Conservativism in Ballet

Ballet is conservative. It does not like progress, and it does not like people who are different from the people in power.  It purposefully makes sure that people who are different feel like they are out of place, or that ballet is unobtainable. It prefers money, classism, and a body type that typically categorizes as a certain ethnicity.  Because of this, it usually attracts an audience – both as students and as ballet fans – who share similar values. The typical ballet ticket runs on average around 50 dollars across the United States, and can go up to 1,800 dollars for a “good seat.” All of the above is ballet—a world of beautiful theaters, beautiful people, beautiful places, and beautiful music.  But all of this beauty stands on an undercurrent of certain religious beliefs and gender roles that continue to dictate certain values in ballet.

I recently decided to take a poll about my  August Planner Cover, and that poll has turned out to be a more considerable discussion on gender roles and sexuality. What was supposed to be a light conversation about a personal preference of what people would want to see on the cover has turned into a weighted debate about religion, sexuality, and gender in ballet. 

When I started the August Planner, I thought it would be nice to have men on the cover. Like the May, June, and July cover, there are always two dancers. So, I thought it would be a good change to have two male ballet dancers on the cover, just hanging out before class. Apparently, two male dancers depicted on the cover would equate to homosexuality. Forty percent of those voting chose “no” to the cover. Of those who voted against it, 85% include a Bible verse in their Instagram bio. I have no problem with religion; in fact, I was raised in a very religious home, keep a Bible next to my bed, attend mass when I can, and say my nightly prayers.

I then told my followers that if they thought the art implies homosexuality, to unfollow me.  And, in a matter of two hours, a little under 200 people unfollowed me: no big deal, just a part of social media life. 

But to me, the point about this artwork is not about homosexuality. The point is about men in ballet and how they are perceived within our culture and in the context of the wealthy conservative families who support ballet, the politics that come along with those wealthy families.   What is the idea of a male dancer, and what are the widely held assumptions about male ballet dancers? Who gets to define what a male dancer represents and who gets to decide what their sexuality and value is in society?

By our dominant culture’s definition, masculinity is: having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with men, especially strength and aggressiveness. (Webster)

This definition and idea of what is “male” can be seen in almost every classical ballet. Prince Desire kisses a sixteen-year-old princess without her consent in the Sleeping Beauty. In Le Corsaire, men sell and buy women. In Raymonda, there is rape. In the ballet Swan Lake, a male falls in love with an animal.  In La Sylphide, there is a male that cheats on his female partner. In Giselle, another male that cheats on his female partner. In La Bayadere, there is a male doing drugs. And the list goes on and on. As a parent, you might  read this paragraph and think, “Why am I letting my child do ballet?” Yeah, trust me. I ask myself the same thing.

Men in ballet are consistently depicted and celebrated for being strong and powerful, and these figures of what modern society says is considered toxic masculinity. On the other hand, we argue that these ballet stories are part of tradition, history, and literature and should continue celebrated and unchanged. This then makes me wonder —  why are we surprised when we hear about men in ballet taking advantage of women in ballet, or male or female students for that matter, or any of that? Aren’t these male dancers just “acting” or “emulating” what they are rehearsing every day, and practicing to portray?  Again, you might be thinking, “Okay, this is not cool. Let’s reconsider this.”

We also have to look at who controls ballet. Most of the directors are men, most of the boards of directors are made of men, most of the donors in ballet are men (who donate on behalf of their family), and most of these men across this conversation are above 60.  Point being, they grew up in a different era. If we learned anything from Madmen and men from that age group, it was that men in the office cheat. Haha, that was a joke. I am currently binge-watching Madmen during this crazy time.

But, getting back to the point.  On the one hand, families of young female dancers often complain that there aren’t enough boys in ballet. Well, imagine the social pressure on a young boy who want to dance ballet, if when we see two boys in ballet attire, everyone automatically assumes homosexuality? On then other hand, some of those same families will admit that they won’t let their sons dance because they don’t want people to “think they are gay” or worry that allowing them to spend time around male dancers will somehow “turn them gay.” And then often, those same families will complain that their daughter doesn’t have a pas de deux partner….

