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SOUSA KID

Why are guys considered ''sissy's if they dance ballet?

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I'm in my second year of ballet and one of the few guys who have the courage or confidence to study ballet. Why are guys considered ''sissy's'' if they love dance? Billy

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Because most people don't know anything about ballet and project their ignorance :) In the early days of ballet, men were THE stars. At the very beginning, ballets took place at court, and the courtiers (men and women) were the dancers. Even some of the kings danced. Louis XIV was a fine dancer and his nickname "The Sun King" referred to his role as Apollo, which he danced in several ballets. So tell 'em if it's good enough for Louis XIV it's good enough for you :) And keep dancing. There ARE people who appreciate ballet and don't think that men who dance are sissy.

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In pop culture dancing does not have this stigma. I suspect it is the "men in tights" thing and the fact that in the mind of the uniformed public ballet is "feminine".

Finally there is the notion that ballet dancers (male) are narcisstic and focused on their "appearance" which is something which is permitted and even encouraged in females, but scorned in men.

Ironically, this narcissism is tolerated in body building which is very popular these days amongst the same group that finds male ballet dancers "sissies".

As a non dancing hetero male, I find these men wonderful examples of the well trained and disciplined male body... especially in motion. I love to see their virtuosity in ballet!

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In the early days of ballet, men were THE stars.
In his book The Paris Opéra Ballet, Ivor Guest writes,
In the space of only twenty years [1829-2849], three déesses de la danse -- Taglioni, Elssler and Carlotta Grisi -- had caught the imagination of the public and given ballet a popularity it had never enjoyed before; but in doing so they had also help to sow the seeds of future decadence. They had inaugurated the cult of the ballerina, which was to retain its hold until the twentieth century; but it was at the expense of the male dancer, who found himself consigned, not so much by a lack of talent as by the taste of the increasingly bourgeous public, to a sorry state of subservience. Gone were the days when a Dupré or a Vestris was the main pillar of the Opéra. Lucien Petipa, admired though he was, was neither applauded nor rewarded in the same proportion as the dancers he partnered, and for nearly a hundred years his successors in Paris were to fare even worse. This eclipse of the male dancer emasulated the art of ballet...

So I would add prejudice to ignorance, specifically sexism, i.e. anything woman-centric=emasculation of men, and is not a proper occupation for men, and homophobia, because any man who dances could not be a "Man", and gay is "bad."

If you're ever in the need of inspiration because of other people's ignorance, I would suggest finding a library or second-hand copy of Striking a Balance and reading the chapter on Lew Christensen.

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I think the "men in tights" issue IS a big part of this -- again, among people who are not comfortable or conversant with serious art. (Meaning, if you grow up with it, it doesn't look weird to you, but if you encounter something different as an adult, adult prejudices take over.)

Helene posted a good summary of what happened to make men less at the center-- but that was predominantly in France. Men still had honorable positions in the ballet in Denmark and Russia, the other two great 19th century centers. In Paris, one reason that the men fled was (also from Ivor Guest) that Fanny Elssler got higher pay than they did.

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I think the "men in tights" issue IS a big part of this -- again, among people who are not comfortable or conversant with serious art.
I'm not sure about conversant, but I think "men in tights" is an issue with a Puritanical society that is not comfortable with sex. "Naked" men, particularly male genitals, are still one of the great taboos of US society.

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Bruce Fleming wrote a piece about this for DanceView years ago, in which he postulated that straight men are fine with seeing bare CHESTS and being admired for having muscles, but have a problem with the admiring gaze dropping to the hindquarters :) I think it's a Puritanical society hangover, too -- but why, then, are confronted with sex everywhere in popular culture? And those who titter over the bathroom jokes and sexual allusions on TV STILL gag at the idea of "men in tights"!

Young boys, as in children of friends or little brothers of dancers, will often say "I won't wear pantyhose!!!" because that's their only frame of reference. Another reason to take them to the ballet young. I've posted this story before, but it's appropriate now, too. One night after the Suzanne Farrell Ballet had danced "Divertimento No. 15" where (in the first production for this company) the men wore lavender tights, the little boy behind me turned to his father as we were leaving and said, "Daddy, why don't YOU have lavender tights?" The father seemed mildly stunned and answered carefully, as though the answer would determine the sexual orientation of his son, "No, I don't. Why?" "So you would look as beautiful as those men," replied the boy.

