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Why Tights:


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A number of years ago a friend of mine asked me why ballet dancers wear tights.  As I remember I feel she was asking more about the male dancers wearing tights than the female dancers.  I sort of flippenly said “why not,” mainly because I wasn’t sure I could easily articulate my feelings on this.  So, my question to the reader is why do ballet dancers and in particular male dancers wear tights?

Tom, 

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Modesty,  for one reason.  Comfort,  warmth,  the fee!ing of support are others.  Sweaty,  hairy bare legs are not all that attractive.  Tights allow the costume designer to continue the line of the design.  You could paint the dancers' legs but that's messy and makes quick changes impossible.  The materials developed in the last few years are versatile in look and practical to care for.   Tights on men have become so mainstream that I see guys jogging and even strolling down the street in them. 

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On Point, thank you for your reply however I was not as clear as I could have been in my original post.  I wasn’t so concerned about tights as opposed to bare legs, but as tights as opposed to looser pants/trousers, as is worn by male dancers in some other dance forms and even in some ballets or modesty shorts with tights or long tunics with tights as were worn in the 19th century.  My basic point was why do the costumes of male ballet dancers many times clearly reveal the form of the part of the dancer’s body below the waist including his genitals?  For example, are such tights more comfortable, warmer or give a greater feeling of support than looser pants/trousers?  Also, looser pants/trousers would also cover “Sweaty, hairy bare legs” and would “allow the costume designer to continue the line of the design” as well as tights.  So, why do male ballet dancers many times wear such revealing tights instead of looser pants/trousers?  As to your statement that “Tights on men have become so mainstream that I see guys jogging and even strolling down the street in them” I feel this is a positive change that I have not been aware of before.

Tom,

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4 hours ago, Tom47 said:

On Point, thank you for your reply however I was not as clear as I could have been in my original post.  I wasn’t so concerned about tights as opposed to bare legs, but as tights as opposed to looser pants/trousers, as is worn by male dancers in some other dance forms and even in some ballets or modesty shorts with tights or long tunics with tights as were worn in the 19th century.  My basic point was why do the costumes of male ballet dancers many times clearly reveal the form of the part of the dancer’s body below the waist including his genitals?  For example, are such tights more comfortable, warmer or give a greater feeling of support than looser pants/trousers?  Also, looser pants/trousers would also cover “Sweaty, hairy bare legs” and would “allow the costume designer to continue the line of the design” as well as tights.  So, why do male ballet dancers many times wear such revealing tights instead of looser pants/trousers?  As to your statement that “Tights on men have become so mainstream that I see guys jogging and even strolling down the street in them” I feel this is a positive change that I have not been aware of before.

Tom,

Nureyev reportedly disliked those modesty shorts and refused to wear them, to better show off his line. Two of many sources:

https://artsandculture.google.com/exhibit/nureyev-collection/fwISGAyB_7ISIQ

Rudolf Nureyev attached great importance to his own costumes and those of his productions. On stage he sought to put his body to best advantage without hampering his movement. In order to lengthen his line, he abandoned the short pants worn for modesty's sake, and wore only tights, which showed off his legwork to better advantage. Then, to free his movement even more, he shortened the line of the doublets to just above the waist. Little by little, the characteristics of his costume became clearer, and by the 1960s a model for a doublet evolved which would be the base for all his future costumes, no matter what the style of the production.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/10/08/wild-thing-2

Once, when he was dancing “Don Quixote,” the intermission was extended to almost an hour as Nureyev sat in his dressing room, refusing to put on the trunks that, for modesty, Russian male dancers wore in those days. He wanted to perform in tights (again, standard practice today), and he finally won, at which point all the other young men also insisted on discarding the trunks. 

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California, thank you for the reply and particularly for the links.  I enjoyed reading both and learning about Nureyev.  From what you wrote Nureyev would answer my question by saying tights allowed the dancer to better show off and lengthen his line and that wearing only tights showed off his legwork to better advantage.  I enjoyed reading the New Yorker article, not only because of information on Nureyev, but also for information on Margot Fonteyn, so thank you again for that. 