I decided to look at everyone’s feed who voted “no” to the two men in ballet attire as cover art.  Many of these girls are also posting photos in crop tops, booty shorts, posing in crotch shots, and after looking through their followers, it appears that for the most part are not bothering to review their followers closely and allowing plenty of what appear to be perv accounts follow them.  Ironically, girls are attracted to ballet for the frills and “pretty factors” of ballet. Loop this back around to my confusion, I reconsidered my June and July covers, in which the girls are in swimsuits and pointe shoes. I thought, “Well, at least these voters are aspiring to appear like what I draw?” These same girls are also trained by prominent gay male ballet teachers, so I am a little confused about why they are willing to accept homosexual male dancers in that aspect of their lives…. But, to each their own. 

Think about the men in ballet that we adore. The men that we say shaped ballet — many are homosexuals, but as long as we don’t see them being homosexual — as long as they don’t publically “act too gay”, then it’s acceptable.  This logic is what sometimes dictates ballet donors, parents, and others that are otherwise conservative in their ballet support. T here is a teacher I know, a very well respected Eastern European teacher who would always tell the boys, “I don’t care how effeminate you are, or if you are gay. All I care about is that you portray the role you are supposed to portray, you focus on the technique, and you are a good kid.” This man comes from one of the most conservative countries but seems to have this very relaxed outlook on sexuality. 

Meanwhile, in the world of competitive jazz, broadway, and modern dance, the idea of homosexuality has become much more widely accepted. So then,  my focus on why we assume that two men in ballet equate to gay.

If two men were at a cigar bar or a frat party and one put their arm around the other for a photo, would it be considered gay? If the context of assuming my drawing was gay, is it because they were wearing tights, and the body language and shape of hyperextension is gay? Is it because people think that two men should never dance together or hang out as close friends off stage? Is it because we are conditioned to only see ballet as one male dancing, partnering and lifting one female? Is it because we are saying that we are OK with gay men as long as they keep their distance, but we don’t want them printed on our child’s day planner?

This conservatism that fuels and funds ballet is the same conservatism that is holding ballet back from making progress towards a more modern, artistic and accepting view of different body types, ethnicities, or even more modern story lines, etc. You might also be wondering why I am posting this?

This post isn’t about what is right or wrong because everyone is entitled to their belief system…. and, I  am wondering if I am shooting myself in the foot because I am a gay man, and I could be cutting off or offending thousands of followers, subscribers, and customers.  However, I think the questions that I am pondering with my artwork, my poll and this post are ultimately about protecting, inspiring, and accepting young boys who want to dance and explore the various aspects of the art of ballet, and how the world is going to perceive them – regardless of their sexual identity.   If these dancers aren’t allowed to have male friends who support them and hang out with them on and off stage, without being automatically assumed as gay (and having to deal with all of the social stigmas and life challenges still facing gay men) — or even if they are gay — if there is no place for these different ideas and definitions of masculinity and the male identity on or off stage, then how will we be able to continue to recruit, finance and support the next generation of male dancers to be a necessary part of this incredible art form? How will we be able to fuel and inspire a new generation of ballet dancers, ballet story lines that portray less toxic male stereotypes,  men and women to fund, direct, market and buy tickets to watch these talented men dancers?

Getting in Shape as an Older Dancer…Day 2…

Hell hath no fury like a ballet dancer scorned….
Today, I woke up with a vengeance. Super motivated about life and getting back in shape, I hoped in the shower, ate a healthy breakfast and moved on my way to ballet class. I had to do some extra searching to find a small studio where I wouldn’t run into CPYB friends, former colleagues, professionals I write about, or students who follow the blog… I get to ballet class and everything seems quite normal, until midway through barre the teacher asks if I run a Ballet Education. #fail.

Ballet class wasn’t going so great. Trying to balance somatic approaches, mentally pushing my body to be where I once was, paying attention to my body… the list goes on. It was a pretty miserable class, mostly because the teacher really had no clue what she was doing…  No joke. One of the worst structured ballet classes I have ever taken. (Sorry if you are reading this…) So, depressed as I was, I decided to blog. Did that. Was eventful.

