DRESS CODE for men and boys: black tights, white T-shirt, white socks, white ballet shoes, dance belt.
The New Student Guide from most ballet schools reads something like that, introducing new male dancers to the great adventure. By the time a guy decides to actually start taking ballet class, he’s probably already made his peace with wearing tights. Socks, shoes, T-shirt - no problem. But...
What's a Dance Belt?
Dance belts are specialized athletic supporters designed specifically for dance. Tights create the quandary. The gods of ballet have decreed that male dancers wear them for class and performances, but somehow without little Johnny’s 'johnny' providing a graphic male anatomy lesson for the other students or audience. Also in ballet, mid-class “readjustments” are considered bad form. Solid genital protection and support are required. Yet, because tights are form-fitting, any conventional underwear, compression shorts, or jockstrap shows right through them. Dance belts avoid these lines by eliminating the jockstrap’s rear straps, replacing them with a single thong that goes between the buttocks.
Dance belts form a smooth idealized male bulge under tights with no visible lines, while keeping the testicles safely and securely held up and away from the danger of being bounced or bruised between your legs. A secondary benefit is their ability to hide any visible evidence of a spontaneous erection, which could be quite embarrassing in class or on stage. Although you’ve probably never worn anything else half as tight as a dance belt, a well fitting one can actually be quite comfortable once you get used to the unusual feel. Dancers like the security of knowing their genitals are firmly protected, no matter how radical a move they throw. The secret is finding the right dance belt.
It’s only in the past few years that manufacturers realized that even pre-pubescent ballet boys needed dance belt protection and introduced youth models. Still, dance belts for young boys are hard to find (This site can help with that).
The male genitals are the only major organ in the human body that is placed outside the protection of the skeletal structure. This evolutionary quirk must work or the species would have been a victim of Darwinian extinction eons ago. But modern life’s activities frequently place strains on the genitals that can be extremely painful or even threatening to your reproductive health. In other words, your body really isn’t designed for marathon running, being whacked by a lacrosse stick, or ballet 5th position. Urologists theorize that many male sterility problems stem from long forgotten minor incidents in the youth and teen years. Clanging, banging, and strains can be minimized by wearing the right support garment when participating in strenuous activities like sports and dance.
Dance Belt Design
Imagine the challenge faced by dance belt designers to come up with something that deals with these design parameters:
Physiology – The male genitals must be kept out of harm’s way. 5th position, beats, and sautés changement can crush an errant testicle left hanging below the crotch line. The testicles must be solidly supported to avoid bouncing and clanging during leaps. The penis must be tightly controlled. Tight fabric must not restrict nor inhibit movement of active muscles in the trunk and legs like the gluteus, hamstrings, abductors, etc.
Comfort – Anything as controlling and tight as a dance belt will never be confused with a pair of silk boxers, but it must be comfortable enough to be worn for long hours of classes, rehearsals, and performance.
Appearance - A dance belt should be as close to invisible as possible under tights. The inevitable male bulge should be smoothed out. And once it’s on and adjusted, nothing should move inside the dance belt, regardless of the stretching, leaping, and contortions the dancer engages in.
Why a Thong?
Initially, what kind of dance belt you choose is up to you, but I am not a fan of the full bottom or "comfort" compromise models. The traditional thong style was invented and is the most popular for several reasons.
-They are invisible under tights, don't show underwear lines, and package the male package best.
-They have the most solid genital support.
-They don't cover your buttocks, so the gluteus and hamstring muscles aren't restricted or inhibited from working to full length.
-It will always stay in place with a constant tension no matter how radically you move. You won't find yourself off in the corner making mid-class ‘readjustments' or trying to pull down a full coverage seat that has migrated halfway up your butt.
-The thought of wearing a thong is scarier than the reality, although they do take a bit of getting used to.
Dance belts are measured by waist size. Although most dance stores don't carry an extensive selection of men's dancewear, most have a small selection of men's tights and dance belts stashed away somewhere. You'll probably have to ask the clerk where they hide the men's gear. You can also shop online if you live in a town too small to have a dance store, but be prepared for sizing problems until you figure out exactly what each manufacturer means when they say "medium".
(Many dance clothing manufacturers have standardized their entire product line using female sizing, so even though dance belts are strictly for male dancers, that's how they are sized. Go up one size from your normal underwear size.)
The best color dance belt to buy is flesh colored: 'nude' or 'tan' for caucasians, 'chocolate' for darker skinned dancers. The same dance belt can then be worn under black practice tights or white performance tights. A flesh colored dance belt is more invisible under white tights than a white one, in the same way a white T-shirt under a white dress shirt becomes a "super white" look that's brighter than a single white layer.
Comfort - how to wear a dance belt
When putting on a dance belt it's important to take the time to get all your male parts placed where you want them, as comfortably as possible, because once it's on, nothing is supposed to move until you take it off. Sometimes there will be minor internal slippage inside a dance belt as you wear it, but too much shifting indicates a bad fit. You may have to try different brands and sizes to find the one that works best for you.
To put it on, pull your dance belt up over your hipbones, to the height you normally wear your pants. Do not try to cheat by wearing it low, hoping to avoid thong tension. Your penis is supposed to end up facing upwards towards your belly button, so you can get that process started by letting the dance belt catch it as you pull it on.
Next comes the process dancers call the "swoop and scoop":
Reach inside the dance belt and pull your scrotum up inside the pouch. Your testicles need to be up and front, above the crotch line and well clear of their usual dangling position. Adjust your penis position to face straight up (“North”). Then, make sure the pouch isn't riding too far up in front by pulling the pouch's bottom back down and back. The pouch bottom should meet the thong at the perineum (the very bottom of your crotch, also know as the 'taint', because it "t'ain't your balls and it t'ain't your ass"). Spread your butt cheeks to make sure the thong is firmly seated, then pull any looseness towards the rear waistband. Again, don't attempt to cheat by letting the thong float loosely. It's going to end up as far up your crack as possible halfway through class, so you should place it where you want it to go rather than leave its comfort to chance.
At first, you can expect some discomfort wearing a dance belt. However, a properly fitting one will soon stop bothering you and you will come to appreciate your ability to let loose, jumping and leaping around with wild abandon, knowing you won't feel that painful bounce when you land.
Doing the Laundry - caring for your dance clothes
Most dance belts, tights, and leotards have a high spandex content.
Spandex (AKA Lycra if it comes from Dupont, and Milliskin if it’s a MStevens garment) loses its stretch and is destroyed by hot water. It can also be damaged by sweat and skin oils, so don't let dirty damp dance clothes fester for days in your dance bag.
Cold water is the key to keeping your dancewear happy in the laundry.
It's OK to use the washing machine set to cold, on the 'delicate' cycle.
Hang everything to dry.
Never put dance clothes in the dryer.
If you live in a humid climate and it seems like your stuff takes forever to dry, squeeze the clothes in a towel to remove excess water prior to hanging.
A Final Comment
Most vintage dance belts (pre 1980) were extremely uncomfortable, designed as some sort of penance for the few men bold enough to wear tights. Although new designs have made giant strides forward in dance belt comfort, it's still a tradition for male dancers to complain about them. But they wear them voluntarily, knowing dance belts are the best thing to keep their male parts safe & secure, and their line smooth. In the words of one adult student, "the only thing worse than wearing a dance belt is not wearing one. I can't imagine dancing without it."
ABT dancer Sascha Rudetsky (quoted in Dance Magazine) said, "Some men rely on a lucky dance belt to cradle them in security and elevate their performance."
Some students attending performing arts high schools, college dance majors, and professional dancers wear a dance belt all day, every day. Don't whine too much about wearing one for a single class.