Tag Archives: male dancers

Seriously Capezio?

Chalk this up to male dancer problem No. 150.

My reliable Sansha tights are getting holes. I bought a pair of Capezios about a couple of months ago from the dancewear store. Yep, as I suspected, not opaque enough.

So I went online shopping again. Somehow, I can’t find Sanshas in my size. So I read a review about Capezio’s offering once again, and it was suggested to bump up a size. I ordered the larger size, tried them on when they came in and … if you see your dance belt, totally uncool.

So I settled on a trick I’ve heard. I doubled up (put on both pairs). It solved the see-through problem. But wearing two pairs of tights at the same time causes other problems, mainly they bunch, especially in the feet, which killed my turns yesterday.

Not to mention, it’s not very comfortable and makes things a little hotter in a studio that was already steaming.

So the temporary fix is to either go back to the getting more holes Sanshas or continue to double up until I find the elusive pair (or pairs) that are a fit for me.

Capezio once carried a brand that was a fit for me. I had two pairs that lasted almost three years. Then they discontinued carrying the brand, and replaced it with the brand that has been the scourge of my existence.

Haven’t they heard, when something’s not broke, don’t fix it?

The elephant in the room

So how is the ‘ballerina’ today?

That was the question I was asked by one of my classmates between classes the other day. She’s about my age, and I don’t think she meant in any other way than to be a little humorous.

I didn’t correct her, and tell her that male dancers aren’t ballerinas. I just rolled my eyes a bit. Some of my best friends are ballerinas, as are some of my dance heroes, so it’s not a big deal to be identified as one by the non-ballet public.

It’s part of the life of a male dancer. You deal with stereotyping and jokes, and questions about your sexual orientation. I’ve been dancing long enough, and love it so much, it really doesn’t bother me as much … I did dance in drag during our Nutcracker Gone Wild performance and would jump at the chance to be a stepsister in our spring performance of Cinderella.

But a comment by one of the young male dancers in our company at a dinner party really made me think.

I have always been the first to stand up against the gay stereotyping of ballet, challenging the statistics that some throw out that as many as 50 percent of male dancers are gay.

I’ve based it on my own experience. Both the artistic directors our company has had since I’ve been taking classes at the school have been married to former partners who teach at the school.

All of the young professionals who have danced with our company had been straight, had girl friends (most were dancers) and even the teenagers who have danced with the company who came up through the school were straight.

We’ve had a couple of guest artists I’ve suspected (and now know) were gay. But that was about it.

Until this year.

I’ve mentioned we have two new young pros with the company. We have two young teenage boys who dance with junior company who are about 14.

One of the two teens was the boy at the dinner party, bemoaning the fact he was now the only “straight” male dancer in the company (while I perform with the company and take company class, I am not in the company). I suspected the two pros were gay, and that was confirmed at the party when one of them brought his boyfriend.

It appears the other teen has come out, which is pretty brave considering what part of the country we live in.

I can sympathize with the young dancer who shared his concern at the dinner party.

Maybe it’s bad of me, but I was reluctant to have a male teacher until Mr. O came around. He’s not only straight, but comes across as the average Joe.

And it helped that the two young professionals who danced with the company most of my years  at the school school were the same way. I value them as friends and shared a few beers with them as they helped me grow into my own skin as a dancer.

And, I’ll be honest, it made it easier for me that the younger teen male dancers were about the same say.

I’m hoping it’s progress that I’ve reached the point where it no longer really matters. It’s really none of my business. I am now comfortable dancing with whoever is in class. It doesn’t matter to me what the sexual orientation of the dancers I dance with are, male or female.

I’m in class to dance. 

The two new young pros with the company seem like nice guys. I’m sure they’ll do well and bring something new to the company.


A father’s influence

My father was no fan of ballet, or the notion of having a son taking ballet.

He would shout to the rooftops that his son played high school football (even though I was maybe a third-team defensive back and played mainly on special teams).

The notion of his 16-year-old son dancing in a row of seven or eight girls at a dance recital made him cringe.

His “no son of mine will take ballet” attitude kept me from taking ballet as early as I wanted to, around 11 or 12. And I’m pretty sure he was relieved when I gave up dancing after college.

The great irony is that it was partially because of him that I returned to ballet at the old age of 39. I may not have inherited his perspective on culture, but I did his body type, his eating habits and went into his profession.

He didn’t take care of himself. He was too work driven. He suffered his first massive heart attack at 41 and suffered through heart problems and dementia before passing away at 63.

My return to ballet was driven partially because I still loved it. But also because I wanted to live a healthier lifestyle, which ballet does for me in so many ways, from just keeping my body and mind active to helping me release stress from a pressure-filled job and being a single parent.

His physical ailments in part served as motivation for me to retake my position at the barre. I loved him, he was a good provider in so many ways, but he’s probably rolling in his grave with that very notion.

Tomorrow is Father’s Day for those of us in the U.S. and I can’t help but think about how important a father’s role is in the life of a dancer, especially a male dancer.

I’m reminded of a father on the tech crew of our productions who during dress rehearsal always shouted “that’s my daughter!” If my father were still around when I took the stage as Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet, he would have probably wanted to be as far away as possible, with a strong alcoholic drink and watching a “manly” sporting event (don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge sports fanatic).

I won’t pretend I would have gone far had my father supported my ballet dreams long ago, but I’ve seen how important fathers can be in supporting that goal from the kids I’ve danced with the last few years.

Financially, it’s no cheap thing to pay for classes every day of the week, for summer intensives and auditions, and other expenses. And many fathers do that. I’ve seen fathers go out of their way to help build sets, and “embarrass themselves” by playing minor roles in productions if they’re needed. They’re a very important part of a support group in a pursuit that can be very emotional.

I respect the jobs many of them do for their kids. It’s vital. But sadly, it’s somewhat of a double standard, even today.

“I’ll be honest, it’s so much easier for me to do this for my daughter,” a dance dad once told me.

There are a couple of dads I really admire who have gone all out to support their sons who have danced at our school. One of them has played a huge role in his son landing a dance-theater scholarship at a school in Florida this year.

Talk to his son, and he’ll tell you his father’s support made a big difference.

It is for grande allegro that I dance

Seriously, I could be having a completely bad class, but nail the grande allegro combination at the end of it, all is forgotten.

Fortunately, today I wasn’t having a bad class. Far from it, it was one of my better ones. 

But grande allegro, it was like, wow! Ton be pas de bouree glissade assemble’, ton be pas de bouree assemble’ in the other direction, run half circle, ton be pas de bouree saute chat off,

That was the combination. Fairly simple? Yes, but absolutely more height on the assembles’ than I can ever remember. I was able to beat them in the air, cleanly, with plenty of room to spare.

And I felt like flying.

For male dancers, getting elevation on our jumps is our small answer to ladies dancing en pointe (along with lifting them in a pas de deux).

Being able to fly through the air during a grande allegro combination, there’s no feeling like it in the world.

It was a fun class all around. Mr. O is back after being out of town for a couple of weeks and subbed for Mrs. O (the downside is that I didn’t get to redeem myself in front of her, maybe next week).

When Mr. O teaches company class, it means one thing: You get to move!

People who think ballet isn’t cardio have never taken his classes.

And today, I finally mastered one his his “Bob Fosse” steps. Don’t ask me what the step is class, it’s like a slide-step, really jazzy, but it’s ballet. It only took me about Four FRICKIN’ years to finally get it.

We also had another fun combination which to me shows me how far I’ve come. Sissonne, sissonne, sissone, fi-e assemble’, pique, chasse, tour jete, eleve, royale, quatre, repeat in the other direction. I know I butchered some of the words. Fortunately, I didn’t butcher the combination. I started sloppy, but was able to clean it up at the end.

Classes like the one this morning make up for having to work the rest of a Saturday.

Especially the grande allegro part.

I got to fly today.

Why don’t more guys dance?

I’ll never forget the reaction when I posted on Facebook a few years ago that I took ballet classes and even performed on stage.

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.