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Sascha Radetsky "My Turn" in Newsweek magazineSpeaking up for male ballet dancers in a national forum


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#31 Mel Johnson

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Posted 14 March 2008 - 05:21 PM

I've recently attended some workshops on things like racism and sexism, and one thing that they have seemed to agree upon over the years is that "Things are tough all over" is a standard answer that may indicate complicity in the practice. I'm shocked and disappointed to find versions of that statement here, of all places.

#32 Quiggin

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Posted 14 March 2008 - 09:36 PM

It's interesting that after all these years that questions of masculinity in dancers (which as Little Tomato points out is not the same as sexual orientation) are still with us. After all the Edward Villella documentaries in the 60s about baseball and ballet, and the pictures of Ethan Steifel in the 1990s with his motorcycle.

Perhaps we are not living in the best of times.

There are perhaps two questions here. That of masculinity, which eventually passes, the question that is, and of being an artist v. being normal, which stays. Being an artist is always tough; you are an outsider, but you make art.

The story of Tonio Kruger of Thomas Mann about being an artist and longing for a sort of normalcy, always stayed with me. Also Baudelaire's poem about the Albatross. And don't dancers walk a little like albatrosses in ordinary life?

#33 bart

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 04:31 AM

Perhaps we are not living in the best of times.

Growing into adulthood in the 60s and 70s in NYC, I tended to assume that these things were getting better and that we were evolving, inevitably, into a time of greater toleration of and even admiration of differences. I no longer assume this. There are steps forward, but also steps backward as well.

There are perhaps two questions here. That of masculinity, which eventually passes, the question that is, and of being an artist v. being normal, which stays. Being an artist is always tough; you are an outsider, but you make art.

The story of Tonio Kruger of Thomas Mann about being an artist and longing for a sort of normalcy, always stayed with me.

Excellent points! Kroger, as a writer, at first thinks (incorrectly) of artistic creation as something that happens in isolation . He has to open up to life in the outside world in order to develop his artistic gifts fully. The performing arts are somewhat different from this. They are both isolated from life and essentially "social" in the way they are practiced.

One element in the lives of dance, music, and theater students that I actually envy is the way they spend so much time in class, in the theater, in their friendships and social lives, etc: -- that is, in a supportive, nurturing community of people "like us." It's easier in big cosmopolitan cities, but I've also seen it in small towns.

#34 SanderO

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 05:38 AM

Dance in general seems to be making quite a return to the mainstream. All one needs to do is look at the dance shows on the teevee, hop hop, break dancing, ballroom dancing and so on. I suspect that the stereotype of the "gay" ballet dancer, like many stereotypes, are based little fact. In the case of ballet I suspect the misunderstanding is made in that ballet is thought of by the non attending ballet public as "pretty girls" spinning in tutus.

But why is it that when a man moves gracefully and elegantly he might be thought of as "gay'? That is weird. Masculine is awkward and clumsy? The dancers in the non ballet dance genres are not tagged with the stereotype. I don't get it.

Why does it matter? When I go to the ballet I want to see beautiful dance, movement, bodies, and could care less about what the dancer's life is off the stage.

I don't think many people outside of ballet know who Sasha is. Maybe the male dancers need to start a softball league and compete with the "real males" out there and dispel the myth that ballet cant throw overhand. hahaha

#35 printscess

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 08:33 AM

I have found most of the replies to this thread judgmental in Sascha's column. Let's understand a few things: Newsweek caters to (mostly) middle America where the politics are (mostly) conservative. That is the target audience of Newsweek. And yes, for the unenlightened, they see male ballet dancers as gay. So what?? Big deal!! If he wants to state that he is straight that is his business, so everyone, please get off it.

Has anyone every thought that he is bulked-up and tatooed only because he likes that aesthetic and there is no underlining, hidden meaning that he does that to show the world that he is straight??

I have stated in past threads that although I live in NYC and my son went to SAB and went through the NYC public school system (where you would think that the majority of students are tolerant) his life was threatened for being a ballet dancer. During his darkest days, he would not give up dance because even at 9 yrs old, his soul knew that a dancer is who he was. Sascha's column would have been a big boost to my son years ago, so I am sure it is helping some boy who is dancing in some school who might even be questioning his sexuality just because he loves ballet!!!

I had a former friend ask me if I was afraid that my son would "become" gay for being a dancer my reply to her was to ask her if she was afraid because her son was a soccer player was she afraid that he would "become" gay. She looked at me like I had 2 heads. She just didn't get it.

My son has moved on from being a student to dancing with a company. He is 18, living on his own and living his dream. In this day in age, there are few of us out there who are living their dream. :yahoo:

Little Tomato: Thank you for your comments.

