Seen & Heard: How Retailers Make Sure Their Stores Are Welcoming to Male Dancers

Dancers from the School of Dreams studio in Albuquerque, hometown of New Mexico Dancewear.

Typically, dancewear stores are stocked and designed for female dancers—many of them a kaleidoscope of pink or softer, feminine hues. But more retailers are making it a point to cater to male dancers, who are tapping into everything from hip hop and jazz to modern, ballroom and, yes, ballet. While this market is rarely more than 10 percent of a store’s annual sales, retailers who stock the tights, tap shoes, jazz pants, body wrappers—and even pointe shoes—men are looking for find that being inclusive gives them an edge over their competitors. We talked to three retailers about the steps they take to satisfy these customers.

Ballet Boys

When Noreen Murray purchased Dancer’s Boutique in Fitchburg, MA, in January 2019, she was immediately greeted by local male dancers coming in for tap shoes (usually in black and white) or dancewear from companies like Bloch and Só Dança. Male dancers are an important piece of Murray’s business (10 percent of the store’s sales), and she makes sure to connect with them through social media posts, often posting male dancer images on Instagram. She also sends newsletters to local dance studios, colleges and theater companies. 

The store’s design and displays aim for a gender balance in color and style. “My philosophy is that everyone should dance, or at least try some form of dance, no matter what your sex is,” says Murray, who added that one studio owner sends her a list of preferences for its male dancers (Wear Moi tights, dance belts and shirts). 

From October through December, Murray anticipates a huge call for ballet shoes for male dancers performing in The Nutcracker, as well as orders for tap shoes and jazz gear for men and boys in school performances and theater productions. A request for pointe shoes for men is not as common, but it’s also not a stretch, either. Siberian Swan, a Russian pointe shoe brand (with a U.S. presence in Raleigh, NC) recently designed the Rudolf (as in “Lord of Dance” Nureyev), a pointe shoe specifically for men.

Overall, Murray observes, the world tends to forget about male dancers, but they exist! She says there’s no shortage of ballroom attire for men but very little in other genres. “I have two older boys and one younger boy, and they do have a big issue with finding items that are male acceptable,” she says. “I always complain to the vendors that they need more male dancewear, or a line of shoes and clothing that caters directly to male dancers.”

The One Percent

When it comes to selling to men, there are three rules for New Mexico Dancewear in Albuquerque: The male dancer is as important as the female; more men and boys are showing up in studios, and from a younger age; and the stigmas that used to be a deterrent to parents [of younger boys who want to dance] are disappearing. At least that’s owner Loube McIver’s take on this demographic of dancers, which accounts for just one percent of her store’s business. Still, New Mexico Dancewear stocks tights and shoes—typically the main items men buy—as well as MStevens and Body Wrappers/Angelo Luzio canvas slippers, basic tops, jazz and bike pants, capris, and more. The store doesn’t often get lists from studios for male dancers; boys and men usually come in directly for their dance needs. 

At New Mexico Dancewear, boys use the same dressing rooms as everyone else, but there’s a dedicated area for their specific, male items in the store. All new employees learn the features and benefits of each male product, and staff is also trained to ask mothers if their 12-year-olds have a dance belt yet, and explain why they should have one.

Overall, the store is pretty in pink—but not too much. Staff make sure to show male dancers in signage, and they even have a male mannequin on display. “I would say we look like a dance store for dancers,” says McIver. “It’s certainly female-focused, but it’s not too pink.”

Dancing Dudes

Ballroom gear and attire are the top sellers with male dancers at DanceLine in Paoli, PA—then ballet and tap, with theater and jazz coming in last. Based on studio requirements, DanceLine will stock the appropriate items for male dancers. Once the studio requirements are known, then owner Mitzi Allred reaches out to specific suppliers. “The style of dance also dictates the needs,” she says. “For example, dancers who partner need different tights from dancers who perform individually.”

The retailer opts for Under Armour and GK tops for men and has noticed that male dancers older than 14 tend to have their own preferences. She carries undergarments, tights, white and black tops, shoes for all genres and dance socks. She’s noticed an interest in pointe among male dancers but says it’s not consistent. Surprisingly, the local circus school has shown a big interest in pointe shoes for its male performers. 

At DanceLine, staff are trained to make male customers comfortable by being relaxed and matter-of-fact about presenting their options. “I also have one male associate, which is a benefit,” said Allred. “He isn’t uncomfortable selling girl’s undergarments, either.”

There’s nothing feminine or masculine about DanceLine’s dressing rooms, which have a mirror and a chair for parents. A poster from O (Cirque du Soleil) with a local male dancer hangs in the store. “Pink is part of a dance store,” says Allred. “So is black. Our inside is contemporary and not froufrou.” 

Photos courtesy of New Mexico Dancewear