Men in tights: How NAU is encouraging boys to dance, one viral video at a time

Male ballet dancer
Andrew Needhammer (right) instructs one of his students during a rehearsal for The Nutcracker that debuted last month.

By Carly Banks
NAU Communications

Boys in ballet are about as common as girls are in wrestling—not very.

Traditionally, girls grow up playing with Barbie and participating in gymnastics. Boys battle Transformers and play football. But why?

Project B, a worldwide initiative focused on inspiring boys and young men to dance, hopes to defy societal norms, and with Northern Arizona University’s help, it’s taking the world by storm.

Andrew Needhammer, dance coordinator of the NAU Community Music and Dance Academy, has a far-reaching reputation as a ballet dancer and Royal Academy of Dance (RAD) teacher. The academy, which was founded in 1920 and is based in the United Kingdom, turns dance performers into teachers through an accredited degree program—from which Needhammer graduated in 2012—and then uses those teachers to create dance programs in communities throughout the world.

After earning his degree, Needhammer brought RAD to NAU in hopes of providing Flagstaff residents the opportunity to dance. Four years later, the program has more than 300 5- to 18-year-olds enrolled.

“It’s a mutually beneficial relationship: RAD gets to use NAU’s facilities, and in return, it serves as an outreach program of the university, gets people used to coming to the campus, works as a recruitment tool and gets NAU worldwide recognition,” Needhammer said, who has taken his dancers to international competitions in New Zealand, London, Scotland and Toronto.

Diego DeToledo
Diego DeToledo, who participated in the Project B video, practices his twirl.

Though RAD programs continue to grow throughout the world, there seemed to be a common theme—the vast majority of students enrolling in the dance classes are female.

And so, Project B was created.

Needhammer’s reputation not only attracted dancers from throughout Arizona, but also the attention of those at the academy.

“RAD representatives contacted me and asked if I would be interested in helping promote this program they called ‘Project B’—I immediately jumped on board,” he said. “In hopes of sparking the interest of boys, a choreographer created a dance that used soccer and Transformers as inspiration. Dance doesn’t have to be a girl thing, and this dance proves that.”

Needhammer learned the choreography, then taught it to his students, Isiah Zanone and Diego DeToledo. After the students felt comfortable with the moves, they were filmed performing it. The video was then sent to more than 1,000 RAD teachers in 84 countries throughout the world, encouraging boys all over to learn the same steps.

It spread like wildfire.

“We were getting video submissions from males of all ages, from all over the world who had learned the dance moves from watching our video, then filmed themselves performing it. They were genuinely excited to be doing the dance.”

The academy used NAU’s demonstration and all the other video submissions to create a Project B compilation. The video, which was released on Facebook in October, went viral.

“You can see in the videos that all those boys are having so much fun. Wherever they’re dancing—living room, outside, ballet studio—they’re having a blast doing it. It’s so great.”

Needhammer hopes Project B will continue to grow and spark the interest of males throughout the world. After all, more men should be wearing tights—and it’s not just Robin Hood who thinks so.

Zanone (left) and DeToledo (right) can be seen throughout the video, first appearing at 14 seconds in.

NAU Communications