My name is Jacquelyn Bernard. I am from the small city of Corona in Southern California. My ballet career started at age six because a little girl asked me to join her for “Bring a Friend to Ballet Class,” where my life was forever changed. I recently fulfilled my lifelong dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer with a small company called Redlands Dance Theatre in Southern California. I am now also a guest blogger for Ballet In the City, writing about issues surrounding the topic of males in dance.
Why would a female dancer want to write about guys who dance? Specifically males in ballet?
The answers to those questions are not so simple. I guess I could say it is because the ratio of females to males in ballet is off by a landslide. The real reasons lie within what society has labeled male dancers to be all over the globe. I became involved with the issues surrounding males in dance when I realized that the dance department I am studying with has very few male dancers. It got me thinking about why males are so reluctant about the idea of dance, ballet in particular. I then heard someone say he did not want to do ballet because it was “girly and not a manly activity.” Questions entered my head like, “What guy wouldn’t want to be in a room full of pretty girls?” or, “What guy doesn’t want to lift a girl over his head to show how strong he is?” That is when I finally came to realize it: society has morphed the idea of a male dancer into something he is not. The stereotypes, the gender roles, and the unnecessary misinterpretations. It therefore takes a special kind of person to step outside to the dance studio, put on a pair of tights, and show the world what dance means to him.
I have been thinking about what has chased so many men away from an art form that is so pure and physically challenging. I noticed that people refer to ballet as “graceful, exquisite, and beautiful”. Those words are all very female-oriented. Yes, ballet is graceful, but that is because the movements being executed are seen as if the dancer is floating on a cloud across the stage. Ballet is exquisite due to the vocabulary and the language it represents. Finally, ballet is beautiful because of all the elements it presents from the physical to the emotional, which may be one of many reasons why men run from this art form: its inherent femininity.
Thus, many refer to ballet as feminine, but it is just as much feminine as it is masculine. When looking at ballet for a more masculine identity it is strong, tough, and challenging. What ballet demands from a male are more than just the tights, more than the various descriptors used to define a male dancer, and more than what society makes the dancer to be. What would a lift look like if a female dancer did not have her male counterpart? What would the dance world look like if there were no men at all? It would, in a sense, be empty. It would be filled with women, but missing a key element.
The below video by Australian Ballet describes what a male ballet dancer is and what is required of them. They use the words “powerful” “strong” but also “beautiful.” These men go on to demonstrate the power and strength it takes to execute the movements. The strength that is required of a male dancer is equivalent to that of any professional athlete. Not just physical strength, but emotional and artistic. These men enter a stage and there is no room for error, there is only room for perfection- perfection impossible to achieve. Males show the agility that they possess within themselves when they dance. It does not just take a teacher to guide the dancer to find his dancing self within, but it takes an honest self-connection to realize their passion.
Males in ballet are strong, but when I watch them I can see the emotion. I can see them using their hearts to dance with grace and ease. I have had the privilege to watch American Ballet Theatre‘s Le Corsaire, live. Performing were Marcelo Gomes and Daniil Simkin. Onstage at the LA Music Center, I could see their strength, but also I could see their hearts. I saw their power exceed beyond the limits of the stage all the way up in the balcony.
Watching men dance onstage, I realized that the male dancer’s battle is not only against an antagonistic society, but with himself. I keep thinking that I personally need to make efforts to change how society views a male dancer. I need to build up the male population in dance by helping this specific group of dancers find their voices within.
I believe that men should be able to maintain their masculinity and put their tights on no matter what words are used to demean them because they are bigger than those words. I really want male dancers to know that I stand with them. Not only do I want to build them up, but I want to help make them strong in the world we live and dance in today.
Why do I want to write for the male population in dance? So I can help give male dancers a voice in this art. I want males to go out and show that society is wrong. Male dancers are not just graceful, beautiful, and exquisite, but they powerful, strong, and masculine. They are artists rising again throughout this generation and the next.
Ballet In the City has given me the opportunity to be a vessel for male dancers as a guest blogger. Stay tuned for my interview with Denise Gruska the author of The Only Boy in Ballet Class.
By Jacquelyn Bernard