This article is from the February 2012 issue of KC Stage
I want to get right to the point with this article and explore why I think so many fathers are so totally opposed to their sons taking ballet and where the American prejudice against male dancers comes from. I am not trying to offend anyone with this article, but at the same time I have caught so much flack and encountered so much ignorance as a male dancer myself that what I have to say may irritate some. I hope this will be taken in an open-minded way as this is a real problem and I seek to explain what the real, ground-level reasons are for it.
Ever since I can remember, I heard my friends giggle or make jokes at any man wearing tights dancing on stage. In the days long before YouTube and cable TV, movies might be shown in school as part of a history or civilization class and would inevitably touch on the arts and then at some point show ballet. As soon as the male dancer appeared, here came the jokes and snickers. Since I had done ballet myself since the age of 4, this always struck a real nerve with me but most of the time no one else knew I took ballet so I would just sit quietly and listen to the snide remarks. I must say that while this is not at all the same thing as someone being made fun of or joked about because of their race, I do think I know something of that same feeling because I always loved ballet and would never not do it but hearing people disparage something I knew to be so great and that was a part of me really hurt in a way that leaves you feeling totally powerless to deal with it.
Much later in life I finally gained the perspective to look back on my childhood and also hear the comments being made anew and make some insights into where this prejudice comes from. What follows is my analysis of the prejudice against male ballet dancers.
1: Smooth or graceful movement confused with moving “like a girl.”
Many, many men don’t ever fully appreciate the value of being able to have a wide range of motion for the body and the ability to move separate parts of it at the same time and smoothly so as to maintain balance. Practically all the sports anyone has watched on TV since the 1950’s shows athletes very highly conditioned to move in straight lines as fast or powerfully as possible. Male ballet dancers MUST move in a different way because the goal of a dancer is to maintain balance rather than impart a large amount of energy into a ball or into another person’s body to knock them down. A great many confuse this with ballet making men move like girls. Quite apart from this, ballet actually makes men move a lot like someone practicing tai chi or kung fu or especially yoga. Add to this the idea that ballet is a pure creative exercise set to music, not something intended to hurt or render another person unconscious, and you arrive at the basis for one of the big misconceptions of ballet regarding men. Curiously, this is also the reason why many men find ballet extremely challenging to do and gain a grudging respect for it later in life if they ever take a class their daughter might be in during an open house type event.
2: Boys don’t wear tights.
Let’s examine this one. When I warned that I may offend some people with this article, this part is exactly what I was referring to. I don’t know how else to approach this, so here it goes: Every male athlete wears tights or far less. Swimmers? You wear Lycra Speedos. Wrestlers? Seriously, what is that spandex bodytard thing you guys wear? Football? Lycra-spandex cut off tights with some extra padding and a cup. Don’t confuse the shoulder pads and upper jersey with the fact you guys also wear a chopped up version of tights. And, if boys are doing “girly” things when they dance, what do you call getting right behind a center’s rear end and putting your hands almost in his crotch before a snap of the ball?
3: My son will be gay if he takes ballet.
Now I am a flaming heterosexual if you ask my wife. I do know many gay guys, but many of the gay guys I know are sports junkies and never ever did any ballet. And as body-built up as they are from pumping iron all the time they’d have as much luck doing ballet as Arnold Schwarzenegger. This one really stumps me to be honest and it comes up a lot as a reason why dads will not let their sons take ballet. Are there gay male dancers? Sure. Are there gay men in every profession including sports? Yes, there are, and again as the football and wrestling examples given above show, if I were a gay man I’d do those sports because then I’d be in direct physical contact with other athletic guys rather than ballet where 99.99% of the time you are dancing with GIRLS! More specifically, you are partnering girls which involves holding them in all kinds of very difficult positions and getting sweat all over yourself from them which no gay man wants because most gay men do not want close contact with women. Honestly, I have to say there is just no basis to this prejudice just as there is no basis to any racial prejudice and the answer to any prejudice is education not arguing the prejudice itself because it is founded on ignorance or outright stupidity. To be brutally honest, fathers who are too over dominating of their sons run a much greater risk of causing their boys to become gay than any art form including ballet could ever pose.
Now many children – boys and girls – don’t like ballet and won’t take ballet classes and that’s just fine: no activity or sport or art is for everyone. I only hope to spark the checking of the premises for anyone out there who holds to this ignorant prejudice against boys taking ballet because for those that do want to, ballet can be a life-long benefit that will improve mental and physical health, stimulate academic performance, almost guarantee a scholarship to college for any half-way capable male dancer, and foster creativity and imagination for a lifetime. This is hardly something to be opposed to.
Matt Reinschmidt directs Ballet North (balletnorth.com) along with his wife Laura Reinschmidt and holds a philosophy degree from the University of Kansas. You can see more at mattreinschmidt.blogspot.com. This article was originally posted on EZineArticles.com.