Tried staying on my diet for lunch, but by dinner, I had given in and eaten three bowls of brown buttered pasta and pesto. It was delicious. I don’t regret it. BUT, then I felt super guilty and it was off to the gym…

golden girls sketch
FEELING GOLDEN…

So, I am ridiculously out of shape. It took me 14 minutes to complete a mile, but I kept pushing. Core work, free weights, stretching, turn out exercises and more… I felt really good about myself. My ankles are still really crunchy and using the foot stretcher for help, but they are still pretty biscuity at the moment. They are still supple and work the floor well, but they are not as elastic as they once were, and somehow my wing is now really painful. Not like tendonitis painful, like just irritated and weak.

I attempted the splits for the first time in like months… that was pretty awful… but not as bad as it could have been.

My hypermobile back that was once my favorite feature of my body is now my worst enemy as it just sways and does its own thing. It is quite irritating, but I know my core is ridiculously weak… soooo that’s fun… While runing I noticed my right foot peeling off the treadmill slightly sickled, I’m assuming it is from my ankle injury two years ago,  as it pushing from the top. My left foot has a hard time rolling down when stepping during the run, but I think it is because I am gripping my arch, or it is super tight… one or the other.

When doing free weights, I went through the standard port de bras, and my left side is quite stronger and more supported from my back as my right side started to grip in my trap… What was nice is that my shoulder blades are still layin’ rather flat. My neck has shortened but that’s because I am constantly hunched over a drawing pad or at the computer… So, I need to be mindful of that (I just corrected my awful posture)…

My calves are over working but my shins are fine. I had to stretch the crap out of them after running…. jogging…. power walking… yeah that is probably more accurate.

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3 days till I turn 30… I refuse to use the scale or measure body fat for getting back in shape… but I do know… that I don’t fit into my 32″ skinnies at the moment… Not cute. Nor do I fit into last summer’s 30″ short shorts.

 

Fantastic Five: 5 Really Great Male Variations

In the world of ballet, variations define a dancer’s career. As artists a variation is the one moment where technique, artistry and years of daunting rehearsals finally meet. A 2-3 Act ballet is carried by the principals, and the defining moment for them are their variations. For a female in the role(s) Odette/Odile, she is first pushed emotionally, and technically as Odette. Then in a ferocious breath she seductively attacks with stamina, the role of Odile. Then, she has to turn back int Odette, and die. Exhausting. I mean not only does the prima have to act, change roles, act some more, she also has to do two full on PDDs and do an epic 4th act finale. Pretty impressive.

When it comes to the men in ballet, their variations are always kind of bland. It is usually two jumping passes, followed by two pirouette combinations, executed by flawless double tours or entrechat sixs, and then some have a quality menage added in. Either way, these variations have turned into like… the most redundant yet insanely tricked out performances. Like Roberto Bolle cranking out 40 Entrechat six in Giselle… Or Daniil Simkin’s insane turning combos for Corsaire… Or Osiel Gounod in … like every variation. (If you don’t know who he is… youtube that $h!t… it’s like insane.)

Now, there are a lot of male variations that are actually super musical, and super beautiful that are overlooked. Granted… Most of them are either Balanchine, or specific to a company’s repertory. BUUUUT… Regardless… We should take a look at these fantastic five variations for men.

1. “Name of Prince” Variation in ACT II… Paris Opera’s – Nureyev version gives the male two super beautiful variations in the second act. The first uses the music that Balanchine’s Nutcracker uses to bridge party and battle scene. It is a very long variation (7 minutes), but super gorgeous, and demonstrates that boys have arabesques too. It could be that Nureyev really reinvented the male, and as a male ballet dancer he was able to create roles for other men within the confinements of classical ballet. The second variation is from the music sometimes used in ACT III of sleeping beauty for one of the jewels. It is very classical as well but has really gorgeous enveloppe moments. Then, Royal Ballet also gives a super luscious, kind of sensual variation in the second act as well. As sensual as fairytale princes get.

2. Balanchine’s Apollo. Besides the fact that this is probably one of the only ballets with a male name as the title and has the title/leading role… With music by Stravinsky, Apollo never leaves the stage but has two brilliant variations. One is really raw, and the other is really refined. Balanchine cut the first variation and birthing, but people since have put both back in. Both variations are incredibly musical, one of the things that I adore about Balanchine. I think for a lot of male dancers who were trained in the Balanchine aesthetic, and for men in Balanchine companies, this ballet is used to really define their presence in the company. I think NYCB currently has Chase Finlay as the face of Apollo, and prior to him was Nilas Martins (both blonde… kind of suspicious) but, both made names for themselves in the role. David’s Dream Casting: Alexandre Hammoudi (aka Baby Daddy) in Apollo.

