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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Little Boys and Ballet


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Mr Johnson said

"Tell me Vinnie, how many times this week at practice did YOU pat another guy on the (backside)?"

 

:bouncing: I said much the same thing to a male friend when I told him that there were several boys at DDs ballet school. He said something about them bein gay and I said that just because they dance does not indicate their sexuality. Then added "Are footballers gay because they run around with other men, hug them when they score a try or a goal and pat each other on the butt?"

 

One of the beliefs we are trying to change is the idea that to be a real boy/man means that you have to be distance yourself from perceived feminine actions or activities. If a male is participating in those actions that are seen as feminine then they are often seen as being gay. Often gendered behaviours or actions are perceived to indicate sexual preference.

 

I am still amazed that some people think that a person can be turned gay by participating in ballet (or anything else).

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  • Mel Johnson

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It's odd, yet nice I guess, that I don't often hear comments that display ignorance like several of you mention. I generally ignore those types of comments, but since my boy is planning to try to make it in the dance profession, I make an exception for those.

 

However, I generally respond differently, as though their comment merits thoughtful consideration. I say, "No actually, you'd be surprised--the men are mostly straight. Gays just don't have to hide in the closet to succeed. It's one of the few professions where sexual preference doesn't matter if you are professional in the work environment."

 

Then I add, "I believe there might be a slightly higher percentage of gays in dance than in many other professions, more than the 1 in 10 ratio generally accepted as the ratio of gays to straights. But it's not much higher, not even close to half. Maybe the percentage is higher because the job is difficult and nobody cares what your sexual preference is if you're really good. Maybe the profession is somewhat more desirable because gays know they won't be penalized in any way. But I don't believe anyone has studied that yet so I don't know for sure. However, it's too bad that straight men seem to be penalized for their interest in a profession that seems to be more enlightened, isn't it."

 

Sometimes, that's the end of discussion. But about half the time, a dialogue results. Some people end up acknowledging that being a male dancer may be cool after all, even if it's not something they are personnally interested in doing. Frankly, I'd like to add that as a straight woman, there were a lot of times that straight men were pretty obnoxious, and if I could have chosen to be around a few more gay men, I would have. And I'd also like to add that I'm not particularly interested discussing other people's preferences, mine included.

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That's a great reply, werlkj. It always pays to appear as if you are accepting someone's contention -- it disarms them -- and reply thoughtfully.

 

In that spirit: I am interested to know where you got your estimate that men in ballet are "mostly straight" and that "there might be a slightly higher percentage of gays in dance than in many other professions, more than the 1 in 10 ratio generally accepted as the ratio of gays to straights. But it's not much higher, not even close to half."

 

The only study of this that I know of (in The Man Who Would Be Queen by Michael Bailey -- that's a link to the actual text, by the way) estimates the proportion of gays to straights to be markedly higher in ballet than in the general population:

We asked each participant to give an estimate of the percentage of male dancers who are gay. On average, they estimated 58 percent; the smallest percentage anyone gave was 25 percent. Compared with a rate of 2-4 percent in the general population, this is a huge difference. The average proportion of gay men in the dancers' own companies-which presumably they could

estimate fairly accurately-was 53 percent.

 

Although carried out by a very respected scientist, this study by his own admission is not totally rigorous. Still, it is the best estimate we have until someone else does a better study.

 

It is worth reading Bailey's thoughts on why the proportion is so high. In a nutshell, he believes that certain professions do attract gays. His research suggests that straight and gay males start dancing for different reasons.

 

If his estimate is anywhere near correct, we cannot simply protect our boy dancers by denying a possible truth (about the profession, and possibly about the boy himself). We really must work to increase the acceptance of homosexuality in our culture, and counter the denigration of femine traits and pursuits (for males AND females).

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Mel Johnson

Arts professions, both fine and performing, on the whole tend to attract more gay practitioners than are prevalent in the standard representative population. I have no explanation, and neither do I have a study to back me up, but only experience.

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I firmly believe that homosexuality and bisexuality should be respected and accepted, though I'm fairly sure this forum isn't the appropriate place for pursuing that topic. And I absolutely agree that "denying a possible truth" is unhelpful at the very least. What I was trying to say was that I can comfortably say to people that I know they would be surprised how many male ballet dancers are not gay; it is not a criteria that must be met to be a male dancer.

 

I'm familiar with Michael Bailey's speculations in the text treefrog mentions, but I'm not enamored with them. It doesn't help that he clearly acknowledges that it wasn't rigorous or statistically of much merit. And he states that 2-4 percent of the population is gay in the same text, which is widely disagreed with and lower than many estimates by several percentage points. Consequently, I also disregard the 53 percent he states as the average proportion of gay men in the dancers' own companies, though he never specifies what those companies are. In general, I find his opinions and stories to reflect an overly rigid point of view...men are either gay or straight. He doesn't leave much room for all the shades of grey in between.

 

In a similar vein, however, I could quickly lay my hands on ethnographer Helena Wulff's account of a discussion with male dancers in the Royal Swedish Ballet and she recounted that despite their stated guesses about the number of gays in their company, "most male dancers in this company were not." (Helena Wulff (1998). "Ballet Across Borders: Career and Culture in the World of Dancers", Berg Pub. Ltd., p. 113)

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What I was trying to say was that I can comfortably say to people that I know they would be surprised how many male ballet dancers are not gay; it is not a criteria that must be met to be a male dancer.

