There are many children’s books about ballet, but have you ever seen one made with boys in mind? John Robert Allman set to do just. After immersing himself in the world of ballet for months, he set out to create a picture book that would do more than distinguish between a pirouette and a plié.
In his new book, Boys Dance! released last month, Allman set out to express his lifelong love of the stage. The book is made for young, aspiring male dancers who are passionate about ballet, jazz, and other classical styles. With illustrations by Luciano Lozano, It’s a novel idea as there have been very few instances of boys occupying that space in pop culture.
In John Robert Allman’s new children’s book, little boys take center stage at the ballet.
“I wanted to make sure that boys would be able to see dance as something they can — and should — get into if they want to,” Allman told HuffPost. “So little in media when I was a kid made that case, showed you a role model, or made it seem OK to be excited about dance the way I was. But it’s something guys have always loved and excelled in, so they shouldn’t be at all hesitant to try it.”
Written in rhyming couplets, the book also details how learning dance can boost physical health, as well as academic and athletic skills. Allman said he and his editor, Frances Gilbert, worked with eight male American Ballet Theatre performers for the project, and those dancers’ photos and testimonies appear as an epilogue to the book.
The idea for the book came to Allman after publishing A Is for Audra: Broadway’s Leading Ladies From A to Z in 2019. Boys Dance! is set for release in tandem with his second alphabet book B Is for Ballet. These releases coincide with the American Ballet Theater’s 80th anniversary this fall.
Surprisingly, the book was shaped by backlash. In August 2019, Good Morning America host Lara Spencer mocked Prince George after it was reported that the young royal had enrolled in ballet classes. Before long, the hashtag #BoysDanceToo erupted on social media, with established dancers Robbie Fairchild and Travis Wall among those to express their frustration with Spencer’s on-air reinforcement of gender stereotypes.
Spencer apologized, but her remarks left a stinging impression on American Ballet Theatre principal James B. Whiteside, who also appears in “Boys Dance!”
“Homophobia is at the root of the bullying of boys in ballet,” he told HuffPost. “It doesn’t even matter if you’re actually gay, it just matters that you seem gay, just by doing ballet. … This book will teach kids that their love of ballet has nothing to do with anything other than loving ballet.”
As with all the performing arts in most places right now, the COVID-19 has halted programming and rehearsals for many performers who want nothing more than to be on the stage. While that is definitely a downer, Allman hopes that young performers will take this time away from their preferred form of expression and settle into his book about ballet.
“Maybe there are boys or girls out there who are using this time to learn something new and feel inspired to try a Zoom barre or hip-hop class,” he told Huffpost. “Either way, it’s nice to flip through a book and experience the feelings of watching dance or theater at a time when it’s not something we’re able to do.”
We’re certainly impressed by this endeavor and hope that young readers use their time at home to continue to dream about the places they’ll soar. Boys Dance! will allow many young people to see themselves in areas they might not have considered for themselves. All that to say: Boys, you should dance.