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I think it's a Puritanical society hangover, too -- but why, then, are confronted with sex everywhere in popular culture? And those who titter over the bathroom jokes and sexual allusions on TV STILL gag at the idea of "men in tights"!

That's the equation--if it isn't understood as normal, it's displaced and made either too precious or scorned. The Victorian society of England was expert at fuelling the fires of illicit sex by producing surfaces of oppressive prudery and self-righteousness. This danger adds to the excitement for some, therefore, and the hostility of others. Getting an ease with sex sounds like it would be a natural thing, but various cultures, especially including the contemporary American one right now which is more intolerant than ever, have proved that it can be an almost superhuman feat. Actually, it's the displacement into coarse TV trash, etc., that is the perversion, but this is widely accepted as okay in the U.S.

In ballet, I definitely remember when Baryshnikov's heterosexual ascendancy was a great relief to many, after the reign of Nureyev. That he was a great dancer, and I think sometime in the 80's Nureyev himself said that Baryshnikov was definitely the best, was part of it but not nearly all. Having babies out of wedlock became fashionable among celebrities at around that time, with all sorts of puerile interviews on Barbara Walters et alia, but this caused less consternation than Nureyev's adventuring had.

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Good luck, Sousa kid. You've chosen something wonderful to do. And as you get getter and better, I predict you'll find the criticism disappearing. Envy, however, will remain. Trained dancers are seen as quite cool when they're dedicated and do their very best.

I'm a much older beginner ballet student (15 months of classes so far). I've noticed a number of quite young hip hop dancers coming to take ballet at my school. Why? They've been told that they need to expand their repertoire of steps and movements -- they need to work on having more control over their bodies -- and (believe it or not) they realize that they need to develop the ability to project masculine elegance and grace if they want dance careers. Ballet is a fine way to accomplish all of this.

The "elegance and grace" aspect of ballet has often been the subject of parody and even ridicule in the popular arts. We've all seen the joke version of an effeminate or pompous cavallier strutting around the stage. Sometimes, this vision of things is all that the average person knows.

Exposure to the power, control, drama, and sexiness of so many Boccas, Carrenos, Woetzels, Stiefels, Malakhovs, etc., etc., seems to change this stereotype pretty quickly. Why not give some of those critics tickets to a performance that you're in? It might open their eyes. :)

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It's a small point, but I can't let this one go. As someone who followed his career very closely and has probably read every interview he gave in English, Nureyev never said anybody was better. :) Maybe the gay press dealt with Nureyev's "adventuring" but the mainstream press did not. There were, to the contrary, constant articles that he was marrying this socialite or that dancer.

I don't mean to derail the topic, so to get back to it, I hope we're not saying that homosexual dancers are somehow unwelcome. Many of the greatest dancers, including Nijinsky and Nureyev, have been homosexual or bisexual and anyone with talent is welcome in this field.

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It's a small point, but I can't let this one go. As someone who followed his career very closely and has probably read every interview he gave in English, Nureyev never said anybody was better. :)

You've got the credentials, but I remember his praising Baryshnikov (if I've gotten it wrong about his saying he was the best, my apologies; in any case, I have no idea where to retrieve whatever it was I read, but I hadn't really expected Nureyev to praise anybody that much), and then someone bringing up Peter Martins for comparison, to which Nureyev said 'He's a good dancer, but...' I forget what he then said as means of Martins's lesser greatness, but it was clear enough. Martins himself said that Baryshnikov was more talented than he himself was in his 1983 book, followed pages later with 'and I do know I have a lot of talent.'

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I think "men in tights" is an issue with a Puritanical society that is not comfortable with sex. "Naked" men, particularly male genitals, are still one of the great taboos of US society.

Of course one person's Puritanism is another's virtue of modesty. :) Also, given the ever increasing erotic element in a lot of upscale advertising, in the presentation of males as well as of females, I think that taboo is pretty well gone for much of society; but then not everyone reads Vanity Fair. Then again, competitive swimmers wear shorts just as revealing or more revealing that a dancer's tights, and male swimmers aren't seen as sissies.

I'm guessing that it's the ballet vocabulary and ballet grace in a male dancer that present the biggest stumbling blocks to many viewers, the kind Alexandra mentions who haven't grown up with serious art. Perjoratives like "sissy" and "effeminate" are just prejudicial ways of saying "men don't move like that." Guys like Villella and Barishnikov show that the prejudice can be busted. But in fact most men don't move like that, so I don't find it surprising that a lot of people are initially taken aback.