#36 Ray

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 08:45 AM

Has anyone every thought that he is bulked-up and tatooed only because he likes that aesthetic and there is no underlining, hidden meaning that he does that to show the world that he is straight??


Being bulked-up and tattooed is also a gay aesthetic, fyi. In fact, we may have popularized the look first. And while it may be "his business" to state his sexuality, he is stating it in a national forum--so it is, in a sense, more than just his business.

Little Tomato's comments are trenchant; despite what the media likes to portray as "progress" in thinking about masculinity, I invite any two men to walk down the street holding hands in, say, Pittsburgh and see what happens. And I think there are well-meaning straight people out there who think we can do this without suffering any negative effects.

#37 kfw

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 09:35 AM

But why is it that when a man moves gracefully and elegantly he might be thought of as "gay'? That is weird. Masculine is awkward and clumsy? The dancers in the non ballet dance genres are not tagged with the stereotype. I don't get it.

The ballet aesthetic is just foreign to most people who aren't used to seeing it, that's all. It doesn't register as masculine to them because pointed feet and bent wrist port de bras distinguish it from how most men move, especially in the arena where physical grace in men is most appreciated, sports. Add to that what in other contexts would be taken as pretty look of some of the costumes dancers wear (the outfit for La Spectre de la Rose, for example, or multi-colored tights), and it's no wonder male dancers are often assumed to be gay. The same perception is no doubt one reason one meets more gay men at the ballet than one does straight ones unaccompanied by female partners. As differently as they may think of it, both gay men and non-balletomanes who presume all male dancers are gay are perceiving the same thing.

I wonder, though, if this same false stereotype holds throughout the West. I'm thinking now of a poster I had on my bedroom wall as a kid of the great Spanish bullfighter, El Cordobes; there is an elegance to some of the moves in that most masculine sport (I'm not defending it, just making an observation), that reminds me of ballet.

#38 Hans

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 09:53 AM

I, too, am shocked at the idea that this topic is no longer relevant. Regardless of the quality of Radetsky's writing, there is still sharp disapproval (and, as he puts it, contempt) from many people outside the ballet world. In fact, I am often the target of disparaging remarks from other gay men for being a ballet dancer/teacher, and I am expected to just shrug it off and laugh along with them because if I don't, then suddenly I am getting a bee in my bonnet over "nothing," when in fact such remarks are quite offensive and amount to not just a put-down of me but a dismissal of the entire art form. Boys in ballet also face not just society's disapproval but often that of the schools where they dance--they are the "outsider" invading the "girl's club," and they are frequently not given so much as a proper place to change clothes. (Obviously with that last statement I am not referring to the larger ballet academies, &c.)

I do not say all this to discount the fact that at the vocational level, females face many hardships within the ballet world because there are so many of them. The fact is simply that it is not easy to be a ballet dancer, regardless of your gender, but whereas the large number of female dancers does not amount to a societal attitude that can/should be changed, discrimination against male dancers does.

#39 popularlibrary

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 10:38 AM

I don't know how relevant this is, but possibly the predelictions of some ballet fans contribute to this perception about male dancers even within the dance world, never mind outside it. When you look at the pictures and discussions on more than a few fan sites (dance.net, the various skyrock and photobucket sites and the like), which are weighted so heavily to female dancers you can be forgiven for wondering if some of these fans see men at all (the ballerina, for one instance, is generally identified while her partner almost never is), and at the fact that there is a popular Ballerina Gallery site but no site of equal popularity, or maybe no site at all, celebrating male dancers, it's hard not to wonder if the prejudice does indeed exist among a major strand of ballet lovers as well. I remember some critic, whose name escapes me at the moment, remarking that as youngsters, she and her friends considered men completely dispensible and paid them no attention. Is there some psychological-social mechanism, in this country at any rate, which feminizes ballet for fans (especially young female fans) as much as for the society outside the dance world?

How is it that in the theater, audiences love great male dancers and applaud them wildly, yet this fervor doesn't seem to translate itself into equality as dancers within the art or respect outside it? Have we had discussions on this amazingly thoughtful board on the origins and development of this female dominance, and the frequent semi-marginalizing of men, in ballet? I tried to start one on another thread, but it didn't catch anyone's interest. How did ballet lend itself to emphasizing what is actually a male-created female fantasy world, which is surely at least one of the reasons it is so hard for so many young men to choose to be ballet dancers without being scorned and harassed. Balanchine was clear (verbally at any rate) about his beliefs, and one could argue that for him being the controlling lord of a female realm molded to his ideals and fantasies required the surpression of strong men as rivals who could not be granted too much power. I think it is an immensely interesting, many-faceted question (or set of questions) which deserves more discussion than we have perhaps given it.

