Trayvon Martin, ballet and stereotyping

This post isn’t about whether or not the jury made the right decision in acquitting George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin.

As a former news reporter who covered a few trials, I can tell you that unless we were in the jury room, we have no idea about the evidence those six women in Florida had to consider when coming up with a decision. Only they know the truth about the factors involved in their decision and how they applied the law in coming up with an acquittal.

But there is one undeniable fact: Had George Zimmerman not come to the conclusion that Trayvon Martin looked like a potential burglar, the Florida teenager would still be alive today.

What does this have to do with ballet?

Because, especially for a male ballet dancer, being stereotyped or profiled hits very close to home.

Two incidents in my life are very clear in my mind, both involving security guards at the theater where we perform our major productions.

Don’t get me wrong. The security guards are welcome during our performances, especially when young children are participating (and there are a bunch during Nutcracker season).

Two years ago, I went from the stage to the lobby to check in after warmups. Adult volunteers who are chaperones for the children, who are part of the tech crew, make up crew or who ย are wardrobe assistants wear badges to let people know they’re supposed to be on stage or backstage.

It’s a good system. I’m not complaining.

Dancers and other performers, on the other hand, aren’t given badges.

I exited the stage door to go to the check-in desk like I was instructed to do (so they’ll know that every dancer is present for the performance).

As I attempted to go back in the stage door, the security guard who happened to be sitting across the hall when I checked in, refused me entry, telling me I’m not supposed to be back there.

The mom at the check-in desk assured him I was supposed to be, which should have been end of the story. It wasn’t. I was asked three times by the same security guard over the next two days if I was “supposed to be back there.”

Needless to say, I spent the rest of performance week in the wings, on stage, in my dressing room, or in the hallway where our wardrobe and makeup stations were. I didn’t want to deal with it the entire week.

That was really the only time that happened until one of our spring performance days this year when we were doing Billy the Kid.

I went to check in at the table after warmups.

Just as I’m about to re-enter the stage door, the security guard (not the same one) asks the moms at the check-in desk: “How do I know if they’re supposed to be back there if they’re not wearing badges (comment directed at me)?”

Dance mom at the desk who has my back: “If they come through that door, and they are sweating (which I was after warmups), they’re a dancer.”

Me thinking: “Yeah, that and the fact that I’m wearing warmup pants, tights underneath, T-shirt and ballet shoes should have clued you in.”

I get it. As an adult, I don’t fit the ballet image. I’m not 15-20 years old, I don’t have a chiseled body and I also happen to be a guy.

I understand the idea of keeping children safe, As a single parent, no one understands that more than me. But I almost felt about six inches high having to go through something like that.

And if that wasn’t enough, I have in both my youth and as an adult, had people question my sexual orientation. Or question whether I’m really “one of the guys” because ballet is considered a “feminine” pursuit.

Those stigmas led me to quitting at an early age. They don’t really bother me that much now.

It’s part of the challenge if you’re a guy and you like ballet

Too bad you can’t turn on a sign that says: No, I’m not gay; yes I like manly things like baseball, football, hockey, soccer (and there are a few other male dancers who like those things, too); no I don’t do it to pick up woman (in the non-pas de deux sense); seriously, I do it because I love dance.

I realize male dancers aren’t the only ones in ballet who are stereotyped.

Maybe the skinny girl in class isn’t anorexic. Maybe the dance mom who spends hours at the studio is really a helpful volunteer and not some obsessed loon like you see on “Dance Moms.” It’s also possible the girl who weighs a few extra pounds can still make a very beautiful Sugar Plum Fairy.

And that 30-something year-old woman in class trying to do double pirouettes isn’t some whacked out person trying to relive their childhood.

It is after all, entirely possible to be passionate about ballet and not just be a patron in the audience.

The moral of this story? Get to know people before you pass judgment on them.

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10 responses to “Trayvon Martin, ballet and stereotyping

  • Back to First Position

    Very well said. ๐Ÿ™‚ Fantastic post!

  • The Dancing Rider

    Just my opinion, and what do I know — if Zimmerman had listened to the suggestion that he desist (following Martin), and wait for the police, none of this would have happened. When he would not stop following (“profiling” aside), he (Zimmerman) created the scenario.

    Though I see, and understand, your point. Which was more about making judgments than the actual Martin case. Well written, LB89.

    There were many made about me, as a 48 year old starting figure skating (a really, really judgmental sport). Unbelievable.

    And I am no glad you are back to ballet. I would LOVE to see you dance someday here via vid! Hugs.

  • mercietchatons

    Yea, I’m skinny and I eat like a pig! Give me beer, fries and a meaty juicy cheeseburger aghhhhhhh!!!
    I am always teased about being thin. And it hurts. Now though since I have muscle tone I get teased less and more friends just blurt “this is my dancer friend” or “this is my ballerina!” And I love that.

  • alwaysdance8

    i love your blog! i just joined wordpress to start blogging about my journey in dance, and when i was searching for dance blogs, your came up! i read all of your posts and i love your views on things! can’t wait to read more, and thanks for sharing your experiences ๐Ÿ™‚

  • RO

    Great entry!! I can imagine that being stereotyped as a dude in the ballet world can be really annoying. All of my non-ballet friends think that all the dudes that do ballet are gay. So not true!! A lot of male dancers marry within the company so that him and his partner truly understand each other’s life and so that they can be together most of the time. This must be enough proof that not all men in ballet are gay right?!

  • loveballet89

    My first year back in class as an adult, one of the ladies I was in class with told me she told her boyfriend there was a guy in her class. The first thing he asked was, “is he gay?”

    My first year in Nutcracker, one of the dads of a young buy who was in our production told me he was relieved that all of the guys in the show were “normal.”

    I’ve met quite a few people who admitted to making the same judgment about ballet until they’ve been around those of us who do it.

    Our school has had two artistic directors since I’ve been taking class. Both married former partners. Mr. and Mrs. O are really a normal married couple.

    Most of the male dancers I’ve been in class with aren’t gay. But I know two of the guest artists we’ve performed with who are. But they are both regular guys and I value their friendship.

  • The Dancing Rider

    Reblogging your entry. It’s such a good one. Hopefully some of my followers will read it.

  • The Dancing Rider

    Reblogged this on The Dancing Rider and commented:
    What with my husband having been a prosecutor for decades, the Zimmerman trial was just such a strange affair. All the way around. Having served on a criminal jury for over a month, and deliberated for days, NO ONE knows what happened in that room and why those people decided what they did. They had evidence and instructions, and sometimes those can be very limiting in terms of reaching certain conclusions — one direction or another. I’ve been there. The following blog is a very interesting take on judgments, and stereotyping. I’m sure all of us can relate in one way or another. Perhaps not via the ballet world, but I know I can via the figure skating world. Hope you enjoy loveballet89’s entry as much as I did. If nothing else, it will get you thinking. Perhaps we all need to do a bit more of that at times!

  • Terez Mertes

    Great blog! But then, I’ve come to expect that from you. : )

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