Something similar is this: according to Bronislava Nijinska’s “Early Memoirs” (Chapter 34, Toward a New Life) Vaslav Nijinsky related that he was “. . . immediately dismissed from the Imperial Theatres for appearing in the presence of her Imperial Highness Maria Fedorovna in the ballet Giselle in an indecent and improper costume” and he was told if he apologized for his costume and asked to be reenlisted he would be given an increase in salary.  Nijinsky replied they would have to apologize to him for him to consider returning.  As he was already working with Diaghlev, Nijinsky left the Imperial Theatres.   Some days later Vaslav was told by an official of the Imperial Court that the Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna declared that she “. . . did not see anything indecent in Nijinsky’s costume.” 

There is a photograph in Nijinska’s Early Memoirs showing “Nijinsky wearing the traditional Imperial Theatres costume for Albrecht in Act I of Giselle in a studio photographic portrait posed in Paris, 1910.  Nijinsky never wore this costume in a performance, though he appeared in it for rehearsals of Giselle with Anna Pavlova at the Maryinsky Theatre.”  Link to photograph:  https://www.schubertiademusic.com/items/details/16494-nijinsky-waslaw-%E2%80%93-original-postcard-photograph-in-giselle.  As well as an image of a drawing of “The Benois costume that Nijinsky wore in the St. Petersburg performance on January 23, 1911, causing his dismissal from the Imperial Theatres.”  Link to that image: https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200181847.  The images are not directly from the book, but are the same as in the book.  The quotes are from captions to the images in the book.

Tom,

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I remember years ago when a pantyhose maker (I think it was Hanes) hired football star Joe Namath to model their product,  which was quite scandalous at the time.  They had discovered that some football players wore pantyhose under their uniforms for warmth and support in cold weather games.  Now there is almost no distinction between football pants and tights.

paris-saint-germain-strike-knit-football

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Canbelto and On Point thank you for your comments.  You told me things that I didn’t realize before.  But as I wrote in my second comment I wasn’t as clear as I could be in the original question, “my basic point was why do the costumes of male ballet dancers many times clearly reveal the form of the part of the dancer’s body below the waist including his genitals?”  It seems to me that in most cases sports players wear loose fitting “modesty shorts” or pants/trousers over any tight fitting garment.  American football uniforms may be the closest, but even they are less “clingy” than ballet tights, at least, in the sense that the football uniforms don’t usually show the separation of the gluteus muscles.  

The issue for ballet is that many people, primarily in the US, seemingly are “put off” by seeing too much of the lower half of the male body.  This article, by Kathy Valin, from Dance Magazine entitled “Fear of Men in Tights” supports that belief.  It is mentioned in the article that Victoria Morgan, artistic director of the Cincinnati Ballet had heard a woman say “Oh, I am just so uncomfortable watching men in tights.”  Ms. Morgan then commented that  “I thought ‘Wow, I haven’t thought of it that way since I was a curious teenager.”  And that “It’s a shame, but I feel there is a stigma attached to ballet in America that doesn't reflect the reality of the amazing physicality of today’s dancers.  This makes it difficult to attract some audience members and boys for ballet companies.”   Further, the article reports that Robert Weiss, a former Balanchine dancer, is presenting “accessible works in which men aren’t dressed in tights (or ballerinas in tutus) to first-time ballet goers.”  Also, “Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch points out that very often male dancers themselves, regardless of sexual orientation, have trouble with tights.”  See here for article: https://www.dancemagazine.com/fear_of_men_in_tights-2306861124.html.

When first becoming interested in watching ballet I was uncomfortable with seeing male dancers in tights, but in a short  time, I began to see them as being attractive.  Here are two of my favorite dance scenes with male dancers, both from the Nutcracker, but from different companies.  The Waltz of the Flowers (8 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOC36Qjug4U and Misty Copeland and Sterling Baca dancing the Pas de Deux (6 minutes) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ga994lIm96A.  What is particularly interesting to me is that in the Waltz of the Flowers the women’s costumes are long Romantic style tutus which contrasts with the form revealing men’s tights.  My answer now to the question “Why Tights” (without any looser modesty garment over them) would be that the revealed form of the  male dancer’s body is attractive, at least to me.  How many people agree that the revealed form of the male dancer’s body is attractive?