Edward Villella, retired artistic director of The Miami City Ballet, as Apollo in the 1950s at New York City Ballet. Photo by Martha Swope.
Edward Villella, retired artistic director of The Miami City Ballet, as Apollo in the 1950s at New York City Ballet. Photo by Martha Swope.

3. The Male Variation(s) from Sylvia. Besides the fact that the Delibes’ score is super danceable and kind of cute… (FUN FACT: the original production of Sylvia was created to open the Palais Garnier for Paris Opera, and the costumes were designed by Lacoste) In the Balanchine PDD, the male is variation is structured like a classical variation, but has really beautiful nuances added in. And like a lot of the classical-like Balanchine male variations (Tchai Pas, Theme and Variations), each one was modified so the steps vary by who dances/staged it. In the Ashton version of Sylvia, Aminta has numerous gorgeous variations. I actually think that the Ashton Version is only danced at American Ballet Theatre, and Royal Ballet. Paris Opera has a version of Sylvia, but it is more contemporary or modern, so it doesn’t count for this list. If we counted that… Then we would have to count numerous other new ballets like Chroma, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, every ballet created by Complexions, Cedar Lake and LINES, and the Cranko Ballets… Though… I really should count the Cranko Ballets… )

Roberto Bolle in Ashton's Sylvia. Royal Ballet. Screen shot off youtube. #boom
Roberto Bolle in Ashton’s Sylvia. Royal Ballet. Screen shot of youtube. #boom leg up.

4. The male variations in John Cranko’s Onegin are like beyond roles and somehow have combined real life and ballet. The music used for the male variations aren’t awfully heavy, and scary sounding. The variations also create this beautiful emotional prism for a male ballet dancer. All of the Cranko characters are always so dynamic. I’ve never seen it live, but have watched the full length on Youtube on five different companies. It is incredible. When I was a student, I never really wanted to dance Onegin, but now in retrospect it is so beautiful to me and I am like -_____-  (that is my Snorlax face)… Not that I was ever good enough, or would ever have been cast in Onegin… but still… a boy can dream.

5. The Liza Variation, from Balanchine’s Who Cares? Music by Gershwin. Probably one of the younger variations as it was choreographed in 1937, but it is super fun. Kind of jazzy, okay, super jazzy but really fun dancing. Seriously. If you ever have the chance to preform it, it is one of the must enjoyable variations to get through. It isn’t like trying to get through the male variation in Theme and Variations or random crazy turns from Corsaire. Did I mention, it really is just plain fun? And Baryshnikov in a Balanchine ballet = love. (Click Here = https://youtu.be/GnWxmELOcBI)

The Male Variation in the Satanella Pas De Deux from the Carnival of Venice tied with the male variation for Harlequinade for variations in classical ballet that aren’t dance enough. Both are obviously classical variations, but I feel like these two ballets are underused. Plus… I think the music is kind of cute. I also think these two male variations are more age appropriate for boys (11-16) competing at competitions. I mean what 11 year old boy should be doing Swan Lake? Then, because I love Balanchine, there are the roles that don’t really have variations but are gorgeous: the male lead in Rubies or Diamonds, the male in the walking pas de trois from Emeralds. I think all the male leads in Symphony in C or Palais Cristal, the male leads in Western Symphony, the pas de deux from Agon.)

Finally, I would like to take the time to talk about Lady of the Camellias, music by Chopin, and choreographed by John Neumeier is another “newer” classic work. It premiered in 1978 with Marcia Haydee, and is a super beautiful full length with male variations… The downside is that even though the story is the same, Val Caniparoli used the same music and redid it, maybe even better … But in this version, the male variations are great but they really  aren’t as dynamic as the females. Lucia Lacarra slayed this for the ballet gods.

