Tag Archives: stereotypes

Drawing assignment part 1


In my drawing class, we had to pick an item from life, draw it and describe it, and write what it represents, what emotions and memories it brings.

We then have to revisit the item and redraw it from a different perspective a couple of days later. I haven’t reached that point yet.

My object is an old ballet shoe (it might look like a warped canoe).

It’s primarily a charcoal drawing with some graphite on the inside.

Here are my thoughts about the object: As an object, it’s dark on the outside, graying on the inside. It’s flimsy. It has wrinkles. It has holes. It’s a bit worn, but still capable of being used. It’s lightweight and somewhat flexible and best used on a somewhat slick floor.

When it is worn, it can bring joy to its wearer and those in an audience. It helps an artist express himself. It can be a symbol of gracefulness, beauty and strength. It can literally and figuratively help some leap … a great distance or for joy. It can help the wearer turn in movement or in emotion. Like it’s appearance, it can have a dark side. It can be a symbol of judgment, bullying or ridicule from someone who doesn’t understand the art form. It can make the wearer hide or hold back the artist within for fear of being labeled something they are not.

Never judge a book by its cover

Never judge a book by its cover

I’ve started a personal blog about other things beside ballet in my life, although this mentions ballet.

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.

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.