Boston Ballet's Daniel Randall Durrett. Photo by Rene Micheo, Courtesy Dance Jox

Can We Get Rid of the Awkwardness Surrounding Dance Belts?

When I was 13, I was in a class with boys who were a few years older than me at the School of American Ballet. One day before class, I gave a little sass to a 16-year-old classmate who was swinging his leg as his warm up, showing off his flexibility.

"Kick that leg," I say.

"Wear those briefs," he replies.

My face went beet-red. Was I supposed to be wearing a dance belt? I was sure I was too young, but I asked a friend of mine just in case. He told me, gracefully, that yes, I needed one and that it was a topic of some discussion among my older peers.

Even though I had been at SAB for three years, when to wear a dance belt had never been discussed.


It's hard enough to deal with the teasing and social discomfort of being a male dancer in your early teens, and talking about a dance belt with someone, let alone wearing one, was something I was happy to put off.

But, after that fateful pre-class warm up, I got myself a dance belt. However, the awkwardness didn't end there. I first wore a style that was comfortable, but too loose, then one that was too tight. I learned that the hard way when a colleague whispered to me during a run-through, "one ball is out."

In my nine years of training and six years in ballet companies, no one ever talked about how to find the right fit or style for my body.

It seemed the topic was too awkward for anyone to talk about back then. So, how are things now?

At SAB, the situation seems to be the same. Amy Bordy, director of public relations at the school, says via email that, "There continues to be no formal or official advice given to students about dance belts."

But the tides of awkwardness for young male dancers are starting to turn.

Kiyon Ross, who graduated from SAB a couple years before I did, went on to have a career at Pacific Northwest Ballet and is now on the faculty there. He says that he talks to his 11-year-old boys about dance belts.

"I bring one in and explain what it is. Some have never seen one before," Ross says. "It takes the weirdness and mystery out of it."

He recommends brands and sizes to them and offers feedback.

"If I see in class it's not right, it's not fitting, I tell them," he says.

PNB's Kiyon Ross teaching DanceChance boys' class

Angela Sterling, Courtesy PNB

Ross says that when he was in his early teens in Baltimore, no one spoke with him about dance belts. He describes going to a local dance shop where a woman handed him all the different sizes and styles she had and he tried them all over his underwear.

"I just remember she kept giving me all these sizes that were bigger and bigger," he says with a laugh-cringe. "They clearly were not going to fit."

Beyond getting the right fit and preferred style, a male dancer needs to know how to organize their anatomy in the dance belt.

"We talk about how the private parts fit in. I tell them that it's not like underwear," Ross says. "You have to fix it so it goes in the upward direction."

Tom Kilps, a former dancer with Texas Ballet Theater and founder of the dance belt line Dance Jox is even more direct than Ross. His website has an instructional page that reads:

"As you reach into the pouch, pull everything upwards and make sure the testicles are at the front with everything else pointing upwards. Your penis is supposed to end up facing towards 12 o'clock."

I didn't figure this out until I was 16, when I heard a dancer make fun of another boy who was doing this wrong. Perhaps it was passive-aggressively meant for me.

Kilps says he founded Dance Jox because he was unhappy with the options he had when he was dancing. He's been refining the product for five years, adding features such as quick-dry material, four-way stretch in the thong and a seam down the middle of the front pouch to match the seam in most tights.

He also says his product makes male dancers feel less "on display," and is a better option than wearing two dance belts in an effort to be modest, which is not uncommon.

"I've heard directors comment on some dancers that their 'bump' is distracting," Kilps says. "You want to see the dancer, not their junk."

Dance Jox dance belts come in a wide variety of sizes, from small to 2XL to help dancers of all body types feel comfortable. He also sells them in a darker flesh tone for dancers of color.

Ross, who is black, says that when he was performing with PNB, the costume shop would have to dye his dance belts for ballets with light colored tights or with no shirt where the waistband might show.

"Just like pointe shoes, it's important to have color options," Ross says. "Not everyone will have access to a custom shop to dye to the right color."

Texas Ballet Theatre principal Carl Coomer in Dance Jox

Andy Keye, Courtesy Dance Jox

Kilps also had a less-than-ideal experience as 14-year-old buying his first dance belt. Like Ross, he went to his local dance shop in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, that was "pink everywhere." He didn't even know what a dance belt was when a woman at the store handed him one.

"It was awkward," he says. "I was like, I don't want to wear this thong."

Kilps tries to help younger dancers with their first dance belt purchase, and that often means talking about dance belts with the mom.

Nicola Hudson's son Rhys first took ballet class in his boxer shorts, but he when he was about 12, the school told her she needed to buy him a dance belt.

"I didn't really know much about what to get him and I didn't find too much information online," Hudson says. "I just bought one with good reviews."

She says that buying from a typical dance store wasn't ideal because they just, "read the product label and can't tell you much more." She says finding Kilps was useful because she could talk to someone who knew the experience of wearing a dance belt.

Getting comfortable wearing tights and having your anatomy on display can be challenging for a young male dancer, who is probably already facing at least some bullying for studying dance. This makes it even more important for a young male dancers to have guidance and minimize the awkwardness around dance belts.

"For teachers who do have boys, it's important not to shy away from the topic," Ross advises. "It's part of our culture as male dancers, it needs to be normalized."

While dance belts can only be so comfortable, they are a fact of life if you want to pursue a career in dance—at least for awhile.

Asked if he still wears dance belts these days as a teacher, Ross laughs.

"I don't wear them anymore," he says. "I'm done with that."

Latest Posts


James Barkley, Courtesy Dance for Change

Take Class From Celebrated Black Dancers and Raise Money for the NAACP Through Dance for Change

Since the nationwide fight against racial inequality took center stage in May, organizations across the dance world have been looking for meaningful ways to show their support, rather than fall back on empty social media signifiers. July 10-11, Diamante Ballet Dancewear is taking action with Dance for Change, a two-day event dedicated to fundraising for the NAACP, and amplifying the voices of Black professional dancers.

Organized by Diamante Ballet Dancewear's founder, Nashville Ballet 2 dancer Isichel Perez, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre teacher Elise Gillum, Dance for Change makes it easy to participate. Dancers need only to make a donation to the NAACP (in any amount) and email proof to diamante.ballet@gmail.com to be given online access to a full schedule of Zoom master classes taught by Black pros artists. Teachers include Ballet Memphis' George Sanders, Boston Ballet's Daniel Durrett, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Corey Bourbonniere, and more. "It's important that we amplify BIPOC voices during this time, and it's also important that we're conscious of where we're putting our dollars," says Bourbonniere. "Diamante is doing both with Dance for Change, and I'm honored to be in this talented group of melanated dancers."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Houston Ballet's "Dancing With Myself" Captures How We All Feel Right Now

What are dancers to do when they're still stuck at home in isolation? After all, there's only so much time you can spend taking barre, tackling your reading list (or Netflix queue) or ticking items off your to-do list. Even wistfully looking out the window has lost its appeal after a few months.

That's when you need a dance party—even it's for a party of one.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

"Our Studio Is Failing Its Students of Color": One Dancer's Experience of Racism and Microaggressions

I recently spent a Saturday night with my husband and my 17-year-old dancing daughter, who sobbed at the foot of our bed. My daughter revealed her experiences with implicit bias and overt racism in school, and especially in the dance studio.

For six years, she has danced at a classical ballet school tied to the city's ballet company. The previous six years were spent at a mid-sized recreational/competition studio. I want to recount a few examples of the racism that my daughter shared that night.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks