I found all kinds of sites with info on the latest statistics of bullying. Verbal abuse, cyber bullying, physical violence, etc. all make the list. It's a sad reality that over half of all kids won't make it to adulthood without at some point feeling ostracized, threatened, insulted, and belittled for being perceived as being different or not normal.
My kids have been given the lectures from very early-on about treating people with respect no matter how they look, talk, act, etc- no matter what they do, say, or believe that might set them apart. Every person should be valued. Without exception- every person.
With great shock, a few years back, my son was a victim of bullying.
He was seen as different for being an Irish dancer. He had already at that point qualified for the World Championships of Irish Dance for the first time. He was seen as a rising star- a talented Irish dancer, but in less than half an hour, his confidence was shattered. It took less than half an hour of being chased, called a "homo", and being pelted with rocks that caused him to run into a barbed-wire fence for him to see his status as an Irish dancer as something to be hidden- something to be ashamed of.
He came home that day with more than a few physical mementos. His spirit was bruised and beaten-down.
I knew the parents of the boys involved. I lost my mind for more than a moment that my son was attacked in this way. I saw red when I saw the welt on the side of his head and his shaking hands. He begged me not to do anything, say anything, bring attention to what had happened. I thought about it in a fidgety and restless way. I gave it some time and just thought about my options and the words I would need to say.
I thought about the kids involved and their parents, and I realized that there was no way I could leave this alone. It had to be addressed and handled sooner rather than later. My son's situation happened between "friends", outside of a school or sports activity. There was no "higher authority", teacher, coach, principal. I was "it". I had to handle this and do things right by my kid.
The boys, including my son, were all between the ages of eleven and thirteen. The main bully was the oldest and biggest kid. The other two involved were brothers and although not directly involved, they did nothing to stop what happened. In fact, as the facts came out, they were a bit shocked by the whole thing and didn't realize how bad it was getting-- how scared my son, their friend, was. They kept thinking it'd end, and that someone would start laughing, and it would go from uncomfortable back to fun and games as usual among friends.
Even though the brothers were not directly involved in the bullying, theirs was the first house I called. Their dad answered. I had a moment where I thought about backing down, but after that nano-second passed, I told him what had happened. He was shocked. He was mortified by what his sons had done by just standing by, by being witnesses and not protectors of their friend. He apologized over and over and said he'd talk to them, and that they'd work on the lesson that needed to be learned from this and on an apology. I said that I appreciated his plan of action and his understanding of the seriousness of the incident. I got off the phone and just rested against the wall with my eyhes closed and breathed.
I talked with my son about that phone call. I felt I had accomplished something with that phone call. He, however, was embarrassed. Let me repeat that-- HE WAS EMBARRASSED!! Can I tell you how ticked that made me!? They were the ones in the wrong, and yet my son, the victim, was embarrassed.
I told him I had to call the parent of the boy who had said the words, called him a homosexual, gay, a girl repeatedly for being an Irish dancer. I explained that this boy who had thrown rocks at him, and chased him into the barbed-wire fence needed to be held accountable for his actions. He looked terrified. He looked so scared, and I tried not to want to hurt this boy who had done this to my talented, amazing son. "Mom, please don't make him come here and apologize to me. Please, Mom," was what he said.
My heart felt crushed.
I felt violent, like a momma bear. I saw red. My son was pleading with me to not make this worse, not make a scene, not make this bully apologize. I calmed myself down and breathed deep. Even still, even after breathing and collecting myself, I was so nervous about calling the family of the boy who had bullied my son. I was so nervous. But I wanted to be the best advocate for my kid, to be a protective force in my son's life. It had to be done.
I called the other family, and the mom of the boy answered the phone cheerily. I think that made me madder- her cheerfulness. I explained what had happened, and she acted shocked and said how much she's always talked about how talented my son was, and that she had no idea where this had come from with her son. She said she'd talk to her son and bring him over to apologize. I had to tell her, "No. My son does not want an apology from him. Please do not bring him over here to apologize." I think that shook her up a bit. In my heart, I was glad that it did. She wanted to know what she could do. I told her to counsel her son and make sure that this stopped and never affected my son or anyone else.
I got off the phone and concentrated on my kid. I hugged him and told him how sorry I was that there are people in this world who hear "boy" and "dancer" in the same sentence and will always judge him.
We've moved since then. My son is still dancing. He's still pretty talented, but he has changed. That day changed him. He has not danced in front of any of his new friends. He doesn't share his successes with his friends who are outside of Irish dance. This makes me sad. We are still working through this over three years later. I still have moments where I want to wring the neck of the kid who made my kid feel less than special, less than valued, less than normal.
There are other boy Irish dancers who've had to deal with this. Their moms have had to deal with the same reactions that I had to work through. Not all Irish dancing boys get teased, but if they do, it seems to happen in that same age my son was in. Junior high or between the ages of eleven and fourteen.
