Ballet is for boys too


(Skye Schoenhoeft)

By Johanna Meezan

For the entirety of ballet’s modern history, male ballet dancers have been mocked and tormented for their love of such a supposedly “feminine” art form. This bullying is not only extremely sexist, but it’s surprisingly persistent even in a time we like to imagine as rather progressive. This past month provided a disheartening example of this, when Good Morning America host Lara Spencer mocked the young Prince George for enjoying his ballet classes. The response to Spencer’s comment in the ballet community was global and fervent, and has brought public attention to the hurtful and unfair ridicule of boys in ballet.

I have been a ballet dancer for nearly my entire life, and the one constant has been a distinct lack of male dancers in the studio. At my ballet school, I can count on my fingers the number of boys who take classes above the pre-ballet (beginner) level — currently there are six regularly attending male dancers. The number of ballerinas at my school is upwards of 200, ranging all grades and all ages. These numbers speak for themselves. It is difficult to be a male dancer in a female-dominated profession.

I can not speak from experience of the difficulties of being a male dancer, but I feel I have only ever seen two types of male dancers: those who hide this part of their life and those who are bullied. With the former, a boy will lead something of a double life by separating his both his ballet and school life, allowing him to be accepted in both places as he is and not as male dancers are perceived outside of the studio (there is a well known stigma that male dancers are or seem to be homosexual, which may be, but is often not, true). Although this may not seem like such a bad option, it unfairly deprives the boys from being able to be true to themselves at school, unlike many children who are able to discuss sports at school regularly without being tormented. The second option is typically to be bullied. Spencer’s comments demonstrated that the bullying male dancers is not unique to children and teens. Because the number of male dancers is so few, it can make them an easy target with few peers to stand up for them.

However, we in the ballet community will stop at nothing to encourage anyone and everyone to take ballet if they want to. As a response to Spencer’s ridicule of Prince George, 300 ballet dancers, mostly male, performed a ballet class in Times Square against the bullying of male dancers. In attendance were three professional ballet dancers Robbie Fairchild, Travis Wall and Fabrice Calmels from American Ballet Theater (a famous ballet company located In New York City). All three dancers later met with Spencer to explain to her the hardships that come with pursuing ballet as a male dancer. While this was an excellent platform to educate the world on the harm of bullying, it still has rather a lot of catching up to do.