Absolutely!

 

werlkj, I love it when somebody beats me at my own game :D

 

Thank you for the Wulff reference.

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shuttleservice

Just an observation... I know that a high percentages of boys drop out around 12 - 14 years old, but I notice a high number of girls dropping out at that age as well. Social life and peer acceptance has a heavy pull at this age.

 

Regarding the original post, my daughter asked to take ballet at age 3. I thought she was too young, so we used to go watch instead. Originally my plan was to let her begin at 6. I broke down at 4. Maybe the mom who lets her boy watch has a plan to let him start eventually. Four is awfully young.

Edited by shuttleservice
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Guest Chedva

Not sure if this is :o or not -

 

It's not just in the arts that there is a perception of "female" activities. Did you know, for example, that the job of secretary was once predominantly male? Also elementary school teacher? Sociologists have long noted that once a larger number of women begin entering a particular field, it becomes a "woman's job" and men then begin looking elsewhere for opportunities. (This may have been based on the pre-feminist era that allowed employers to pay women less than men for the same job.) It's even now beginning to happen in fields such as medicine, where a majority of family practitioners are now women.

 

Two short stories:

 

One of my law professors took her young son to court one day. It happened that the defense and plaintiff counsel were both female, as was the judge. The boy looked up at his mother and said, "Mommy, can boys be lawyers, too?"

 

Another female attorney asked her son at dinner time what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said a fireman. She asked, "Wouldn't you like to be a doctor like Daddy or a lawyer like me?" He said, "Law? That's woman's work!"

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Mel Johnson
One of my law professors took her young son to court one day.

Great Caesar's Ghost! Have these lawyers no hearts? :)

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balletbooster

I think Shuttleservice makes a keen observation that the age that most boys drop out of ballet, perfectly coincides with the mass migration we have seen at this age from my daughter's female friends as well. Peer pressure, of all sorts, is at its peak during these years and talented dancers (both male and female) leave ballet for some of the most pathetic reasons imaginable during this period.

 

What I have noticed at my daughter's ballet school is that the boys who do stick with it through highschool are the center of much social activity. Last year, the one graduating senior boy was the date for two ballet girls at two different proms, another girl for a Christmas formal and when he had the lead in his highschool musical at the end of the year, there were so many ballet girls there cheering him on, that I noted the other non-ballet boys eying him enviously as he was surrounded by a bevy of beautiful girls who were showering him with hugs and flowers. (He is currently attending a well-known university on a full ballet scholarship.) This year, the one boy in the intermediate class has made the rounds of 'going with' just about every girl within 2 years of his age in the ballet school. He is excitedly looking forward to his first SI this summer.

 

It seems that these boys may have discovered a well kept secret that their sports-oriented peers have not and they are certainly having lots and lots of fun! (This is not meant to trivialize the pressures that boys in ballet face; but there are also some very pleasant perks for those who can persevere!)

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dancemomCA

I think what is missing from these arguments comparing why boys and girls drop out is the fact that since there are so few boys in ballet to begin with, when a boy or boys drop out of dance it often leaves a huge gap. That is why so many schools offer scholarships to boys - most schools are desperate for boys and they want to KEEP them.

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This is not my field, but Erik Erikson’s seven stages of psychosocial development covers this issue. (Erikson is a famous, broadly respected psychologist, a Piaget of our time.) One stage, the famous identity crisis, begins at age 13 (ah-ha!!) and continues until almost 20. It is when teens begin exploring and experimenting with new music, people, situations, gender roles, ways of thinking, etc. etc. They use their friends to reflect back to them. Erikson’s theory delves into how they deal with this crisis.

 

The point is, abandoning previous interests to experiment in new areas is normal for both boys and girls starting about age 12-13. It’s helping them with this period that is important for parents to understand. It can be a terrifically stimulating period for them and their parents or it can be painful and end in regrets.

 

I really wish I remember the name of the book that came out a couple years ago that specifically addressed the fallout when teens with marked skills or talents abandoned those interests. It offered advice for parents in guiding teens with particular gifts through that period, to minimize their potential later regrets and yet encourage their normal developmental processes. I’ve wanted to obtain a copy of it ever since, but have no idea where I wrote down the name.

 

Oh, and I'm with shuttleservice. I suppose a 4-year-old might be able to handle some form of creative dance, but...I suspect the 4-year-old's mom never gave it serious consideration and probably would be shocked at all the discussion she aroused.

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Taradriver

My 12 year old son took up tap a few years ago after watching a recital; he liked the noise. His tap teacher advised ballet. He studied ballet (& tap) for 2 years, was in 3 recitals and 1 Nutcracker, was reasonably good and got HUGE applause. He was very clear that he didn't want his classmates to know he was dancing. A few months ago, he refused to go any more. Now his passion is golf.

 

One of my sons is 6'5" tall, over 300 lbs. and built like he belongs in the NFL. He has the most beautiful turnout.

 

Go figure. :)

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Mel Johnson

Don't wait! Introduce him to sumo! :blushing:

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