Recently I discovered a comment here on this blog from Catherine L. Tully. I felt tickled, because not only is Catherine a dance educator who has taught dance for over 22 years both in the United States and Japan, she currently serves as the Outside Representative for the National Dance Teachers Association in the UK as well. Additionally, she is a writer and photographer with over over 36 years of experience and has written for Dance Teacher, Dance Spirit, Highland Dancer and youngARTS, among many other publications. Although I’m not a dance teacher, Catherine and I agree that we have a few things in common…such as the publications for which we write. We also both also have websites for writers and blogs about writing. (You can find out more about Catherine at www.4dancers.org.)
In any case, I asked Catherine if she’d like to write a guest blog post for me about the role of a male dancer. She gladly agreed. Here’s her post…
Challenging Gender Stereotypes in Ballet
By Catherine L. Tully
Much as I love Balanchine, I have come to a place in my life where I take issue with one of his more popular statements: “Ballet is Woman. In sports, it’s Mickey Mantle. In politics, it’s Eisenhower. In ballet, it’s woman. Women are lighter, more flexible. They move more beautifully. He is not the King, but she’s the Queen.”
Is that really true? I think not.
Now, let me back-pedal a bit. I do think that to Balanchine—and for his ballets, this was true. He found inspiration in women. But much as Mickey Mantle is no longer the representative for sports, and Eisenhower is not the first name that springs to mind when politics come up, men no longer take the back seat in ballet. And it’s about time that it is changing.
Although some choreographers still use men as a foil for women on stage, this is not true across the board. Men are being showcased more often in their own right. They are being allowed to explore different ways of moving and being on stage. When I was coming up in the ballet world, the man was your partner, and he got a chance to showcase his skills somewhere in the ballet, but other than that, his job was to make you look beautiful. It was such a narrow view of what men are capable of, and a disappointing one, really.
I have always hated gender roles in ballet. When I was dancing, I yearned to do some type of solo in technique shoes that wasn’t just “pretty.” I wanted to be able to show off the power and athleticism of ballet as a woman—to leap and to spin without being restricted by pointe shoes. I always wondered why women didn’t rebel against this narrow view of their talents. But now I realize that we, too, were stereotyped.
The very thing that elevated women to Balanchine’s coveted status also kept us from exploring our own possibilities. We were just as trapped as men under this system. We just didn’t realize it.
I have to again say that I love Balanchine. I do. His ballets are amazing and his choreography fascinates me. There is little doubt that there was pure genius operating there. Magic, really. Yet I love that there has been more exploration since then, more challenges to these long-held gender roles in dance. And I hope that it will continue.
My wish for both men and women in dance is that they have the freedom and the opportunity to explore both strength and softness. I hope the choreography will be dictated by the music and not some pre-conceived notion of what either sex is “supposed” to do. I see a future where we can take the stage as true partners, and bring out the best in one another—whatever that may be.
There will always be a place for Balanchine in my heart and in ballet, but rather than looking back, I choose instead to look forward. We are all capable of so much more.