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The 'look' of a male dancer

Guest DaNsTa

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Guest DaNsTa

Males in ballet seem to be very strong but where do they hide it all? Many males dancers that i see are strong but not hugely 'muscular' (you dont see their muscles). Having said this, Is it better to not be 'well muscularly' defined than to have the tonned body? Or in contrast, does the body shape of a male have nothing to do with becoming a professional, so long you are fit enough to do the exercises and lift the girls? Is there such thing as a perfect MALE body image in Dance?

I've like body building, and would like to know if i should keep on going with it (ive always impired to have a body like those in the mens mags:cool: ) .



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Guest Leigh Witchel

Hi Dan -


There's some variation in "look" from company to company, as well as some variety allowing for different body types, but the general rule of thumb is for a male ballet dancer to have an elongated look rather than a bulky one. A bodybuilder's physique would generally be considered too musclebound (and most men who are that muscularly developed have less flexibility than required for ballet)


However, most dancers do some sort of weight or exercise conditioning, one just needs to be careful about how, and tailor one's regimen to your individual needs. (For instance I never did squats, only upper body exercises, as my legs had a tendency to get very tight.)

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I recall a guy who was built a lot like a truckdriver, and he could lift anything or anybody, but boy, did he look weird in classical doublet and tights!;)

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I don't really like the bulky look of a body builder for a male dancer. However, a few weeks ago I saw a dancer at Ballet Pacifica who was built like someone who works with weights. It was surprising to see someone so muscular move so gracefully. It made him more appealing to me in the piece he was doing. It was a modern piece. I doubt I would have had the same reaction had it been a classical piece.


I Richmond there was a dancer from the company who was the stereotype of the "chisled" male magazine cover model. But he was very tall and slender, so, while very muscular, he was long and lean. I imagine he'd look fine in a classical role. The women seemed to think he looked fine anyway. The could hardly stop staring at him.

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I think now would be a good time to introduce a little bit of ballet history, and talk about how male dancers are used today vs. how we have been used in past generations.


Back in the Good Old Days (one wonders when these were; read letters from the 1890s and find the people then grousing and groaning and yearning for them THEN!), anyway, about a hundred and more years ago, there were specific roles earmarked for dancers, both male and female. Not just individuals, but by type of dancer! This idea was called "emploi" and everybody fell into some classification.


There were the danseurs nobles, who did the princes and lordly types who did a lot of mime and for whom the best dancing and partnering moments were reserved; the danseurs classiques, who were the pure clean dancing technicians; the demi-character types who did heros and others with a lot of acting and national dancing thrown in while still retaining a classical vocabulary; character danseurs, who specialized in a wide variety of acting and national dancing; and grotesques, who had the most fun of all, in my opinion, because they got to do all the oddball parts with occasional ventures into near-gymnastic physicality.


All these different categories had general physical characteristics which were supposed to identify them, but even so, sometimes you had a fellow who looked like a noble, but was actually a grotesque! It really depended upon how you danced!


Today's male dancer is highly challenged, because of various factors, not the least of which is economic, to be a sort of "jeep" (That's General Purpose, or "GP") dancer who can do it all! Try to imagine Hamlet starring, say, Danny deVito, and you get the idea of how this use of personnel would look on the stage or screen! I'm sure Mr. deVito could pull off a stunning job of acting on his native talent and training, but it would definitely take some getting used to, if one could do it at all.

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  • 3 months later...

Well Dan,

I'm a professional dancer and I am 5' 11 1/2" and weigh only a mere 140 pounds. And for my frame I am perfect weight for a dancer's body. A dancer never wants to be bulky because who wants to go back in time to the 1910s and see the truck drivers try to float across the stage. It is just not going to happen. What you really want is a nice lean line that continues the lines of ballet. You don't want to line to be interrupted by massive muscles. Instead of body building and lifting a lot of weight with not a lot of reps, dancers must lift a lower weight and more reps. And anything you can do with your own body weight is a plus too (ie push-ups and pull-ups). Working with elastic bands to keep the muscles toned is a plus too! I may be a tall thin dancer, but lifting the girl does take muscle, but it also takes TECHNIQUE! Without the technique on how to lift a girl, you better be pretty strong. I find myself being able to lift women that aren't much shorter and smaller than me and I can hold up with the bigger male dancers just fine. So I hoped this helped! Bulkiness was the past!


