By Jacquelyn Bernard
Edited by: Laurel Wilder & Jessica Wallis
If you looked up the word ‘dancer’ on Dictionary.com, the definition you would find is “a person who dances;” but, if you asked someone on the street, they would likely reference this word with females, not males.
If someone were to ask a dancer what kind of dancer they are, he or she will likely answer as “ballet dancer,” “contemporary dancer,” or “hip hop dancer.” Here, the word ‘dancer’ is a common word that is descriptive for both males and females—there is no difference. What these dancers are really saying is: “I dance this specific genre.”
One thing that has caught my attention over the years is the notion that ballet is the only genre of dance that gives males and females a specific title, thus not making all ballet dancers the same.
The ballerina is the female. The danseur is the male.
People associate “ballerina” with female dancers, but there are the few who associate danseur with the male dancer. This proper term for a male ballet dancer has been lost in translation somewhere along the line. The word may be a name, a term, a label, but it is very specific. It was made to separate and give life to the men in ballet. It was made to ensure the males were separate from the females.
Personally, I find this word very empowering and strong. No one calls male ballet dancers a ballerino or a primo male dancer, nor should they.
When this word was lost in translation, people lost the essence of who a danseur is. The female was looked to as the goddess and the male was her servant. He was cast out from his spotlight, and a shadow was cast over his once-dominant spot. Somehow, the power of the danseur slowly faded into the background of the ballerina, making her the all-powerful being in ballet.
When I think of ballet, I do in fact think of females, but I also think of the males, the ones who do all of the “heavy” lifting. The males are the ones who accentuate the female beauty onstage. Without their presence, I personally think the ballerina would not be who she is. Her presence would be lost among the crowd. She would not be easily identified, because without her cavalier, who is the Sugar Plum Fairy? Who is Odette without Siegfried? Who is Giselle without Albrecht? The ballerina turns out to be a woman on the stage dancing with no reason behind her actions. The Sugar Plum Fairy has the Cavalier as a partner to escort her and help her to show Clara the magic of the Land of the Sweets. Odette is a maiden turned into a swan, and her only hope is to have Siegfried confess his love. Giselle is a heartbroken young lady, but saves the man who broke that heart from dancing to his death.
A ballerina needs her danseur. She needs her counterpart. A ballerina’s energy source not only comes from within her on the stage, but from her partner.
Danseurs are important subjects in ballet. They are not the background dancers, but the ones who shape the ground for the ballerinas to dance. The danseurs introduce and illustrate their partners on the stage. They take charge and lead their ballerinas with great quality and expectation. They are the true stars making the dance come alive in the classroom and on the stage.
When looking back in the history of ballet, men dominated this genre. The men were the front stars of the show. No women were allowed. Then came change, and slowly but surely, women were accepted and became the new stars. Since that day, ballet has not been the same, but there has been a slow rise of male power in ballet once again. I look back to the days of Mikhail Baryshnikov and see the masculinity he brought to the ballet world. He was the ultimate danseur of his days, and still holds that title. I believe his model of excellence in the role of danseur broke ground for more men to enter the ballet world. Even today, male danseurs are amazing and inspiring. Fabrice Calmels, a dancer with the Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, has asked that people view ballet as athletic. This notion to view ballet through a more athletic – rather than simply artistic – lens sheds a new light on the topic of the dance world, and resonates on a different level with the male population.
I believe that through this new light, males will be able to be viewed just like they were in the glory days of the danseur, when society did not push the notion that ballet was not a masculine activity. Through this light, men will break the chains by which society has locked the art of ballet. Giving the danseur a new, modernized definition invites all men to become ballet dancers and gives them a chance to move back into the ballet spotlight…
It’s a chance to let their athleticism shine in the light of artistry:
to be a man amidst the grace and elegance of ballet.