Tom,

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I've never seen a ballet costume that is as revealing as the swimsuits worn by male Olympic divers,  or female beach volleyball players.  While there has been some discussion about female athletes being required to wear skimpy uniforms,  I haven't  seen any discussion about the men.  We've grown used to it.  The same with men in tights at the ballet.  Most of us start training so young that we pay no special attention to "the bulge".  Comedian Craig Ferguson has said that he was astonished by the casual acceptance of visible male genitals when he encountered ballet for the first time.  He got over it.  Really it's no different than a woman in a bra,  except for the male penchant for comparison!

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On Pointe, I’m not sure what your point is.  I know that swimsuits worn by male Olympic divers are revealing as are swimsuits worn by male water polo players.  That does not mean that many people are not “put off” from watching those players.  I agree with you about growing used to seeing male dancers in tights and I pointed out that happened to me.  Also, it seems that the article I linked to makes the same point.  So, here we agree.  But it appears to me that many Americans, not all, have not grown used to seeing men in ballet tights and that seems to be supported by the article “Fear of Men in Tights.”  As to female beach volleyball players, I believe that many people, both female and male, are acceptable to seeing the lower part of a woman’s body and so would not be put off by the female beach volleyball players, because they have grown used to seeing that.  Beach volleyball is a good example of that.  The Male players wear boxer-like loose fitting suits, while the women wear bikinis.  In many swimming sports women’s suits sometimes turn into thongs, I have not seen that with men.  Many times male gymnasts wear loose pants/trousers, but female gymnasts wear high cut suits.  I go to the beach on the East Coast of the US and the bottom half of the suits worn by women, particularly young women, are almost always lots smaller than the suits worn by men.  The situation with Beach Volleyball players suggests that is worldwide.  As I see it, men's pants/trousers tend to be baggier than women's and the male suit jacket covers the backside of the wearer.   So, people, at least in the US, have not grown used to seeing the revealed lower half of the male body to anywhere near the extent that they have grown used to seeing the revealed lower half of the female body.  This is also the case with photographs in magazines, both in regard to articles and advertisements.  I believe that if young men wore the swimsuits that male Olympic divers wear there would be fewer people put off by seeing male ballet dancers in tights.  As to my statement “It seems to me that in most cases sports players wear loose fitting ‘modesty shorts’ or pants/trousers over any tight fitting garment” I was referring to tights instead of swimming suits.

Tom, 

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14 minutes ago, Tom47 said:

I believe that if young men wore the swimsuits that male Olympic divers wear there would be fewer people put off by seeing male ballet dancers in tights

There are plenty of dance costumes, including in contemporary and modern ballet, where men are dressed in swimsuit-like bottoms and bare legs.  That's what the aesthetic calls for.

As ballet has evolved, and men's line has become nearly as important and women's line in classical and neoclassical ballet, that is the clothing standard from a technical/aesthetical point of view.  If people are put off by seeing men in tights, then classical and neoclassical ballet danced by contemporary dancers isn't for them, as we are far past the transition.  I don't see why a niche art form should drop one of its unique qualities and standards to make people more comfortable with the uniform.

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Helene, I completely agree with you, I would not want ballet to drop any qualities and standards to make people more comfortable.  Actually I’m hopeful that the changes we are seeing, in regard to the way people feel about gender roles, will result in people in general being more comfortable with men in tights and I feel that ballet can help with that.  

Tom,

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In the June 11, 1965 issue of Life Magazine, George Balanchine is quoted as saying “The ballet is a purely female thing; it is a woman, a garden of beautiful flowers, and man is the gardener.”  This position severely and unnecessarily restricts ballet - male dancers can be seen as being just as beautiful as female dancers and I believe ballet would greatly benefit by having many more women gardeners.  

Tom,

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That Balanchine quote is  very old.   What's considered appropriate for male dancers,  beautiful if you will,  has changed a lot.  If you look at short ballet videos on Youtube and Tik Tok,  there are endless examples of male dancers with extreme high extensions that they never would have employed in the 60s and 70s.  Ports de bras is much more expansive,  with deep bends of the back.  There are many videos of men on pointe,  which isn't quite mainstream yet.  But men are working higher on demi-pointe,  with much more articulated feet than what you see in old clips on Classical Arts TV - Andre Eglevsky barely rose up in relevé at all.

