This is why ballerinas are my heroes.
Monthly Archives: March 2013
The one scary part about having ballet as your passion as an adult is the fact that there is at least one mirror involved (and sometimes two or three, depending on the studio).
Don’t get me wrong, I know the dreaded mirror is a useful tool for a dancer. Mirrors show us if we have the proper line. They show us if our feet are shaped properly doing jetes or assemble’s during petite allegro, if our legs are straight when we’re doing an arabesque turn, or if the leg is bent when we’re doing a pique (a thing that makes my artistic director, Mr. O, cringe).
There are times when I look in the mirror and see how I’m dancing and I want to run and hide because of the imperfections that I spot.
But spotting the imperfections of my dancing isn’t the biggest reason I fear the mirror. I realize, dancing-wise, the image in the mirror helps me to become a better dancer.
The reason I fear the image in the mirror the most came through pretty clear during our experiment with floor-barre this past Saturday, where proper body alignment was a major focus of the class.
You often hear struggles with body image more associated with girls and women. As the father of a teenage daughter, I know how big of a struggle that can be. But I am one of the men who struggle with it to.
When you are the only person above 19 in the class, and the only non-company dancer, that image in the mirror can stick out like a sore thumb. There I felt I was the old fat guy trying to dance with a bunch of skinny teenagers (don’t get me wrong, many of the kids in the class don’t fit the negative thin stereotype ballet is known for. The teachers at our school, to their credit, put healthy eating habits at the top of the list).
I love ballet, can’t think of a life when I’m not dancing (even this spring break week when there is no class). But because of my struggle with body image, I’m still not entirely comfortable in my own skin.
Maybe that’s one of the things I miss most about being in a strictly adult class. When I first started dancing, I was in a class with a bunch of women who were near my age. We all struggled with imperfections. But I also realize I love the challenges of the classes I’m in now, and the opportunities I have now as a dancer.
I realize I won’t have the perfect ballet body. Even when I danced as a teenager I didn’t have that. Those six-pack abs the 19-year-old only other male dancer in this past Saturday’s class has, I know metabolism-wise, I probably won’t get there anymore.
But I want to get closer. I don’t want to fear the mirror as much as I do.
Another one of my favorite ballerinas and an example of why dance education outreach programs are important. What an amazing talent she is.
Just backing up my claim of the athleticism of ballet. Suddenly, the cabrioles I can do during grande allegro aren’t that impressive.
A beautiful dancer who is my age. She is one of the people who inspire me every time I take class with the company young guns.
There were a few people who knew me, and it didn’t make a difference with them. But I spent most of my career in journalism in the ultimate “normal guy” profession — sports writing. Nevermind that I’m still the sports fanatic I always was, nuts about college football, the NFL and Major League Baseball and still like playing golf, enjoyed sandlot football or even softball (even though I’m not the most athletically talented person in the world).
I’ve got quite a few “oh my god, can’t believe you do that, run for the hills” reactions. Some of the friends who regularly responded to my status’ didn’t as much anymore after I revealed that I dance. And it’s not just my former sports writer peers.
Why does it seem to scare the daylights out of people that maybe a normal guy would like to dance?
There are quite a few reasons why very few boys or men dare to set foot in a ballet class, or modern or jazz class. Hip-hop, well that’s a little cooler and a little more acceptable.
There are the dreaded stereotypes. If you are male and you like ballet, you must be gay. It’s sissy, it’s powdered wigs and tights, it’s little girls twirling in tutus and tiaras.
I do find a certain irony in the first stereotype. The first time I walked into a ballet class was also the year I played high school football.
Be on a team with 85 guys, share a lockerroom and open showers with them and no one questions your sexual orientation, but take a class where you are the only boy in a class with girls wearing leotards, and suddenly, you’re gay. Go figure.
I’ve actually found this stereotype not to be true. The one male teacher I have, the handful of guys I’m in class with on a regular basis aren’t gay. I know a couple of dancers who are, but so what? They don’t exactly fit the sissy stereotype either.
The tights stereotype, I think in this day is a bit overrated. Yeah, in some traditional ballet performances, you’ll see the guy in the “tights,” but the majority of the roles I’ve seen, you have your share of regular costumes. I’ve been in the Nutcracker, Romeo and Juliet, Firebird, Dracula and will be in Billy the Kid in a few weeks and have only had to wear them under costumes.
As for class, I’ve never thought of it as that big a deal, especially with football players, wrestlers and track athletes wearing Under Armour and other clothes that in my opinion are pretty much tights, but called by a manlier name.
As for it being a sissy activity? I think the “Miss Susie School of Dance” studios have had a lot to do with that stereotype being alive and well. They cater to the “isn’t that little girl cute twirling around in her tutu and tiara” crowd. Don’t get me wrong, I know that’s what appeals to young girls and even some women who are drawn to that side of ballet, but is it a wonder that parents with a 5-year-old boy would run as far as they can from that activity?
But the truth is, ballet is anything but a sissy activity. I think the vast majority of people would be shocked if they were to observe a class beyond the beginner level about how athletic it is.
I’ve seen guys soar higher in leaps and double tours than any basketball player trying to dunk, and that includes Michael Jordan. Try catching a leaping girl and putting her on your shoulder and make it look effortless. And any dancer doing multiple pirouettes, male or female, is no sissy.
Sure, there are girls wearing tutus and tiaras. But usually the ones who do end up doing 32 fouettes during a combination. That is not an easy thing to do.
It takes a lot of stamina and strength to go from exercise to exercise, or combination in a 90-minute class, or multiple classes in a day, or to perform two or three major roles in a performance. People do not realize how athletic ballet really is. It is as much of an athletic activity as football or basketball, sometimes moreso. I covered hundreds of high school, college and pro athletes, and some of the athletes I’ve ever seen are dancers.
It’s the part of ballet I wished others could see.
But stereotypes are hard to look past. And cultural attitudes are hard to break.
Well, actually it ended up being floor-barre with elements of Pilates mixed in. And I’m really feeling the burn right now. We had a small class and my Monday night teacher subbed for Mrs. O for the last class before the break.
She felt like we needed it with the break coming up, and the intensity of rehearsals picking up when we get back. It’s been a while since I engaged my core as much as I did today. I’m already sore, and expecting to be moreso in the morning, but I fully appreciated it.
Makes me wish the school offered floor-barre on a regular basis (and that I’d be able to consistently go to a Pilates class.
Really interesting piece. Our artistic director danced at SAB and our school does have a little element of Balanchine style (along with other styles)