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


Jayme Thornton

Roman Mejia Is Carving His Own Path at New York City Ballet

In a brightly lit studio high above the busy Manhattan streets, Roman Mejia rehearses George Balanchine's Allegro Brillante. Though just 20, the New York City Ballet corps dancer exudes an easy confidence. Practicing a tricky sequence of triple pirouettes into double tours his breathing becomes labored, but his focus doesn't waver. He works until he finds the music's inherent rhythm, timing his turns evenly and finally landing them with a satisfied smile.

Since joining NYCB in 2017, Mejia has had the chance to take on ballets ranging from Romeo + Juliet to Fancy Free to Kyle Abraham's hip-hop–infused The Runaway. Though he often finds himself the youngest person in the room, Mejia is rarely intimidated. He's been immersed in ballet since birth. His father, Paul Mejia, danced with NYCB in the 1960s, and his mother, Maria Terezia Balogh, danced for Chicago City Ballet and Fort Worth-Dallas Ballet. Both of Mejia's parents and his grandmother attended the School of American Ballet. Now, Mejia is quickly building on his family's legacy, creating buzz with his shot-from-a-cannon energy, rapid-fire footwork and charismatic charm.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Getty Images

A Letter from the Editor in Chief

Hi Everyone,

These are challenging times. The social distancing measures brought about by COVID-19 has likely meant that your regular ballet training has been interrupted, while your performances, competitions—even auditions—have been cancelled. You may be feeling anxious about what the future holds, not only for you but for the dance industry. And that's perfectly understandable.

As you adjust to taking virtual ballet class from your living rooms, we here at Pointe are adjusting to working remotely from our living rooms. We've had to get a little creative, especially as we put our Summer Issue together, but like you we're taking full advantage of modern technology. Sure, it's a little inconvenient sometimes, but we're finding our groove.

And we know that you will, too. We've been utterly inspired by how the dance community has rallied together, from ballet stars giving online classes to companies streaming their performances to the flood of artist resources popping up. We've loved watching you dance from your kitchens. And we want to help keep this spirit alive. That's why Pointe and all of our Dance Media sister publications are working nonstop to produce and cross-post stories to help you navigate this crisis. We're all in this together.

We also want to hear from you! Send us a message on social media, or email me directly at abrandt@dancemedia.com. Tell us how you're doing, send us your ideas and show us your dance moves. Let the collective love we share for our beloved art form spark the light at the end of the tunnel—we will come out the other side soon enough.

Best wishes,

Amy

Tulsa Ballet in Ma Cong's Tchaikovsky: The Man Behind the Music. Kate Luber Photography, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet.

Mark Your Calendars for These Online Ballet Performances

As COVID-19 has forced ballet companies around the world to cancel performances—and even the remainder of their seasons—many are keeping their audiences engaged by streaming or posting pre-recorded performances onto their websites or social media channels. To help keep you inspired during these challenging times, we've put together a list of upcoming streaming events and digital performances.

Keep reading SHOW LESS