• US middle school student Sean Varner. (Sean Varner)Source: Sean Varner
Sean Varner was afraid to tell people he was a dancer because they typically see it as feminine.
Drew Sheldrick

28 Jan 2016 - 3:58 PM  UPDATED 28 Jan 2016 - 3:58 PM

A school student using dance to help with his anxiety is the subject of a new series on teenagers challenging gender stereotypes.

Sean Varner is a Pennsylvanian middle school student who's studied jazz, tap, ballet, lyrical, modern and contemporary dance for eight years in defiance of bullies who call it "girlish".

“When I first started I was afraid to tell people. Some of them don’t ever agree with it or accept it," he said.

"Most other guys don’t react too well [and] try to poke fun at me. There are some days when it gets to me. People typically say that it’s girlish or it’s feminine and that it’s not a real sport.”

Varner's interview aired on the US Public Broadcasting System (PBS) as part of its 'Outside the Box' series looking at how preconceived notions about gender affect the lives of US high school students. The PBS asked student journalists across the country to profile young people breaking down stereotypes. Other profiles look at young welders, pilots, hunters, dancers and game designers. Several explore LGBT identity.

Varner's father, Edward, also took part in the interview and expressed his support for his son using dance to address the anxiety that builds up inside of him.

"I think boys are often stigmatised and encouraged to do something else. It's a lot easier for a parent to give a boy to a baseball bat or a football," he said.

"I think Sean has probably lost friends, but from my parental perspective I think they've been minimal.

"There's something about the arts that gives purpose and meaning to life."

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