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In ballet, I definitely remember when Baryshnikov's heterosexual ascendancy was a great relief to many, after the reign of Nureyev.
It wasn't simply heterosexual ascendancy, because, in NYC at least, the married Villella and d'Amboise were stars before Nureyev or Baryshnikov danced in the West. Baryshnikov's romantic exploits were well-publicized, and I think at least the illusion of heterosexual promiscuity was key. (Real Men sleep around; they aren't domesticated.) It's not enough to be heterosexual; one must be Heterosexual.

It happens in figure skating as well: the happily married Janke, for example, is no match for [fill in the blank] lady-killer du jour. Of course, the standards for celebrity journalism were different in the mid-late 60's and 70's than they were in the 40's and 50's.

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kfw, interesting point about the swimming trunks -- probably familiarity? Nearly everyone has seen men in trunks, and nearly every male has worn them. Here you'd have a problem getting a boy into a leotard, or something that covered his chest (other than a T-shirt), before getting in the water because he'd look like a girl. And that really is the key to all this, I think. If women put on pants, no one thinks twice about it. If a man put on a skirt, the world would end. Women, and things associated with women, are not valued, and until that changes, young men who study ballet will be considered "sissy".

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We have made some headway as far a hompphobia is concerned, but travel to the exburbs and beyond and homophobia is still prevalent I would think.

But not all gay males are sissy types... many are macho!

In my mind the problem is the conflation of ballet as something for females... for people who have little exposure. And the fact that only females are interested in grace and movement as is common in ballet. Flamenco, for example, seems to have a well defined masculine image for the public to think of when they think of male flamenco dancing... Lots of feet stomping and so on.

For some reason, grace and beauty seem to be identified with the female... and surely many females possess this and these become the core of their appeal to males.

And when you DO have a well know celeb such as Nureyev who is openly homosexual it reinforces the stereotype. I suspect at least some of the press Baryshnikov garnered was because he was literteally used to dispell the notion of male bellet dancers as being gay and sissies.

Enlightened people do not care about the sexual preference of an artist. They care about their work. Unenlightened people can't get past their provincial notions of what "normal" roles are for males and females.

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We have made some headway as far a hompphobia is concerned, but travel to the exburbs and beyond and homophobia is still prevalent I would think.

"

And when you do have a well know celeb such as Nureyev who is openly homosexual it reinforces the stereotype. I suspect at least some of the press Baryshnikov garnered was because he was literteally used to dispell the notion of male bellet dancers as being gay and sissies. "

Really? I don't remember Nureyev ever "coming out publicly", or actually flaunting any male partners. I don't even remember the popular press refering to him in any homosexual context, while he was actively dancing that is. Even when a pale shadow of his physically younger self I don't remember any large circulation paper saying anything in an overt reference to his sexuality. Publicly Nureyev was usually photographed with female dancers and rich or famous women. His persona was much more portrayed as a male athlete rather than any kind of cissy. At the height of his career, male homosexuality was not so openly

portrayed or discussed in the media as it is now.

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Really? I don't remember Nureyev ever "coming out publicly", or actually flaunting any male partners. I don't even remember the popular press refering to him in any homosexual context, while he was actively dancing that is. Even when a pale shadow of his physically younger self I don't remember any large circulation paper saying anything in an overt reference to his sexuality. Publicly Nureyev was usually photographed with female dancers and rich or famous women. His persona was much more portrayed as a male athlete rather than any kind of cissy. At the height of his career, male homosexuality was not so openly

portrayed or discussed in the media as it is now.

No, homosexulaity was not discussed openly as it is now, but the media door was cracking open around 1970

(anyone in the US remember the Louds on PBS?)

When I started with going to the ballet in the late 60s Nureyev's gayness was common knowledge in the balletomane comunity. I have to add the some of the comments were not so nice.

So ok, it wasn't published in the NYTimes but the knowledge was there in differing levels of realization from

the NYC ballet public.

Richard

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Enlightened people do not care about the sexual preference of an artist. They care about their work. Unenlightened people can't get past their provincial notions of what "normal" roles are for males and females.

The ideal shapes dancers strive to make serve as the norm for the art form, however. And where that norm differs from what's normal elsewhere, it can take some getting used to before it looks good.

Alexandra, do you find that mothers are more open to their sons studying dance and more interested in their progress than fathers are?

