The most irritating aspect of the male-dancer stereotype is the underlying insinuation that we in some way lack strength of character or a courageous spirit. Male and female, all dancers undergo strenuous training from a very young age, and constantly wrestle with injuries and fatigue. But male dancers must possess a special type of will and fortitude if they are to become professionals, for, like fish swimming upstream, we have to fight through the current of thinly veiled contempt that much of society harbors for our chosen path. In our culture, girls are encouraged to take ballet; boys receive no such endorsement, except of course from ballet teachers or exceptionally supportive parents. The boy who perseveres in dance must have a genuine hunger for it, must be uniquely motivated and dedicated, and must develop a truly thick skin.
I started taking ballet when I was 5. My open-minded parents thought it was a good way to channel my rambunctious behavior. A few years later I was hooked. I loved the physicality and, of course, the girls, but I also learned that not everyone recognized the value of dance the way I did. I don’t remember the first fight I got into for being a kid who took ballet, but I remember fighting a lot before I realized that maybe I should keep my extracurricular activities to myself. But ballet was rewarding enough to be worth a fat lip or a black eye, and I emerged from my years of dance training more focused than ever. My background is not unusual among my American colleagues—they share similar stories of discouragement, harassment and even violence. But these experiences served to harden resolve and develop courage, and I know I can always count on several of my dancer buddies for steadfast support—they got my back! Ironically, the stereotype of the sissy male dancer has given rise to a male dancer who is anything but.
It’s frustrating that I feel obliged to extol the virtues and describe the rigors of my profession. I’d just like to make it known that the path of the male dancer isn’t necessarily easy—as with any truly worthwhile endeavor—but the rewards can be limitless. I feel lucky to have discovered a vocation that has allowed me to glimpse the great depth of human potential, both physical and mental, and has given me the opportunity to bring joy to so many people in so many places. I feel there is honor in the arts, in the world of dance, in the realm of male ballet dancing.
Exposure to ballet is all that is needed to open minds, for the combination of athletic movement, ardent drama and beautiful music can instill a profound appreciation in an audience. But for you out there who still feel compelled to malign male dancers with half-truths and petty stereotypes, well, maybe we need to step outside. I’ll leave my tights on.
Sascha en “Prodigal Son´´, Fotografía: Angela Sterling