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 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.