It was the mocking wisecrack heard around the ballet world. 

When Lara Spencer chuckled at Prince George's taking ballet, the "Good Morning America" co-anchor had no idea of the raw nerve she would strike. But she struck something deep and recognizable.

The response was swift and fierce. 

It wasn't just the 300 dancers who appeared in Times Square and began dancing across the concrete that revealed the depth of that response.

The video ricocheted from ballet schools to dance studios, evidence of a reality that even young boy ballet dancers recognize, have to contend with and steel themselves against, a Rochester ballet instructor says.

Daniel Blake, co-founder and dance instructor at Ballet Blake in Rochester, wasn't' exactly surprised by Spencer's comment. But then he admits to being battle-hardened by such attitudes.

Those callouses began forming almost from the moment he showed a fascination with dance. Blake started ballet in 1990 at a time of still-lingering hostility toward homosexuality that got directed toward ballet dancers. He also took a lot of flak from his three brothers growing up.

And yet, Blake was still taken aback by Spencer's off-the-cuff quip. It might not have been so bad if not for the fact that the people and audience around Spencer also laughed. Three decades later, it was clear such attitudes still persist. 

"I honestly thought, 'Really? Still?' I thought we moved past that, but there you go," Blake said. 

Still, the stigma toward male ballet dancers mystifies him. Ballet requires strength, grit and grace, all traits boys and men are taught to prize.

"So much of the world seems to be the opposite of what you would think," Blake said. "For how soft ballet looks, it's anything but."

The mystery persists in his ballet studio. Blake and his wife, Julie, teach anywhere from 75 to 100 ballet students. Only about three or four of them are boys. 

"That's the reality in most studios," said Alessandra de la Puente, whose 7-year-old son, Adriano Leggett, takes ballet lessons at Blake. "You start around this age. And then they leave when they get to middle school. That's when the bullying starts really hard."

Josiah Church, 10, is aware of such attitudes, but it doesn't bother him. Church, whose face takes on a formidable concentration when he practices his plie´ and tendu, can recall the moment when he became enchanted with ballet.  

A French exchange student was living with them, and Blake was giving her ballet lessons. As Church watched the girl leap, fly and jump across the dance floor, he couldn't contain himself. He had to join on the sidelines. 

"I was copying her moves," Church said. 

Yet Church has lived long enough to understand why more boys don't take ballet, that in some boys' minds, ballet is somehow seen as feminine or less-than-manly. 

"Some people would be embarrassed if they told people," Church said. "People think it's a girls' sport, but there's no such thing as girls' sports and boys' sports."

Adriano, 7, became hooked on ballet after watching "The Nutcracker." He has an older sister who has been dancing since she was three. One day, Adriano went to a performance to watch his sister perform and became riveted on the male lead dancer.

"He was mesmerized by the main character, because he kept leaping and jumping and he would grab the girl. He's so strong," his mom, de la Puente, said. "After that, he thinks that's what ballet will do to you: Make you strong."

Yet, de la Puente wonders whether society's attitude against boys in ballet has already begun to insinuate itself into her son's thinking.

One day, after coming home from ballet class, Adriano saw some friends playing flag-football, a sport he loves. But before joining them, he ran inside and changed out of his "Ballet Blake" T-shirt, she said.

"I was wondering why, but I never asked," she said.

Yet, Adriano will also boast to his friends about his role in the Nutcracker at the private school he attends. His friends have come to his shows and burst out with enthusiastic cheers when he comes on stage.

De la Puente said she wants her son, Adriano, to have the social space to decide for himself what he wants to do in life. That's why the Spencer remark angered her: It revealed a destructive stigma that threatens to deprive boys of an activity that they should enjoy.

"For me, a mom, I don't know if Adriano will end up a ballet dancer, but if he really finds a passion in it, he should be left alone to do it," de la Puente said. "Otherwise, he's going to end up being frustrated and trying to hide part of his expression."

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Reporter

Matt, a graduate of Toledo University with a bachelor’s degree in English literature, got his start in journalism in the U.S. Army. For the last 16 years, he has worked at the PB and currently reports on politics and life.