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December 1, 2011

Ballet

by admin
Edgar Degas, 1873. No boys here.

Contributor: Madison Hart 

From the age of three until my sixteenth birthday, dance was my life. By the age of eight, I was in a prestigious dance company. By the time I was fourteen, I had danced in competitions and performances in New York, LA, and everywhere in between. To put it simply, when it came to the dance world, I had seen it all. Stage moms were all I knew, and false eyelashes were as much a part of my life as Barbie dolls were.

Girls have always been a part of the dance world. Dating back to the early 19th and 20th centuries, it was common for a ballerina to begin her training when still a child.[1] Personally, I followed this trend by attending classes and conventions taught by well-respected professionals. At these conventions and competitions there were always a few boys taking part as well, but they were greatly the minority. While hundreds of female dancers took part in these performances, usually there were no more than ten males in attendance. In convention classes, the guys were never afraid to take center stage for the hip-hop, tap, and often even jazz classes. The ballet classes, however, had few (if any) male dancers. The gender discrimination from ballet was most blatantly shown through the feminine nature of dance-related products, such as apparel and decorations, as well as through the representational significance of ballet for females and society’s popular beliefs and stereotypes placed on male ballet dancers.

Edgar Degas, 1873. No boys here.

In modern sports culture, traditionally male-dominated sports have largely grown desegregated thanks to the movement for women’s rights. However, the issue of male participation in traditionally female sports has yet to be properly addressed.[2] This lack of acceptance for male ballet dancers was illustrated at every convention I went to. In between classes, there were always several booths set up out in the hallways, selling dance attire for all styles of dancing as well as accessories and other such things. Each venue was always adorned with glittery shirts that read “Dancer” or “Ballerina”… you could find everything from jazz pants to ballet tights to sequined crop-tops. However, products for boys, or even gender-neutral items, were extremely rare. When such a piece of apparel was found, it was almost always male hip-hop attire or boys’ tap shoes and so on. Amid the sea of rhinestoned leotards, not a single piece of male ballet attire was to be found.

Apart from apparel, ballet memorabilia, such as ballerina motifs, statuettes, and music boxes, has flourished in the past half century. Marketed towards girls and their mothers, ballet products can be found in girls’ bedrooms in everywhere from the dolls on the shelves to the comforters on the beds.[3] Personally, I remember the elaborate ballet Barbie dolls that were all the craze among my childhood girlfriends. To this day, I still have my pink and jewel-adorned music box with the little twirling ballerina inside, promoting femininity to the extreme. I, along with society, was given a positive reading of ballet as a sign of girlhood and femininity.

Besides physical ties to females, ballet also has strong associations with girls philosophically. A major locus of female mythology and life narratives, it is common for this art form to focus on the statuses and struggles of the female in society. For example, the well-known ballet film The Red Shoes discussed the roles and limitations of females during the postwar era. Ultimately promoting self-expression over their traditional roles of homemaker, this film represented ballet’s common theme of “girl power”.[4]

As shown in The Red Shoes, ballet commonly provides tales of self-development and self-fulfillment, always tapping into the female identity. It could be said the universal sign of femininity is shown through ballet: graceful and cultured, yet controlled and disciplined.[5] This feminist aspect of ballet furthers the discrimination against male dancers.

The aforementioned feminine sermon of ballet is the partial cause of one of the most controversial and impactful topics in regard to ballet’s gender discrimination. This issue is society’s preconceived notion that all male dancers are feminine and homosexual. Nowadays, many find it hard to even consider ballet a sport! This is due to the portrayal of dance by the likes of Hollywood and Las Vegas as a form of pure entertainment rather than a demonstration of athleticism.[6]

Ballet is more than just something to watch; it’s been an educational, religious, and cultural influence since ancient Greece and Rome. With that in mind, how can society write it off as a dainty activity meant only for females? Ballet is a serious and difficult sport and form of art, and it’s time for the role of the male dancer to be accepted and admired.



[1] Reid-Walsh Mitchell, and Jacqueline Claudia A, Girl Culture: An Encylopedia, (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007), 73.

[2] Serendip, “Lords of the Underwater Dance,” Serendip (blog), January 26, 2008, http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/1847.

[3] Reid-Walsh Mitchell, and Jacqueline Claudia A, Girl Culture: An Encylopedia, (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007), 80.

[4] Reid-Walsh Mitchell, and Jacqueline Claudia A, Girl Culture: An Encylopedia, (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007), 83.

[5] Susan Leigh Foster, Choreography & Narrative: Ballet’s Staging of Story and Desire, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996).

[6] Laura Smith, “What You Can Do For Dance: Gender Discrimination,” What You Can Do For Dance (blog), April 18, 2011, http://whatyoucandofordance.blogspot.com/2011/04/gender-discrimination.html.

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