To lump certain people into a stereotype based on their looks or habits robs them of their individuality. Fraternities and sororities, businessmen, golfers, lifeguards: there is a stereotype for every profession, field of interest or hobby.
Ballet, like any of the arts, has strong stereotypes attached. As a ballet dancer myself, I know this first-hand. Perhaps outsiders are simply misinformed about or jealous of the ballet world. They probably do not see the hours of work and gallons of sweat that go into a ballet production. But whatever the reason may be, there is an unfair stereotype that has haunted ballet dancers throughout modern years; that of the male ballet dancer.
I know you are thinking it right now! Go around Seacobeck any day and ask random people what they think of male ballet dancers. I guarantee the words you’ll hear most are tights, gay and tutus. The prominent, and sad, stereotype is that male ballet dancers, or danseurs, are gay, sissy, airheaded, effeminate or a combination of all four.
Whether it’s because they wear tights or because they spend their days flapping their arms like swans, danseurs have acquired a perceived status as homosexuals, this being synonymous with “losers.” Why? It makes no sense that the line of thought goes from “male ballet dancer” to “gay” to “loser,” sometimes even skipping the middle term, with such ease.
First, I take issue with the immediate connection from “male dancer” to “gay.” Sure, there are gay ballet dancers. But there are also gay students, teachers, and professional athletes. But does that mean all students, teachers, and professional athletes are homosexual? Of course not.
The next link in the chain, which leads of “gay” to “loser,” makes no sense whatsoever. Being a loser has nothing to do with sexual orientation. How did we come to use the term “gay” in a derogatory manner? It’s not as if homosexuality is a shocking new development in the human condition. It’s been around since the B.C. era.
However, there is a new and disturbing tendency to turn it into an insult. Someone’s sexual orientation doesn’t determine their quality as a human any more than it determines what he should do. Women mow the lawn. Men dance ballet. As my economics professor would say, “Put that in your pipe and smoke it!”
Ballet is stereotyped as a woman’s pastime, but that doesn’t mean ballet doesn’t need men. I, for one, couldn’t imagine a production of “Swan Lake” without Prince Siegfried, “Romeo and Juliet” without Romeo, or “The Nutcracker” without the Prince.
The stereotype that strikes deep at my bunhead heart is from “male dancer” straight to “loser.” Ballet requires intense training and perseverance. The athleticism embodied by ballet dancers, male or female, is often lost among the glittery tutus and pink shoes, but trust me, you could drop in any ballet studio and hear the exact same grunts and puffing you’re accustomed to hearing in the weight room.
So maybe it’s the tights. Weird that anyone, especially a guy, would enjoy prancing about a stage in white tights, right? Consider the functionality. Why do skiers wear bodysuits, runners don short shorts or swimmers dress in bathing suits? “We seem to accept the fact that in athletics you can wear something that’s tight-fitting and slenderizing, and efficient for movement,” says Kansas City Ballet artistic director William Whitener in a 2007 article in “Dance Magazine,” “why should this be different for dance?”
I challenge you, next time you automatically apply a stereotype to anyone, to step back and take a look at it. Where did it come from? Is it fair? Is it even correct? Maybe you will notice something new. Maybe you will seize the opportunity to step outside of society’s “norms” for a moment.