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Hey Dan,


It seems to me that body building chould be considered one of he decorative arts, and ballet one of the kinetic arts..... but of course they overlap. THe big difference in the two is the relative importance of the bones; body-building makes it look like the muscles do most of the work; ballet shows you more the importance of the bones: the bones support you, the muscles move them into place and control the shifting architecture....


But still, I find I am most drawn to male dancers like Carenyo at ABT -- who has alignment like a god, the quietest pirouettes i've maybe EVER seen, his bones are placed with such precision, it's like the Golden Gate Bridge he's so beautifully suspended -- and yet the muscles of his body are large, generous, and that makes his dancing warm --


Not everybody likes warm dancers -- but I do....


A dancer like Desmond Richardson gives the lie to the idea that a bulky dancer must be muscle-bound -- though most are, HE's not, and it's fascinating to see those chunky muscles pull out into the incredible long extensions he has.... Before too long they should be showing on television the ABT/SFB Othello; he danced the lead -- so if you haven't seen him yet -- and you're down there in Australia , so maybe you haven't -- be on the look-out. You might really admire him. I certainly do.






PS I know that's not how you spell Carenyo's name, but we don't have a tilde in English, I 'm just doing that to emphasie the sound of Spanish, he's SO Cuban......

and PPS if you want to see Careno, early nest year they're going to broadcast a documentary about ABT's four great male virtuosi and htere should be lots of footage of him dancing -- be on the lookout for THAT, you'll see what I mean about his pirouettes......

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hmmmmmm Major Mel, I've tried holding alt down, with every combination of hte numbers I could think of, and hten alt down, releaseing it and the numbers -- but all I get is 6's and 4's..... how does it work?






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OK, hit the "alt" key, and use the number keypad with the "Num Lock" on. When you release the "alt" key the alternate character should display. Alt 130 = é, alt 131 = â, alt 132 = ä, etc.

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The ballet aesthetic values length. Hence, in ballet training, you work at lengthening every body part --- the legs, the arms, the feet, the neck. Over time, this kind of work will build lengthened muscles.


There are also physical issues here. Consider a simple jump. Just before you take off, your legs are bent and your calf muscle is lengthened. In an instant, that calf muscle must contract, propelling you into the air. When you land, the muscle must then lengthen again, absorbing the impact of your body into the ground. It's not just the calf muscle, but many many muscles that must behave in this way --- incredible amounts of power through a large range of motion.


For an idea of how hard power through a large range can be --- try doing something that requries strength and control, such as hammering a nail, and complete arm's length.


The only way to meet these requirements for strength and flexibility is with long, strong muscles. A "musclebound" body builder's muscles will be very strong. But they won't necessarily be able to exert that strength through the full range of motion in a split second. That is the physical challenge unique to ballet.

BTW, lifting, like jumping, requires moving with power through your full range of motion. I've seen people practice slow push-ups, trying to improve their lifting strength. In my opinion, that won't help so much. You need to practice quick motions with only one impulse; push and --- BOOM --- you're there! When I practice push-ups, it's usually all-in-one push-ups, done quickly up (and then slowly down), just as one must do for lifts.


I think the most important thing for a dancer is to train your muscles to respond as they need to in dance --- power through a large range. What size and proportion they ultimately take is not under your control, and can vary by genetics. Maybe Desmond Richardson is genetically bulky, but he's still trained his muscles to respond as needed for dance.

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I never have believed that pushups, except the variety which are done practically vertically, have much of any use in partnering, except for maybe the girls, especially after Ully Wührer and Gelsey Kirkland slugged their partners (Nureyev and Baryshnikov, respectively) onstage. Fortunately, this interpolation (both were done in Giselle) did not become standard.

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