For Parents

For Parents: How Can I Support My Son, Who Wants to Dance?

Alex Clayton (right) in Arden Court with Robert Kleinendorst. Photo by Paul B. Goode courtesy of PTAMD

Back-to-school can be a nerve-racking time for male dance students—especially as they approach middle or high school—and for their parents. Fears of bullying, isolation and low self-esteem are valid worry points, and, as parents, we want to do our best to help our kids feel supported and loved—especially in uncertain times. For a first-person account from a boy whose mom did a lot of the right stuff, we spoke with Alex Clayton, a professional modern dancer who grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and is now a third-year member of Paul Taylor Dance Company:


"During my childhood, my mother constantly encouraged me to ask questions and be curious about the world. No matter where we'd go or what we did, we always talked about it.

For example, when trying new foods, seeing a new movie or even overhearing adult conversations, my mom would ask me if I had any questions, and we would have very analytical discussions.

When I started dancing seriously in high school, she constantly checked in with me and asked me questions: How does this person make you feel? Do you feel safe? She listened and gave me honest feedback—and never shied away from hard truths. She let me know that I was likely to encounter instances of bullying and coached me on how we could remedy those situations if or when they happened. But because we'd always had a very transparent relationship, having regular and frank conversations surrounding dance and school felt very in tandem with how we had always operated."

Teachers Trending
Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy. Photo courtesy Dance With Me

Listening to Maks and Val Chmerkovskiy riff together makes it crystal-clear why each has mastered the art of partnering in the ballroom—they've long been doing this dance in real life as brothers and business partners.

Along with their "Dancing with the Stars" pedigree (and a combined three mirror-ball trophies between them), Maks and Val (and their father, Sasha) also run Dance With Me, a dance company hosting six ProAm Dancesport competitions annually and running 14 brick-and-mortar studio locations across the U.S.

Last year, the pair launched an online component, Dance & Co. The online video platform offers beginner through advanced instruction in not only ballroom but an array of other styles, as well as dance fitness classes from HIIT to yoga to strength training. "DWTS" fans will recognize such familiar faces as Peta Murgatroyd, Jenna Johnson, Sharna Burgess and Emma Slater, along with Maks and Val themselves.

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@jayplayimagery, courtesy Kerollis

In the spring of 2012, Barry Kerollis was abruptly forced into treating his career as a small business. Having just moved cross-country to join BalletX, he got injured and was soon let go.

"I'd only ever danced with big companies before," the now-freelance dance-teacher-choreographer-podcaster recalls. "That desperation factor drove me to approach freelancing with a business model and a business plan."

As Kerollis acknowledges, getting the business of you off the ground ("you" as a freelance dance educator, that is) can be filled with unexpected challenges—even for the most seasoned of gigging dancers. But becoming your own CEO can make your work–life balance more sustainable, help you make more money, keep you organized, and get potential employers to offer you more respect and improved working conditions. Here's how to get smart now about branding, finances and other crucial ways to tell the dance world that you mean business.

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Courtesy Oleson

American dance educator Shannon Oleson was teaching recreational ballet and street-dance classes in London when the pandemic hit. As she watched many of her fellow U.S. friends pack up and return home from their international adventures, she made the difficult choice to stick with her students (as well as her own training—she was midway through her MFA at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance).

Despite shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders, she was able to maintain a teaching schedule that kept her working with her dancers through Zoom, as well as lead some private, in-home acro classes following government guidelines. But keeping rec students interested in the face of pandemic fatigue hasn't been easy.

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