Sue Arnold 'Six men tap dancing on a building site for 75 minutes without a break is 60 minutes too long'

Girls will be girls and boys will be ballerinas
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It was my friend Nicky's idea to enrol the boys, her son and mine, in ballet class. They couldn't have been more than five at the time but, even so, they were appalled. "Boys don't do ballet", they said indignantly. "Boys play football and ride motorbikes and fight. Only girls do wet things like dancing."

It is probably no coincidence that Nicky lives next door to the Royal Academy of Dancing, so turning little Jack into the new Billy Elliot wouldn't have been much of a chore. Except, of course, that was 15 years before Billy Elliot emerged as a role model and at least 10 ahead of Michael Flatley.

It was precisely because most boys didn't do ballet that Nicky thought up this fast-track career wheeze. And having recently watched the video of Matthew Bourne's hugely successful production of Swan Lake where all the swans are portrayed by young men in hairy trousers with footballer's physique, I'm afraid I'm bound to admit she was probably right.

Still, it's no good regretting past decisions. What's done is done and it hasn't turned out so badly. The "dancing is for wimps" son had a trial for Chelsea Football Club when he was 17, his younger brother who wants to be a soldier (well, a dictator really) has just taken a week off from A-levels to do a commando course on Dartmoor and the youngest is all geared up to be the next Tiger Woods. Or Stephen Hendry. Or David Coulthard. Anything, in other words that stupid girls don't do.

And then, last Monday, as a treat on the first day of the summer holidays, I took the three of them to the Richmond theatre to see Tap Dogs, the show that's part Riverdance, part Full Monty, and part Saturday Night Fever which has had rave reviews worldwide. I also took my youngest ballet-dancing daughter.

This may be the moment to reveal that I, too, had hopes of becoming a dancer when I was a child and went to a pukka stage school. Very few of us became ballerinas. A lot of my contemporaries ended up as chorus girls on cruise ships or in Middle East night clubs, but that's another story.

Anyway, we went to Richmond Theatre. It was bucketing with rain. We were late. Groping for my seat in the dark, I could see six men in overalls tap-dancing on a set designed like a building site. Fifteen minutes later, they were still tap-dancing on the building site. An hour later, with the mere addition of the odd acetylene blow torch and pneumatic drill, they were still at it.

I'm not disputing their talent. They were brilliant tap-dancers, neat, nifty and nimble. Nijinsky and Nureyev could have done no better and, given the limitations of their classical training, a lot worse. The three boys, footballer, soldier and racing driver thought it was ace. The distaff side that is my self and my daughter, loathed it. Why? Because six men in overalls tap dancing on a building site no matter how neatly, niftily and nimbly, for 75 minutes without a break is 60 minutes too long. With a few girls, a bit of glamour, half a dozen costume changes, the odd sequin and one or two Scott Joplin rags, it would have been a grand night out. But six men in overalls on a building site? Forget it, or at any rate count me out.

The boys tap-danced all the way back to the car. It was fantastic, they said, could they go again. Something very curious seems to be happening to gender. When my daughters were little, they dressed up and played with dolls. When my sons were little they had train sets and guns. Even as I write, my eldest daughter is sending back despatches from a war zone in the Caucasus and the son who wants to be a dictator has just berated me for ironing his new moleskin jeans on the wrong side.

"See what you've done mum, they're all shiny now," he complained. What he really needs, I suspect, is a set of builders overalls, a welder's torch and a brand new pair of tap shoes.

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