Of Myths and Men

Five guys debunk five myths about men in ballet.
Published in the August/September 2005 issue.

MYTH: The guys in ballet are all gay.

“Let’s just say guys in ballet are guys. And some are gay, and they’re great; some aren’t, and they’re great. They’re all just humans, like the rest of us.” —Peter Boal, artistic director, Pacific Northwest Ballet

“San Francisco is known for its gay community, but there are still straight people who live in San Francisco! So I look at it that way: It’s just like life, or the world. Some people are gay, and some people are straight.” —Prince Credell, dancer, Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet

 

MYTH: You have to wear tights all the time.

“Most of us don’t wear tights all the time. Maybe in schools, but we wear shorts and sweatpants in a company environment. In class and rehearsals, you have to maintain a modicum of professionalism and have things that are not going to interfere with the choreography or be a distraction. But no, we don’t all have to wear tights.” —Stephen Legate, principal, San Francisco Ballet

“The costuming can really change quite often in ballet. You get to wear pants and shorts. A lot of character costumes [have] historical pant legging–type things, depending on the period. But you look at football players, and they are wearing pretty tight clothing. Yeah, they have pads on, but that is serious spandex they are wearing too. You look at runners, or sprinters, they are all wearing tight unitards. Wrestlers are another prime example of another sport with very tight clothing. At some point you come to realize that the tighter the clothing, the greater the range of motion.” —Michael Levine, dancer, The Joffrey Ballet

MYTH: It’s a lot easier to be a male ballet dancer.

“The technique for men, post-Nureyev, post-Baryshnikov, has really come to equal that of women. In the past, men were the lifters, the ‘toters around of women,’ and that’s not the case anymore. Men have featured roles. Stanton Welch here in Houston is a big proponent of men being men, being very strong and being able to dance on their own.” —Simon Ball, principal, Houston Ballet

“In the larger world, it’s harder because people accept women being ballerinas a lot more than they accept men being dancers. So you are constantly struggling against those men-in-tights [stereotypes]. Trying to make people understand the art, the physicality and the masculine side of it is difficult. And growing up in a small town, people were like, “You do what?” They didn’t understand, and I was constantly trying to show them what being a dancer is. They accept it when it is a young girl, but when it is a teenage boy going off to do ballet, you get a funny look.” —Michael Levine, dancer, The Joffrey Ballet

MYTH: There are no male stars in ballet anymore.

“As far as technique and charisma onstage go, there are men out there now who match and exceed those people that you think of as the stars of the ‘70s, when ballet had a large following. [Today’s men] have the artistry matched with the technique that makes you want to watch a person. It’s a very virile type of charisma and energy that makes you want to watch a man onstage, which Carlos Acosta definitely has. Johan Kobborg is another wonderful artist who comes to mind. The world of ballet and men is well and strong.” —Simon Ball, principal, Houston Ballet

“An unlikely star like Joaquin De Luz is a star to me. Audiences aren’t familiar with him yet, but every time he goes out there, he’s just so exciting. Somebody like Daniel Ulbricht, who is a soloist with New York City Ballet. These are phenomenal dancers. And I think that somebody like Angel Corella and Jose Manuel Carreño. These are stars. I think that human beings in general are just more accessible than they were in previous eras, and it probably killed stardom, but it makes for better individuals.” —Peter Boal, artistic director, Pacific Northwest Ballet

MYTH: Being a male ballet dancer is all about doing tricks.

“That’s not true! Well, for me, the kind of dancer that I am and the kind of dancing that I do, it doesn’t require that at all. I do more contemporary work, so it’s really not about tricks, like jumping and turning, at all. I don’t want to sound cliché, but it’s about honesty and integrity and trying to show that onstage. Even in classical ballet, there are things that require tricks like Le Corsaire or Don Q and then there are more romantic ballets like Giselle or Swan Lake that are totally about portrayal and the dance. It’s about a role.” —Prince Credell, dancer, Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet

“The virtuosic male technique demands that you be able to do a certain amount of what are called ‘tricks.’ But the actual amount of time that you get to use those tricks in repertoire, on a day-in, day-out basis is very little. If you’re doing Basil in Don Q, then you’re putting some of those tricks to use, for sure, and it’s necessary that you be able to do them. But that’s one ballet out of maybe 25 in a season. And the rest of the time you’re not. So that’s just a small portion of the vocabulary that’s required. It’s most important to be as well-rounded as possible and that includes acting ability and modern dance ability, contemporary dance ability and the artistic intelligence to put it all together.” —Stephen Legate, principal, San Francisco Ballet

 

Interviews by Jocelyn Anderson; Peter Boal interview by Kristin Lewis