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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Both Male and Female Roles


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First of all, let me say: if anyone is here to tell me that this is absolutely impossible or I shouldn't even try, please don't.  I know that what I am suggesting is extremely improbable but there's still a slim chance and I'm going to take it.

Second: I was wondering if anyone knew of a professional (ballet) dancer who ever danced role(s) of a different gender than their usual roles?  I'm not referring to transgender dancers here who are biologically male but are actually female and dance female roles, but (for example) to a male dancer who usually danced male roles but occasionally danced female roles, or vice versa.  Or, if there are any non-binary dancers who consistently dance both, that would be amazing to hear about to.  The reason I ask is that I'm non-binary myself, and my goal is to eventually dance both male and female roles professionally, and it would be wonderful to hear about others with similar experiences.  Thanks! :)

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It really depends.

I think you need to try to watch (online or live) a wide variety of dance performances, and learn about the history of ballet and how it developed over the 19th and 20th centuries, and the later Modernist & post-Modern dance challenges to those styles. In classical and Romantic ballets the sex (ie biological body) and gender (ie social roles, that is "masculinity" and "femininity") tend to match - in the Romantic ballet particularly (Giselle, La Sylphide) of the 1830s and 40s, the emphasis was on the lightness and aerial skills of the female dancer. The male dancer tends simply to be a partner, although subsequent adjustments to choreography have given men those amazing big jumps. (for those who know ballet history, please excuse the broad generalisations!)

The development of this kind of choreography tends to follow the usual development of male and female bodies past puberty where the different hormonal patterns of male & female sex (ie bodies) lead to different muscular development - in puberty young male dancers gain huge advantages of strength in comparison to young women (and bigger volume of oxygen etc); conversely young female dancers develop the flexibility and length of line that Romantic & classical ballet require.

However, if you start to look at contemporary dance - that which uses ballet as a basis (you might look at Wayne McGregor, choreographer-in-residence at the Royal Ballet, or Mark Morris in New York, or Twyla Tharp, or William Forsythe) and that which doesn't always - varieties of post-modern dance (eg Merce Cunningham) - then you'll see that the gendered divisions (ie the social roles expected) between male and female - the exaggerated masculinity and femininity of Romantic ballet - tend to disappear. Men and women often do the same things, although they might still look different. So there are some choreographers, companies, and styles where the social roles of masculinity and femininity are not relevant.

I wouldn't call them "non-binary" because dance is a physical pursuit, using bodies, and the bodies of men and women are biologically different. But there's been a very big movement since the 1960s (or even earlier if you think of Martha Graham) to liberate female dancers from the exaggerated femininity of being a sylph or a swan, and showing her strength and agility and endurance. I think you can see this at the end of Twyla Tharp's In the Upper Room (one of my favourite ballets) where we see the sheer athletic strength of all the dancers, male and female, at the point just before exhaustion.

In the Upper Room, finale by the Australian Ballet

But what you'll notice is that while the women and men do pretty much the same steps - as we all do in class & in our training - the steps look different on different bodies. And the sexual difference between men & women is one of those differences.

So you might personally like to keep going with your ballet training, but start to look for opportunities to engage with contemporary methods - look for classes that use 'release technique' or 'Cunningham' or "Horton.' Not the "lyrical ballet" stuff. 

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Look at Alvin Ailey: Chroma (by Wayne McGregor).

There male and female roles (and costumes!) are very similar.

Not exactly what you are looking for, but very interesting in terms of gender roles.

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I agree that most of the more contemporary ballet and modern roles tend to be more gender neutral or at least not as obviously gender specific.  However, I do remember there is or was a less conventional dancer with the English National Ballet who danced female roles but was male.  Not sure if he also danced male roles too?? You might have to what his name was and other specifics.

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The dancer is Chase Johnsey.  Here is a link to an article on him at ENB:


From what I can tell he is no longer with ENB, but is Artistic Director for Barcelona Ballet:


Finally, there was an article in Pointe Magazine recently that you might find interesting, OldSoulDancer:

Breaking the Binary - Pointe Magazine

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Oh gosh, sorry, I didn't notice the replies.

Thank you very much!  This is wonderful information.  Contemporary does sound lovely, but I'm more interested in ballet for a career.  However, it would be a wonderful addition to training.  Thank you again!

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