This boy dances in defiance of those who call it girly

Sean Varner long tried to hide his love of dance from his peers. But over time, he's found a close group of friends who like him for who he is, and continues to use dance as a physical, emotional and creative outlet. Our Student Reporting Labs report as part of Outside the Box, a series on the ways that young people are challenging traditional gender stereotypes.

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    And, finally, the story of a young dancer from Pennsylvania striving to find his place among his peers while battling sports stereotypes and his own anxieties.

    This is the second in our series from Student Reporting Labs called Outside the Box, profiles of high school and middle school students bravely challenging today's gender stereotypes.

  • SEAN VARNER, Dance Student, Cedar Crest High School:

    I have danced for eight years, jazz, tap, and ballet, as well as lyrical, modern, and contemporary.

    When I first started, I was afraid to tell people. Some of them don't ever agree with it or accept it.

  • EDWARD VARNER, Sean’s Father:

    I think boys are often stigmatized and encouraged to do something else. It's a lot easier for a parent to give a boy a baseball bat or a football and say, that's my boy.


    Most of the guys don't react too well, just like try and poke fun at me.


    I think Sean has probably lost friends, but, from my parental perspective, I think those have been minimal. He's really connected with a niche group of people who like him for who he is.


    There are some days when it gets to me. People typically say, like, it's girlish or feminine and it's not a real sport.

    When I'm not dancing, it probably does the opposite of helping me with my anxiety. When I'm actually dancing, it helps a lot, and it just gives me peace.


    Dance allows him to address the anxiety that builds up in him by being able to be extremely physical. It's very good for him to release some of that pent-up energy.


    I am pretty nervous to go up to the high school, just because I'm not sure exactly how people will react. It will probably get harder.


    You have to choose to surround yourself with people who help lift you up and separate yourself from those who are all about tearing you down. Step up there, put it out there, and say, this is who I am. There's something about the arts that gives life and purpose and meaning to life.



    And to see more youth-produced stories about how gender stereotypes affect teenagers, visit the Outside the Box page on our home page.

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