#40 dirac

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 01:09 PM

I've recently attended some workshops on things like racism and sexism, and one thing that they have seemed to agree upon over the years is that "Things are tough all over" is a standard answer that may indicate complicity in the practice. I'm shocked and disappointed to find versions of that statement here, of all places.


Mel, this is indeed shocking and disappointing. I don't know of any BTers who would say "Things are tough all over," or that the prejudices we're discussing are of no consequence. (I'm not addressing the term "complicity," but only because I'm being nice, not because I don't have a lot to say about it.)

Forgive me for repeating myself in saying as I did earlier that these articles serve a useful purpose and a good one. I personally don't care for the Seinfeldian Not That There's Anything Wrong With That subtext that tends to appear no matter how tactful the author strives to be (and Radetsky tries hard), but it's a minor point. Over and out.

#41 papeetepatrick

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 01:49 PM

No non-dancer is not likely to know who Sascha Radetsky is (not being rude...) I mean Center Stage was a good movie, but it is not something that someone in the sixth grade is going to bring up and say "oh cool that is such and such from Center Stage..." They need someone else to talk about male dancing; if needed at all.


You meant 'no non-dancer is likely to know who Sascha Radetsky is', not 'not likely'. Because it is indeed not likely that they would know. Until this fame-inducing article, I have heard of him once or twice on the Tattoo Thread here, most memorably Leigh mentioned 'you could make carrot salad on his abs' (debatable even without seeing anybody's, it depends on the knife.) Never heard of the movie either, nor plan to see it or ABT any time soon.

The nature of the difficulties is surely American though, isn't it? This is a far cry from Russia's public sensibilities about ballet, and in France and Italy and several other European countries, there are some macho standards but also much less rigidity in determining behaviours and mannerisms that constitute straightness. I'm only sure of France, and about that I know, Switzerland too. Men don't cheek-kiss here and all sorts of style have long differentiated--in Mediterranean countries, it's considered quite masculine to show off the sensuality in a way that is not the case in the U.S., never has and never will be except in urban enclaves--and even then it's more often associated with gays. Except that even among gays the flamboyant clothing (I don't mean effeminate drag-queen stuff) seems to have become subdued, although I try to keep doing it--never would hold hands though--too twee for me, but I certainly don't object. I think I probably think this is ordinary and went through all the agonies years ago about any of it, and don't feel persecuted about anything, but then again I live in the West Village and don't have to pay any attention to what anybody thinks. People have to make their own way, and in this sense it really does have to do with toughness and survival of the fittest. I didn't read the article and probably won't, preferring, it seems, to get my news of Radetzky from BT, but I don't really care that he wanted to make a point of saying he was straight. I see it as all individual circumstances, except for the cultural differences of nations. The U.S., I seem to have learned since joining BT, has a lively arts culture all over it, but the very highest institutions of almost any of them seem to be in Europe still, because of long tradition. Maybe the Met is the one exception, NYCB used to be when Balanchine was alive and working, but it's not anymore from what I can gather about RB, POB and Kirov. That's a bit rambling, but finearts cultures that are more integral to a society than will ever be the case in the U.S. are bound to be thinking less of absurd stereotypes of 'what makes masculine'. But that's the breaks. Fight against it when possible, but I think non-prejudice against gays is more often practised when a formal discussion like this has to be initiated than before and after it (if it weren't a daily problem, there wouldn't need to be any despairing about it. Same with racism and sexism--it's necessary to have the forum about all these things for the very reason that they really do exist.)

am often the target of disparaging remarks from other gay men for being a ballet dancer/teacher, and I am expected to just shrug it off and laugh along with them because if I don't, then suddenly I am getting a bee in my bonnet over "nothing," when in fact such remarks are quite offensive and amount to not just a put-down of me but a dismissal of the entire art form. .


Hans, you really mean 'other gay men' are disparaging about ballet? I've never heard of one who was, unless just a rustic sort of sensibilility with the beer cans, etc. My brother says stupid things about ballet once in a while, but I don't care what he thinks about how his wife and granddaughter couldn't even stand 'Nutcracker', not knowing that some people do find the first act boring, so they hadn't waited till the entertaining-for-kids Second Act. Opera is surely at least as disparaged, and classical music too. This has more to do with money and class than anything else. Lots of people who came to the U.S. for opportunity still haven't found it, and they have to bow to peer pressure a lot. You don't have a ballet-friendly whole culture in the U.S. Nobody knows who even the most famous dancers are, when Farrell got the Kennedy Center Award a few years ago, I saw an article about how nobody knew who she was but the tiny world of balletomanes. And that was accurate; they did know who Tina Turner was. And in the ballet world, not knowing who Suzanne Farrell is seems unthinkable. There are not any famous ballet dancers now the way Nureyev was.

