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Bullied as a boy, former Cincinnati Ballet soloist shows boys it's okay to learn ballet

Boys in Ballet
Posted at 12:36 PM, Sep 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-16 12:36:38-04

CINCINNATI — Children of all ages develop a passion for ballet at the Cincinnati Ballet Academy.

“It is very athletic, it is very discipline oriented,” said Zack Grubbs, academy principal and former Cincinnati Ballet soloist.

Academy students learn grace, poise and discipline from former Cincinnati Ballet dancers — men and women who are inspiring the next generation of performers. Many of those students are boys, and to this day, Grubbs finds himself responding to the stigma against boys in dance.

Boys in Ballet
Boys are welcome at the Cincinnati Ballet Academy and one class is just for young boys.

“When I started dance I was just shy of 12 years old and going into middle school,” he said, “so that was pretty rough.”

The conversation about male dancers being bullied came to light after last month’s controversy involving “Good Morning America” co-anchor Lara Spencer who was accused of making a sexist, stereotypical comment about Prince George taking ballet lessons.

Spencer has since apologized.

“I screwed up, I did. The comment I made about dance was insensitive, it was stupid and I am deeply sorry,” Spencer told a GMA audience.

That moment on national television has many in the dance community talking about the bullying some male dancers face.

“They have a lack of knowledge,” Grubbs said. “They don't understand what they're talking about because dance is very physically demanding.”

Zack Grubbs
Zack Grubbs is a former Cincinnati Ballet soloist turned Academy Principal.

The Cincinnati Ballet Academy has an all-boys class that started this month. The class was so popular last year, it had a waiting list.

Grubbs said he talks to his students about his experiences growing up in the dance world.

“We talk about trying to push what it is about dance that really, individually you enjoy,” he said. “What draws you? Why are you here?”

Ballet student PJ Costandi, a senior at Walnut Hills High School, said there are people who will never fully accept his love for dance.

“There's always that one group of people who's going to make fun of you or do whatever,” Costandi said. “There's always the haters.”

But Costandi said he gets supportive, positive messages too.

“Being able to dance and perform helped me learn how to emote myself and just be able to talk and not be nervous about it,” Costandi said.

There’s still time to register for fall classes at the Cincinnati Ballet Academy. The boys’ class is held on Monday evenings.

“It is the most rewarding thing, fulfilling thing I think you can do,” Costandi said.