To see the 5 variations, watch them on our YOUTUBE channel’s playlist:

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Manly Ballet… Part Two

MANLY BALLET MEN IN TIGHTS BALLET BOYS

So, you have a beard, you drink independent craft beers, and on the weekends you are hiking, rock climbing or making funny Youtube Videos. What does this all mean? You might just be a ballet dancer, or you might just be one of the thousands of men who are embracing the lumbersexual trend. If you are into this trend, you might be one of the male dancers who drinks overpriced, but luxurious hand crafted espresso, or you might own some top of the line cool bike. Sounds about the majority of the younger male ballet dance population. While in a recent articles of beards and facial hair, a conclusion was drawn that as facial hair is an extremely popular trend, men are now more than ever overcompensating for masculinity (Esquire, Details, GQ, and NYT Style). How does this translate into ballet? It really doesn’t, because most of the time, you have to be clean shaven in performances.

Now, if you aren’t at this point of coolness, and you are still training, or you are a mom/dad reading this trying to prepare your son for ballet… Well, here we go again… MANLYBALLET

The Dance Belt: Things to Know about Dance Belts

While pro athletes use cups and jock straps, ballet dancers have the feared dance belt. Mostly feared because of it’s thong back, a dance belt offers support and protection for male genitals. Reasoning for the thong back? Because tights, booty shorts and other male ballet costumes are so tight, the avoidance of lines is necessary. Also, dance belts create a smooth clean line in front, so the audience isn’t distracted by lumps and bumps. The Great Debate: Besides Gaynor Mindens, a controversial topic in ballet is how to wear a dance belt. The debate is somewhat like the toilet paper over or under debate. While some men prefer things to face down, others prefer everything to point up. Preference of comfort? Or what actually protects the goods?

What is the purpose of a male ballet dancer?

It seems that the glory always goes to the ballerinas of ballet, but men seem to be the ones who gain notoriety and make a place in history for themselves. Why is this? While balletcompanies need a lavish number of females to stage productions like Swan Lake, and Balanchine glorified ballet as woman… The majority of the population sees female ballet dancers are the epitome of grace and elegance. Male ballet dancers are recognized as athletic and powerful.

It can be argued that male ballet dancers are there to support, lift and partner a woman, but if you took out men from ballet… You have nothing. Even though most ballets are female driven, the male ballet dancer plays a crucial role: The Hero. While feminists who have written in say that this blog is ______(insert any number of words)____, the reality is ballet, as an art form, is the one who is sexist. So, recently, I saw a Southern California, crappy school production of La Slyphide with zero men… I was so confused. Seriously… What if you were to do Swan Lake and take out the men… Who would save Odette? There would be no need for Black Swan, or any other act. Literally we would just be left with a prologue… Wait, not even that. No one would turn her into a swan. I guess we could argue maybe if there were no men in the world, there would no drama? Haha Just kidding.

While new choreographers have utilized men in outstanding ways, and have created vibrant roles for men, the male ballet dancer is still shrouded by mystery.

We know male ballet dancers are just as athletic as any sportsman.

We know that male ballet dancers are just as graceful and musical as any ballerina.

We know that male ballet dancers have some of the most beautiful bodies in art.

Myth: There are more jobs for men and the women in ballet.

Well older ballet teachers say that there are more jobs for men than women in ballet that would be a lie.

There have always been jobs for both men and women in ballet, but unfortunately there are more female students training in ballet making female jobs more competitive. This has slightly shifted. In the 70’s there were more women studying ballet than men. This has shifted due to amazing men, the progression of society and social norms, and brilliant men who weren’t afraid to push the boundaries.

The first generation of super start male ballet dancers included men like Rudolf Nureyev, Edward Villela, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Jacques D’Amboise and Fernando Bujones. They made ballet more accessible and relatable and presented ballet as athletic, powerful and regal. These men ushered in the powerhouse male ballet dancer. This brought us the golden age of ABT: Ethan Stiefal, Angel Corella, Jose Manuel Carreno; Paris Opera’s Manuel Legris and Jose Martinez. Royal’s Carlos Acosta. The tail end of this generation of powerhouses are: Roberto Bolle, Marcelo Gomes, David Hallberg,  Steven McCrae etc…

Now there is a new generation of male ballet dancers that have surpassed the technical abilities of everyone previous and have created a new vocabulary of movement, quality, and choreography. This generation we have Daniil Simkin, Jeffery Cirio, Justin Peck, and other really young stars. Most ballet super stars are still in training right now. This gives credit to social media like IG, VINE and YouTube. America is becoming a lot like the Vaganova school in a sense, by prepping superstars at the school level and publicizing them greatly before they even have a job.