companies. He says it costs less for boys over the long-term because of supply and demand.

"I mean if you look around and you look at our studios ... you'll count the boys and you'll count the girls – and it's a need," he says.

Well, let's count then. As we walk into a studio, two lines of dancers age 8 to 10 stand with incredibly straight backs and perfect looking hair. I ask Piner to count the girls for me. There are 14. How many boys are there? One.

So why does that matter? Piner says it starts to matter a lot as students progress to ballet professionals.

"You need boys to partner and when you look at the company, it's equitable,” Piner says. “You got the same number of guys, men as you do women."

So, how do some academies in Texas – and across the U.S. – get more boys to sign up for ballet? One way is free tuition. While girls can pay thousands of dollars a year for lessons and gear, boys can get lessons for as little as nothing.

It's after school and I'm in Jane Schwartz' rental vehicle. Traffic is stop-and-go.

"Oh, I'm in the car from 4 to 6 o'clock every day," she says.

Schwartz is really calm for a mother of three whose car is in the shop and is hauling kids from swimming to guitar to gymnastics to ballet.

"Picking up, dropping off, managing their gear, making sure there's food in the car so they can eat before or after their practice," that’s all part of the job, she says.

Jane’s son Alex is eating pizza and battling ninjas and monkeys on his iPad. Today is his first official ballet class. I hear him as he struggles to put on his tights.

Jane says she enrolled Alex in ballet because it will provide him with invaluable life skills. The scholarship helped too.

"My son at this age has no idea that there are certain prejudices towards boys and men in ballet and that's a great thing,” she says. “My husband is very open to his son practicing ballet from a fitness perspective and a confidence perspective – anytime you are wearing a leotard in front of your peers it takes some inner stuffing to be able to get in front of others and do this.”

It takes so much inner stuffing, in fact, that luring boys in with a scholarship is not always enough to keep them from leaving ballet after a year or two.

Piner says some directors go as far as providing special treats for the boys – like fresh baked cookies – because when thousands of dollars in free tuition are not enough to keep boys in ballet, something's got to sweeten the deal.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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