I can see the problem existing pretty much as it always has, with some variation in each new generation. But there a million things to call boys 'sissy' for, and ballet is not nearly the most frequent one. On an individual level, it's as important as elsewhere, but I doubt that problems of that sort are more than they used to be, surely they are less. Gay rights of a mundane sort have made their way into the mainstream. You still have to have a lot of confidence to be 'outrageous' (and I don't mean effeminate), but I don't see that things are that different from the essentially reactionary sensibilities of the U.S. than they were in previous decades, in which everybody was in the extreme closets.

One thing I think I picked up since joining BT is that far more of the big male ballet stars are straight than I had thought before. This may have been more the case as well in previous decades. Whether it is also true that the corps boys are in about the same gay/straight proportion as the general population is another thing, I don't know about either one really. But as I got to know a lot more names, it did seem that the big companies' principal male dancers were far more often straight than gay.

Anyway, there may be a certain kind of sense of the feminine attached to an art that is so obviously luxurious and came from courts and imperial theaters and French kings, etc. I can't really see why anyone would expect it to be treated as if in the more all-American things like baseball and football, although they are right to fight against this. Point being, only individual basis will ever be the problem-solving place. The general population is not concerned with ballet.

#42 papeetepatrick

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 02:18 PM

I invite any two men to walk down the street holding hands in, say, Pittsburgh and see what happens. And I think there are well-meaning straight people out there who think we can do this without suffering any negative effects.


Oh dear! things aren't that dire. anyway, the execrable cable show 'Queer as Folk' surely educated all of Pittsburgh based on civic pride (however filmed, I think, in Toronto)...I think you want to try something a little more like Dothan, Alabama to make the experiment credible--possibly leading to public lewd conduct charges. But probably even there--just some of the old-fashioned redneck harassment.

#43 papeetepatrick

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 03:07 PM

I just read the article. I don't think it really says anything of value at all. It's little more than a piece of fluff, and would encourage most only to keep their prejudices if they already have them, I would think.

#44 popularlibrary

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Posted 15 March 2008 - 03:29 PM

One thing I think I picked up since joining BT is that far more of the big male ballet stars are straight than I had thought before. This may have been more the case as well in previous decades. Whether it is also true that the corps boys are in about the same gay/straight proportion as the general population is another thing, I don't know about either one really. But as I got to know a lot more names, it did seem that the big companies' principal male dancers were far more often straight than gay.


Interesting - Joseph Mazo made exactly this point more than thirty years ago in Dance Is a Contact Sport, his fascinating 1974 book about the New York City Ballet's 1973 season. He also added that the majority of the men in the corps were gay.

#45 Mel Johnson

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Posted 16 March 2008 - 09:08 AM

Perhaps we may also note for the record that many people of both sexes have suffered during adolescence and later for being ‘different’ in one way or another, and no one’s personal experience of same is being dismissed or derided.


This is the sentence that I was addressing, which I found self-contradictory, carrying as it does with an implied dismissal and a statement that there is no dismissal.

To be sure, women dancers also suffer from stereotyping which does lead to sexual harassment, but the point being addressed here is that male dancers suffer from sexual harassment based on their occupation and sex. Female dancers' stereotyping can also be addressed on its own thread, but the central topic of this thread is Radetsky's article, and the central topic of that article is sexual harassment dealt to male dancers. Radetsky has spoken out about it, and his complaint should receive an open-minded and serious reception. In a work environment, it is relatively easy (Note the "relatively". Dealing with sexual harassment is never "easy".) to deal with sexual harassment when it involves only two or three people, but here the harasser is identified as society as a whole. It is extremely difficult to counsel "society as a whole". Perhaps Radetsky's article is meant to chip away at the larger problem.

One has to wonder at Mazo's statistical base and sampling technique in 1973, or maybe he was just talking to Chris d'Amboise, who liked to announce, unbidden, that he was the only straight male in the NYCB corps. That must have gone over like a lead balloon in the Public Relations and Personnel offices; bad form to out an entire body of identifiable people without their permission. I know I groaned.

I suppose the appropriate quote to append to this discussion is Edmund Burke, on the overactive executive power wielded by King George III:

When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.


This idea, in modified form, is often paraphrased as:

The only thing that is necessary for evil to triumph is for the good to do nothing.


Subtly different, but the theme is the same.


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