For what it's worth, I have a couple of in-laws with no real interest in high culture. She's a music teacher for kids but scarcely listens to classical music. He's a cheerfully self-proclaimed redneck without a college degree. We've gone to regional Nutcrackers with them and their children twice, and twice he's praised the man in Arabian. So I guess it's true, as the saying goes, that you never can tell.

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Bruce Fleming wrote a piece about this for DanceView years ago, in which he postulated that straight men are fine with seeing bare CHESTS and being admired for having muscles, but have a problem with the admiring gaze dropping to the hindquarters.

Alexandra, I believe that was true once, but it’s changed. In the last couple of decades or so, Mel Gibson, Don Johnson, Dennis Quaid, and Michael Douglas, to name only three publicly straight actors, have all at one time or another bared their tushes proudfully for the delectation of moviegoers, sometimes more than once, not that I’ve been monitoring the buns situation, you understand. These are all performers who appeal to men as well as women, and if the display bothered their male fans it wouldn’t happen.

In pop culture dancing does not have this stigma. I suspect it is the "men in tights" thing and the fact that in the mind of the uniformed public ballet is "feminine".

DefJef, I agree with you about the tights thing, but I also think that there is a certain wariness about dancing in general among many straight men; ballet is not the only form of dancing associated with women.

Edited to add that I should have said four, not three, actors. My math was off because I never think of Don as an actor. :)

Edited by dirac

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We have made some headway as far a hompphobia is concerned, but travel to the exburbs and beyond and homophobia is still prevalent I would think.

"

And when you do have a well know celeb such as Nureyev who is openly homosexual it reinforces the stereotype. I suspect at least some of the press Baryshnikov garnered was because he was literteally used to dispell the notion of male bellet dancers as being gay and sissies. "

Really? I don't remember Nureyev ever "coming out publicly", or actually flaunting any male partners. I don't even remember the popular press refering to him in any homosexual context, while he was actively dancing that is. Even when a pale shadow of his physically younger self I don't remember any large circulation paper saying anything in an overt reference to his sexuality. Publicly Nureyev was usually photographed with female dancers and rich or famous women. His persona was much more portrayed as a male athlete rather than any kind of cissy. At the height of his career, male homosexuality was not so openly

portrayed or discussed in the media as it is now.

Exactly. He was not "out" when he was an active dancer and the fact that he was HIV positive was not in print, and not verifiable by journalists until very late in his life. There certainly weren't articles that said, "Oh, thank God! Finally! A real man, a straight guy, in ballet!" Baryshnikov got press because he was a great dancer and a Russian defector, and back then, Russian defectors were still hot news.

Ken, I can only speak for the kids at the school at which I teach, but many of the fathers there are EXTREMELY interested and hands on (as are the mothers). Even in families where the parents are divorced usually both parents attend the school performances and both parents are interested in the job search process. No one seemed embarrassed to have a dancing son, although several kids have stories of being treated poorly when they danced at schools close to home. It's the boys, especially, who like being at a boarding school where they are around people who accept them all day.

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Ken, I can only speak for the kids at the school at which I teach, but many of the fathers there are EXTREMELY interested and hands on (as are the mothers). Even in families where the parents are divorced usually both parents attend the school performances and both parents are interested in the job search process. No one seemed embarrassed to have a dancing son,

Well that's progress. :)

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Yes, it is. There are several teachers on this forum, or others associated with schools. I'd be curious to know what their experience is.

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Thanks all for your input and I'm really happy my question sparked such a big responce from senior members of Ballet Talk. As I see it, Classical Ballet more than any other art form in America creates a big problem for sensitive, musical males who adore beauty, grace and female like-delicate movement. And to me, the real problem in America is that guys are not allowed to get pretty..........Ever! And ballet demands that men get deeply in touch with that graceful, sensitive.......Pretty.......side of their being. And pretty boys are The major no..no in this country. I'll keep dancing anyway! Billy

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Billy, several years ago there was an American figure-skating couple (I can't remember their names, but some of our skating fans will!) who were always billed as "HE is a truck driver, SHE is a waitress." Can't get more American than that. There was an interview with the man that I'll always remember. He had seen the Russian men, most of whom had ballet training, and was visibly jealous at their artistry. "Why don't we have that here?" he asked. I think you've answered why. Long, long ago men were supposed to be graceful and gracious, sensitive and sophisticated. That's out of fashion now. Bring it back!! :thumbsup:

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