Why There Should be More Men in Tights

Rebecca Smith

The Paw Print

In 2014, Sean Lee of the Dallas Cowboys tore his ACL during a game. He was expected to miss the entire season due to his injury. This is just one example of players of any sport missing out on several games or even entire seasons because of an injury. However, there is a kind of cross training that is gaining popularity with athletes around the country that may cut down on these devastating sports injuries, and also increase overall performance in any sport. Participating in this method of cross training will also be a welcome contribution to the performing arts. What is this new method of cross training, one might ask? The answer may be surprising: ballet lessons. More men should take ballet classes, especially men that are athletes.

There is a long list of fears and concerns boys and men have about becoming dancers. However, most of these fears are rooted in stereotypes and “facts” that are generally untrue. The most prevalent reason men are afraid to step into a dance studio is the fear that, thanks to the misconception that dance, particularly ballet, is a “girl thing,” they will be made fun of. The truth is, ballet was never meant to be for girls only. Mainly, this misconception comes from one event in the history of ballet: the Romantic Era, which introduced the pointe shoe. As a matter of fact, up until the late sixteen hundreds, ballet was an all-male art form. This form of dance began in Italy and France, where male nobles performed as entertainment for the royal court. The first female dancers did not appear until 1681 in Paris. Women began to earn a more central role over men in ballet starting at the beginning of the Romantic Era. Ballet historians believe pointe dancing made its first appearance during this era. The first woman to dance en pointe was most likely a dancer named Marie Taglioni (although there were probably a few before her), when she danced en pointe in the ballet La Sylphide in 1832. After her performance, women’s pointe dancing entered into a cycle: it became more popular to audiences and dancers alike, and pointe technique became more advanced, which made it more appealing and popular. In addition to pointe work, the Romantic period also emphasized grace, the apparently effortless execution of movements, and pointe dancing with a light, flowing quality, and soft lines–qualities women seemed to have more of than men.

Because society considers ballet to be a feminine activity, men and boys who may be considering joining a ballet class fear that they will be made fun of for being not manly enough, or worse, be called gay. In reality, outside cultural expectations, there is no reason why boys cannot do ballet. Society deems it perfectly acceptable for, and even encourages, girls to play sports and video games, which are often considered “boy things,” so why, then, are boys discouraged from joining a dance class? Besides, the assumption that male ballet dancers are gay is false. As Robert Weiss, the artistic director of the Carolina Ballet, says, “The notion that all male dancers are gay has always been a myth. There are just as many football players and police and firemen as there are dancers who are gay. It’s just a proportion of the population.” As for ballet not being “manly,” that is not entirely accurate, either. Sports television channels are full of men that people consider to be truly manly. They often have large, well-toned muscles, and they are lifting weights and running laps, sweating and panting, and their faces show intense strain and concentration. Meanwhile, in ballet companies around the world, much smaller men are performing hour-long shows, leaping and turning across the stage for several minutes at a time and lifting women above their heads (sometimes with only one hand). All the while, they cannot show how difficult their work is. They have to smile and make their movements appear effortless, even if they are tired or injured. Even though they may not seem to be, male dancers are just as strong and manly as any football player out there.

Once a man dismisses these fears and decides to join a ballet class, he will be warmly welcomed by his new instructors. Male dancers are in high demand in the ballet world. Nearly every ballet has at least one male role to fill, usually several. Also, one of the highlights of ballet is the stunning pas de deux, where a man and a woman dance together. However, finding a man to dance one of these spectacular pas de deuxs is difficult. The supply of male ballet dancers is low. For example, my dance studio has approximately three hundred students and only three of them are boys. Of those three, only one takes ballet.

It has been four hundred years since ballet became a “girl thing,” and it is about time for that stereotype to be cast away. All of those men and boys who refuse to take ballet lessons do not know what they are missing. Athletes can improve their performance on the field by dancing in their spare time in order to improve their balance, agility, focus, and more. By doing a few pliés and tendus a few times a week, they can even decrease their risk of injury, which means less time sitting on the sidelines in pain and more time playing their sport. Even men who are not athletes would gain some benefits. Ballet training can strengthen the mental abilities needed to earn straight A’s in school. Dance schools and companies throw money and job opportunities at any male that is interested in dance. If nothing else, there will be thirty girls in that dance studio, happy to see the one man brave enough to join the class.

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