16 Facts That Prove a Male Ballet Dancer Is One of the Most Unrelenting Professions in the World
Until the year 1681, men were the main stars in ballet performances. It’s thanks to them that things like outward-turned feet and special hand positions appeared that were originally used in fencing — the not-so-convenient position of the feet helped the fencing fighter easily turn to any side.
Nevertheless, nowadays there is still a stereotype saying that ballet is more of a female activity. We at Bright Side decided to check and see how valid this opinion is, and we found out a lot of interesting things.
A man who performs in ballet dances is called a ballet dancer, a danseur, or ballerino. The principal performer is called a premier danseur, principal dancer, or soloist.
At first, the main parts were often performed by men, although early ballets still often had female performers. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, romantic ballets became less popular. Characters like The Sylph became main characters, while the ballerinas who played their roles started to become increasingly important. Men, in their turn, became the secondary players.
- There are still numerous myths about men in ballet. In 1988, sociologist William L. Earl explored the existing stereotypes among Americans, asking middle-class people to describe male ballet dancers using up to 15 words and phrases. Most of the responses he got were that they displayed feminine attributes and qualities, behaviors, and an unconventional sexual orientation.
- The dancer Aaron Cota stood up against unfair prejudice and helped to bust the myths.
He took a break in his career to enter the Marine Corps. He shared the reaction of his marine fellows, which included questions like, “What? You’re what?” The dancer explained, “They didn’t understand me, but at the same time, it was simply necessary to explain to them what ballet is all about. When the fellows from my unit saw some of the fragments of my dancing or videos of other dancing guys, they were impressed. ’How can they do that? Wow, that’s amazing,’ and ’That kind of opened my eyes...’”
- The former ballet dancer, and now the head of The Russian Ballet School for Children and Adults, Vladimir Ippolitov, told Bright Side that the stereotypes about the profession of a ballet dancer are still there. “I usually recommend watching the performances of Mikhail Baryshnikov — there is nothing feminine in them. I generally think that ballet is the most masculine profession because they hold women on their arms,” Vladimir said.
- Moreover, according to Vladimir, in Russia, viewers perceive dancing as a job, while in Europe, it’s treated more like a hobby.
- Ballet dancers can benefit from these myths. The low popularity of the profession among men leads to the fact that competition among artists is lower than with their female colleagues. Moreover, choreographic schools often offer boys free tuition to attract them, while girls usually have to pay certain fees.
- Another significant advantage that male ballet dancers have over their female colleagues is that they generally don’t dance in pointe shoes. “Pointe shoes were created for the La Sylphide ballet, they were supposed to enhance the ethereality of the main character. As a rule, men have more down-to-earth roles in classical ballet. It’s a different story if the role is comical like in The Wayward Daughter ballet — it has the role of a maid performed by a man and he does it in pointe shoes. Also, there is a troupe called Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo where male ballet dancers create parodies on popular classical plays where they also use pointe shoes. Still, boys in choreographical schools are not taught to dance in pointe shoes, but perhaps they should be because dancing in these shoes strengthens the ankles,” Vladimir Ippolitov says.
Productions of Cinderella also commonly cast men in drag as the wicked stepsisters. This is to provide a comedic effect.
- Instead of pointe shoes, male ballet dancers wear slippers with a soft sole on their feet, tights on their legs, and a jerkin, which is something like a short close-fitting jacket. Many people wonder why ballet dancers’ underwear can’t be seen under their tights. The thing is that dancers use seamless types of special underwear, called a dance belt, which is unnoticeable from under their tights.
- Another advantage male ballet dancers have is that they don’t have to keep to a diet, as a rule. Girls often have to follow their weight so that their partners can give them support. Men don’t have these issues. In fact, male dancers may need to eat more than average in order to keep up their energy. However, they have to fulfill another difficult task — lift their female partners, sometimes on one arm, which requires a lot of upper body strength.
- As a rule, male ballet dancers can eat anything they want. Moreover, sometimes they simply don’t have time to have a quick bite during the day and have to eat at the end of the day, in the evening, or at night. The good thing is that this eating regimen is quickly compensated with regular training, rehearsals, and performances. Some artists say that they can lose up to 2 or 3 pounds during one play.
- Unlike professional athletes, ballet dancers don’t have strict rules and regulations, so they might actually be quite far from leading a healthy lifestyle. “Oftentimes, after a premiere, dancers will go to a night club where they will be hanging out the entire night and go to exhausting training and rehearsals the next day again,” says Vladimir Ippolitov.
Ballet dancers generally have 1 to 2 days off each week.
- Ballet dancers don’t get paid very well for having such a strenuous job that puts them at such a high risk for injury. Of course, this doesn’t apply to principal dancers.
- By the way, it’s much easier for tall men to become principal dancers but short men have a chance too. For example, thanks to his technique and charisma, Mikhail Baryshnikov became a ballet star at only 5′ 5″.
How do you relate to male ballet dancers? Has your opinion changed after reading this article?