Category Archives: stereotyping

The Only Boy in the Room

He felt the stares as he walked into the room.

This wasn’t the first time. He still felt a little nervous each time class was about to begin.

He observed the girls as they put on their shoes and checked their hair.

They were nice to him. He didn’t complain.

He took his place at the barre, hoping he didn’t seem like an intruder in their space.

He was new at this studio, but not new to ballet.

But still, he didn’t quite feel at home.

He knew he wasn’t one of them. He wondered what they thought.

He’d heard snickers before when he had the audacity to know what few boys in the South ever did.

Take ballet? Are you serious?

Wouldn’t you rather play football, basketball or baseball?

Aren’t you afraid people are going to think you’re gay?

He’d heard those questions before from family members and friends.

Or at least he considered them friends.

He had been called a sissy at school.

And sometimes he didn’t want people to know that he took ballet, that he wore tights, that he loved dance.

Having moved to this small town, he still had thoughts that he didn’t quite belong.

Boys don’t dance. At least not in the South.

Especially in a town as small as this.

The nerves went away it seemed when his teacher entered the room.

She was strict. But she was kind. And very encouraging.

“Ladies and gentleman,” she would say, with an emphasis gentleman, as they began their combinations at the barre.

He lost himself when the music began to play.

Tendues, degages, frappes.

“Point your foot, Michael,” Madame Sherri would say. “Susan, use your head.”

The corrections, they came.

Trying to stay on demi-pointe was a challenge for a boy of 12 and he tried to stay in time with nine girls.

Fondue, grande battement.

Stretching in the middle of the combinations.

Aren’t you afraid you’re missing out not playing baseball, his mother asked him once.

He didn’t mind playing sports. But he wasn’t that great at them.

People didn’t understand the challenge of ballet.

If only they knew the challenge of keeping your balance during adagio.

It took more stamina than football, he once thought.

Glissade, jete, glissade jete, glissade jete right.

Glissade jete, glissade jete, glissade jete left.

He tried keeping up with the petite allegro combination.

Glissade assemble, glissade assemble.

“Very good Micheal, now use your arms,” Madame Sherri commanded.

Did he really belong here.

Yeah, he still thought that at time.

“Ballet is woman,” is a phrase the great George Balanchine once said.

Too many in the culture he lived, that was an attitude, but not in the sense the great ballet master meant.

He felt a sense of accomplishment when he finally consistently started doing triple pirouettes consistently.

He smiled as even the best of his female peers struggled to do that very thing.

His favorite part of class was grande allegro.

If petite allegro was his weakness, grande allegro was his strength.

The girls in the class took notice as he soared higher and farther than they during combinations.

Any combinations with tour jetes were his favorite.

He felt as if he was flying.

Ballet gave him a feeling he never felt playing sports.

It usually took him to the end of class, but he realized he was at home.

He didn’t mind feeling different afterall.

As his classmates curtsied and he did his princely bow, he couldn’t believe how fast class went.

He couldn’t believe how good he felt.

Editor’s note: This is a short story. It may eventually be part of a book. It is to a degree autobiographal, if there is such a word.

 

 

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Ballet stereotyping … part deux!

A boy who danced with our company who graduated this spring landed a dance and theater scholarship at a university in Florida.

His Facebook post today: The mother of his future roommate called housing because she just found out her son was going to be rooming with …. drum roll … a dancer!

Seriously? Where do these people come from?


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  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.