“Oh yea, you won’t be at school next week; you have to go dance with the fags!”…“Why would we want to come watch guys act like fairies twirling around in tights?”…
My involvement in ballet since the age of three has given me several opportunities to dance with male ballet dancers. Because gender identities are so deeply rooted in our society, people consider males in female occupations to be “sissies.” Since there are a decreasing number of males in the dance field due to the stereotype they are given, people who live in small towns, like the one in which I grew up, have limited exposure to the arts and therefore, no tolerance for males in ballet. As a result, I have witnessed first-hand the prejudice against male ballet dancers from the “outside world.”
Through my years as a dancer, I have learned that more people in the South stereotype male ballet dancers as “homosexual” than in the liberal areas of our country. Male participation in sports, hunting, and fishing is much more favorable than involvement in the arts in the South.
A friend of mine who is a state-ranked power lifter began taking ballet to increase his flexibility. He always waited to change into his dance clothes until he arrived at the studio and would change back into his street clothes before he left the studio. He did everything possible to hide from his friends that he took ballet. His flexibility improved from dance, and he also became stronger from lifting girls. Sadly, his peers learned of his participation in ballet. Students at his school would snicker as they imitated ballerinas by walking around high on their toes with their chins up when he walked by them. We were teenagers at the time, and my friend started missing classes and rehearsals on a regular basis. Eventually, he dwindled out of ballet because of the harsh stereotype he was given.
Two other males I danced with were brothers who were burly farmers from a rural southern community. They made the major decision to be home schooled rather than face the peer pressure they would have received from the children at the school who were unexposed to the arts. These brothers were comfortable in their masculinity and were able to continue dancing for years, since they escaped the stigma at school. They would always say, “What other guys can say they are in a room full of hot girls everyday?!”
I want to leave you with the thought that not all male ballet dancers are homosexual, and this stereotype can be very hurtful. Remember the impact it had on my state-ranked, power lifting friend. Remember how much the burly, farming brothers enjoyed being outnumbered by the hot girls. I believe males should be able to participate in ballet just as easily as they can any other sport or profession, and the more exposure that southern audiences have to male dancers, the more tolerance they will have for them in the field.
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