I remember when Nureyev was criticized for the long adagio solo he added to Swan Lake.  My ballet teacher thought it was scandalously feminine. Balanchine might have been working overtime to be quotable.  He created plenty of expressive solos for men.

As for men in tights or out of them,  I discovered to my astonishment that there is vast number of videos of serious,  accomplished male and female dancers performing totally nude available on the internet.  Be careful if you look for them - they are often on porn sites,  although they are not particularly salacious.  But I don't think we'll be seeing that at Lincoln Center anytime soon.

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21 minutes ago, On Pointe said:

That Balanchine quote is  very old.   What's considered appropriate for male dancers,  beautiful if you will,  has changed a lot. 

I'm a fan of Balanchine's Kammermusic No. 2, made rather late in his life in 1978. As Kisselgoff noted in  her review of the premiere,

         "In many ways, the stars of “Kammermusik” are the eight men in the corps."

It's also intriguing, as Kisselgoff notes, that he includes references to notable older works starring male dancers, viz., Nijinsky's Spectre and Prodigal Son, his last ballet for Diaghilev.

https://www.nytimes.com/1978/01/28/archives/balanchines-kammermusik-no-2-has-its-premiere-at-the-city-ballet.html

With only two women in this work, it always seemed to me that he was exploring at long last what he could do with a significant number of well-trained men. Compare that with what he had to work with for so many decades -- a few stand-out male dancers, of course, but not the depth of talent and training among the men that he could count on with the women. 

Edited by California
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One thing about tights: about 2 years ago I had an awful ankle injury. My job required me to stand on my feet for much of the day. I found that one way I would be in less pain at the end of the day was if I wore tights/knee highs -- the compression made the pain less.

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14 hours ago, California said:

It's also intriguing, as Kisselgoff notes, that he includes references to notable older works starring male dancers, viz., Nijinsky's Spectre and Prodigal Son, his last ballet for Diaghilev.

I don't want to go too far off on a tangent, but I don't know where else to post this. Kisselgoff's remarks about tributes to earlier works reminded me that I keep seeing references to Giselle in Serenade and wonder if others have. E.g., one woman does an arabesque in a rapid turning sequence which looks like the entrance move by Giselle before Myrtha in Act II. And in several places, the corps moving in lines across the stage looks like the chugs (travelling arabesques) for the Willis in Act II. Does anybody else see these? Are there more?

I remember a Balanchine quote (and I'd be hard-pressed to find a source today, sorry): Asked what ballet was the greatest ever, he said: "Sleeping Beauty, except, of course, for Giselle."

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8 minutes ago, California said:

I don't want to go too far off on a tangent, but I don't know where else to post this. Kisselgoff's remarks about tributes to earlier works reminded me that I keep seeing references to Giselle in Serenade and wonder if others have. E.g., one woman does an arabesque in a rapid turning sequence which looks like the entrance move by Giselle before Myrtha in Act II. And in several places, the corps moving in lines across the stage looks like the chugs (travelling arabesques) for the Willis in Act II. Does anybody else see these? Are there more?

I remember a Balanchine quote (and I'd be hard-pressed to find a source today, sorry): Asked what ballet was the greatest ever, he said: "Sleeping Beauty, except, of course, for Giselle."

I have specifically noticed the two moments you mentioned in Serenade. I haven't noticed any more, though.

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I was happy to see so many new comments.  The quote I used actually has two parts.  First is the part “The ballet is a purely female thing; it is a woman, a garden of beautiful flowers . . .“  This is somewhat surprising in that the male dancer is and has been an important part of ballet, however, this is the part that makes it fit in with this topic.  The second part  “. . . and man is the gardener” is much more important to me.  It seems that the majority of dancers are female, but the overwhelming majority of those in charge - choreographers and artistic directors and composers of the music - are male.  I know of no female composer of music for ballet.  Let me know if there are any.  