Here is some advice to the boys from the moms on the Moms to Reel Boys Facebook page:
Do what you love and follow your passion! Tell an adult and /or to help you deal with the situation. ~Tara R. (Alberta, Canada)
Do not listen to negative comments,the only talent the bullies have is NOTHING! Being jealous is not a nice quality. Enjoy and hold your head up high! ~ Sharron Q. (Shannon, Ireland)
Follow your passion and whatever you do don't hide it. Once they see you in action, the teasing stops and the admiration kicks in. Pretty soon it just becomes who you are and what you do. Plus, you'll never be hurting for a prom date. ~Michelle W. (Denver, CO, USA)
“Dance like no one is watching. Sing like no one is listening. Love like you've never been hurt and live like it's heaven on Earth.”― Mark Twain ( also credited to William Purkey & Susann Clark) ~ Kelly R. (Colorado, USA)
And from some male Irish dancers:
Follow your heart and do what you love, if that is Irish Dancing then you go for it who cares what everyone else thinks! Just be yourself and you will succeed no matter what you do! ~Personal motto of Adam Pizzitola, adult Irish dancer of Missouri, USA
Keep your head up & do what you love! ~ Drew Lovejoy, World-ranked champion Irish dancer and two time North American National title holder from Ohio, USA
Have you seen who I dance with? There is a 200:1 gorgeous girl to boy ratio - I have nothing else to say. ~ C.T., World-ranked champion Irish dancer from North Carolina, USA
I got bullied early on, but I told them, "you're just jealous because you can't do it". That worked for me. ~Jeremy M. from Colorado, USA
Advice from a "big sis"
The answer is quite easy for me - in the Guinness World Records 2000 and 1990 they were the highest paid dancer (still holds this title), only dancer in the world to have they're legs insured for $40,000,000, can do 35 taps in one second, was the first American Irish dancer to win the Worlds at only 17 years of age, and then went on to win another 168 consecutive first place dance championships in competitions worldwide. As well as staring in one dance show, Riverdance, before going on to create 3 more of their own - Lord of the Dance, Feet of Flames and Celtic Tiger, before returning to Lord of the Dance within this last year or so.
As I always told my younger brother, if Michael Flatley can achieve that, then there is nothing stopping you :)
As Flatley says in the interview at the start of the return of Lord of the Dance "If you just follow whats in your hard, and your willing to work hard for it, then nothing is impossible"
Oh and there is also the movie documentary "Jig" - show that to the people giving you trouble, and then throw in a few back clicks yourself, before walking away :) ~Laura D. (Belfast, Ireland)
Words of wisdom from some more of the mommas:
The best thing I ever did as a mom of an Irish dancing boy was to say to my sons (the first (and only) time they got picked on), "Well, do you want to quit? If you do, that's okay. If you know in your heart this is what you're meant to do, that's okay, too. Either way, I support you and I love you no matter what. This is about what you want. If your soul quits or dances on, we're with you."
They both chose to let their spirits and feet soar. And they've never heard another word about it. Peace and strength to you all! This is tough stuff, to be a MTRB! Trust your boy. If he wants to dance, ain't nothin' gonna stop him. If he doesn't want to dance, why force the issue? He's the one who puts in the practice and blisters. Let him know it's his choice. He'll find the strength to defend his choice, either to you or to his peers. Empower him now. No one else can ever take it from him.
But honestly, I don't know what I'd say to a boy who had been bullied, except to suggest that he pray for his persecutor. Our kids have discipline and a breadth of knowledge that other boys (and future men) will never have. They're not afraid of holding hands with girls. They can dance with them without embarrassment. They can BE FRIENDS with each other and not be terrified of their girliness. It's this sensitivity that will make our boys the best husbands ever. :) ~ Rachel F.-P. (Massachusetts, USA)
I would always tell him not to be worried about other kids because they were scared & uneducated and yes I told my 8 yr old that. Once the kids found out that Zane would not back down from anything, they have now accepted him for him & they just know that he dances and they treat it like any other sport. He would also do impromptu dances in school when the teachers would ask him to & the kids thought it was great. It really came down to instilling confidence in him (which dance sure does do that) & him explaining to children without having to constantly prove himself to others. Luckily for Zane he is very athletic & him playing various sports really allowed him to sometimes feel like he did something that a "normal" boy would do. ~ Jessica P. (North Carolina, USA)
I know its coming, another mom told me middle school is the breaking point and some quit purely from getting picked on. I've always told my boys, don't let anyone make a decision like that for you, i.e. quitting because someone else tries to put you down, then you will never have any choices to make for yourself. ~Ann K. (New York, USA)
I know that Irish Dance was the best activity that my son wanted to do. I did not know what drew him to it, I still do not know what it means to him, but the dancing I know comes from his heart and soul. Some kids have picked on him for this but when he showed his stuff, they could not believe how fast he moved his feet. ID has given him confidence within himself and self assurance. I am proud of him for how far he has come as a person as well as a dancer. ID has made a difference for him in all aspects of his life. ~Vicki O. (Brewster, NY, USA)
Fortunately my son didn't get too much flak. He was so excited about dancing that he did it everywhere and most of the kids thought it was cool. There were a few rude comment in middle school until he reminded those guys that they were hanging out in a stinky locker room with other guys while he was surrounded by beautiful girl's. Pretty much stopped after that. Vicki H. (Texas, USA)
When my son started dancing, he soon started amassing an impressive medal collection that earned him the respect of his peers, even in kindergarten. He has always been proud of his Irish heritage, and took any opportunity to share it with others, including dance demonstrations and show&tell medal displays. I'd suspect his easy-going friendships with many attractive HS females (dancers, too) in his school keep the ridicule from his 6th grade peers to a minimum. Jessica S. (Rochester, NY, USA)
I hope this helps any other moms of boys in Irish dance who've been picked on for being a boy Irish dancer. It's so sad when it happens. The boys need to know that they have a safe person to talk to or someone that will be able to help them. They need to feel safe. Some boys will never be bullied for being an Irish dancer, but for those who are, I hope they get the help and support that they need, and that they know they are not alone.
Keep dancing, you handsome, talented Irish dancing boys! Don't let narrow-minded, cruel people keep you from doing something so absolutely extraordinary with your talents and life! We need more guys in Irish dance! When you dance, you are powerful, and fabulous, and I, among many, love to watch you dance! ~Darlene W. (Maryland, USA)
*Photo above from the National Crime Prevention Council- free resource images for bullying.