I would be remiss if I didn’t mention from the word “Go” that the place where I take most of my classes is a lot better than many about making it clear that boys and men are welcome.
I take most of my classes at a pre-pro school attached to a company with a complement of fine danseurs, which certainly helps. Moreover, our website isn’t festooned with pink curlicues, the posted dress code explicitly includes male students, and a glance at the faculty roster reveals that both women and men are represented.
- Not that guys should be allergic to pink curlicues: the fact that so many of us are tells us how far we still need to come as a culture. But, that said, at this particular cultural moment, a website festooned in femininity does little to combat the idea that boys don’t belong in ballet. Even as a dude who has been known to embrace the Pink Side (In case you’re wondering? Yes, they do have cookies!), I tend to hesitate if a school’s website leaves me with a impression that they aren’t aware that male dancers exist. I find myself thinking, “Haven’t you at least seen The Nutcracker? That one is crammed with dudes!”
I’m luckier than many. In most ways, my school is getting it right—making it clear that there’s room at the barre for boys and men.
That said, even they miss something now and then.
Take, for example, the master-class series they’re doing this summer. The only specific skill prerequisite listed is, “At least one year en pointe,” though the course description goes on to note that classes will be taken on flat.
As a male student, it’s not clear to me at all whether this intended as a baseline to imply a certain prerequisite level of expertise or whether the series is even open to boys and men. The course description doesn’t specify.
If I was less pushy and obnoxious confident, I’d probably just hang back and grumble internally about feeling overlooked and about how annoying it is that the dance community spends so much time worrying about its dearth of male dancers, then fails to actually make it clear when we are and are not welcome.
Of course, I’m me, so I just shot a message to our administrator this morning to ask.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that every ballet school’s website should be wallpapered in blue and/or feature pictures of monster trucks (note to self: choreograph a story ballet based on the tragic life of a bush-league pro wrestler…). Rather, if we want guys in dance, we should double-check the language we use, just to make sure we’re not creating the appearance of gender-restricted spaces where no such restrictions exist.
We should make sure that dress codes address male and female students, or at least be phrased neutrally (“Students the Open Division should wear fitted athletic wear or dancewear of their choice, unless otherwise directed in course descriptions.”). Course descriptions should use pointe as a prerequisite only when it’s actually relevant to the course material (hard to do the hops on pointe bits of Giselle, for example, without prior pointe training!) or, at very least, include a phrase like, “…or equivalent experience in men’s technique.”
Explicit gender restrictions should be just that: explicit (“open to ladies at least 16 years of age by permission of instructor,” for example).
- I’m using gender rather than sex intentionally. As an intersex person and someone who has good friends who are transfolk, I feel like there’s a distinction there that’s not without weight.
Plenty of guys do pointe (Hello, Trocks!), so pointe itself does not an explicit gender restriction make.
Women can do men’s technique, too, though since we don’t really have another name for the subset of ballet that comprises men’s technique, if ladies are welcome, it would help to say so explicitly in the class description. And though it may comprise Balletic Heresy to say so, I’m all for letting the girls play with the boys, at least in the adult open division. The key thing is just putting “men’s technique” on the Open Division schedule in the first place.
Basically, I suspect that implementing a men’s technique class—even one that’s open to anyone of any gender who wants to take it (assuming that they meet the skill prerequisites)—would be a good way to tell male students that we’re welcome and wanted.
The usual model seems to be to preemptively conclude, “We don’t have enough men in the program for a men’s class.”
While that’s probably true in many Open Division programs (and, sadly, in not a few pre-pro program), it’s also probably not going to change if we don’t try doing something a little daring and different.
I suspect that Field of Dreams might have a thing or two to teach us, here: put together a class that teaches men’s technique, put on the calendar, and you might get mostly ladies going, “Hell, yeah! I’ve always wanted to learn double tours!” (which, IMO, could be great) but you might just succeed in bringing in the guys.
For what it’s worth, there’s a lesson here for guys, as well.
It can be hard to overcome even unintentional verbal barrier in a place where an invisible-but-real social barrier already exists. It takes uncommon courage and the support of understanding friends and family to step beyond those invisible barriers.
The thing is, hosts of brave women still find themselves climbing over invisible barriers every day—and not just in the STEM fields, where their historical and current contributions are routinely overlooked.
In the arts, we still tend to picture everyone from choreographers, conductors, and composers to painters, poets, and playwrights as men (usually, if we’re frank, white men).
We guys can learn a thing or two from our experiences as the cherished-yet-overlooked red-headed stepchildren of the dance community: what it’s like, for example, not to be the default gender, and what it’s like to have to plead a case for greater inclusion before the powers that be.
We can learn that just using a blanket statement isn’t always enough: that we can and should look a little deeper if we want to help create real change.
Edited for clarity, autocorrupt, and that weird thing where SwiftKey decides to delete entire words.