As people may have noticed I like to challenge sex and gender sterotypes, this is why I refer to both men and women as beautiful, but another part of this is the challenging of who is in charge.  It seems to me that ballet spotlights the male body and the form of the male body as much as if not more than the female body.  Further, many ballet stories are about strong females who display agency, although in a number of those cases these women wind up dying - La Sylphide, La Bayadere and Carmen for example.  But, in regard to who is in charge ballet and dance in general displays a great deal of imbalance.  So whether or not the quote reveals Balanchine’s true feelings and beliefs, I believe that the quote accurately reflects the general feelings and beliefs of many people.  Can you imagine someone referring to men as something as inert and delicate as a beautiful flower.  I would like to read what people know or think about the lack of women in positions of control. 

Now I want to get back to something Helene wrote.  I was inspired by your mention of “contemporary and modern ballet” to go look for some.  The following appear to be contemporary ballet, let me know if I’m incorrect.  This is a dance to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (3 mins): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g_dl4uqkw4s.  The men are wearing pants/trousers, but the women are wearing bathing suits like garments.  Others that I came across are Say Something by Sharon Chance, see here (2 mins): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKQfBegT0NE, The Golden Section and In the Upper Room both by Twyla Tharp, Waves Choreographed by Krista King Doherty and NY Complexion.  If you or anyone else can help me out by directing me to other examples I would appreciate it. 

On Pointe, thank you for your information on recent developments in ballet and for the nude in ballet and for the video of Nureyev.    

California, thank you for mentioning Kammermusic No. 2.  I read the article you linked to, but only could find short videos on facebook.

And Canbelto thank you for mentioning Square Dance, I was able to find excerpts from it.

Mille-feuille, thank you for helping out California and I like to find out who reads what I write.

Tom, 

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7 hours ago, Tom47 said:

It seems that the majority of dancers are female, but the overwhelming majority of those in charge - choreographers and artistic directors and composers of the music - are male.  I know of no female composer of music for ballet.  Let me know if there are any.  

You're certainly right that the majority of dancers (or at least dance students) are female, while the majority of those in charge are male. Off the top of my head, two years ago Cathy Marston set her ballet Jane Eyre on ABT, with some of the music by Fanny Mendelssohn. (As an aside, I detested this ballet and followed Mr. B's advice for what to do in that situation.)

 

Edited by mille-feuille
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7 hours ago, Tom47 said:

It seems to me that ballet spotlights the male body and the form of the male body as much as if not more than the female body.

Please elaborate! I feel the opposite. At least at NYCB, the men do have some wonderful moments but the women are the stars of the show.

7 hours ago, Tom47 said:

Can you imagine someone referring to men as something as inert and delicate as a beautiful flower.  I would like to read what people know or think about the lack of women in positions of control.

Here's my hot take! In terms of choreography, I don't care the gender of the person who is in control. I care much, much more that quality ballet is being created, and I worry for the future of ballet since there are so few truly skilled choreographers alive today. After the endless trash Peter Martins subjected us to with his own choreography and the never-again-seen ballets from the Here/Now Festival and that wretched Architecture Month... first, Universe, give us a few more truly talented choreographers, then I will relax enough to worry about representation.

That said, I have greatly enjoyed Lauren Lovette's choreography and would like to see more of it.

In terms of partnering, I'm old-fashioned and I think that man-woman partnering is the most pleasing. Man-man partnering can be very nice as well. I am not a fan of woman-woman partnering (in general) because every time I have seen it, it looks very unstable and effortful. It's nice in theory but in my experience, it is not practical. (Of course, I am speaking in terms of averages and not for every single dancer. I believe Ashley Bouder, for example, when she says that she could lift her female roommate over her head while a student at SAB.)

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Mille-feuille, thank you for mentioning the Jane Eyre ballet with some music by Fanny Mendelssohn.  Now I know of a ballet with music by a female composer.

I could have chosen a better word than spotlights.  What I was referring to was the costumes the men wore as compared to what the women wore, as in regard to the male tights or being bare chested or wearing quite tiny garments such as those worn by the male dancer in Diana and Acteon and by the slave in Excelsior.  The male dancers with the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater also wear body revealing costumes at times.

My belief is that women are just as capable in regard to choreography as men and by not fully utilizing women choreographers, not only in ballet but in dance in general, we are missing out on potentially great talent.  It would be like only letting people born on an even day to be choreographers, but not people born on an odd day.  Further, to the extent that women might have a different outlook on choreography than men, we are only seeing one point of view.  I also found your views on partnering interesting.

Tom,

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