Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Don't Judge Me By My Tights

Being a male dancer means battling many stereotypes. But the rewards of my job are limitless.

By Sascha Radetsky | NEWSWEEK
Mar 17, 2008 Issue | Updated: 1:15 p.m. ET Mar 8, 2008

My business attire is a pair of tights. All right, there it is. I wear makeup onstage, and some of my colleagues are gay. Can we move on now? Can we leave behind the tired male-ballet-dancer stigma—that ballet is not a masculine pursuit—in order to move toward an appreciation of the athleticism and artistry involved in this line of work?

On an average day at the job, I handle lithe, lovely women, engage in duels and delight in the experience of an exotic locale. I move like a gymnast or martial artist and embody the vilest of pimps or the most chivalrous and passionate of lovers. I constantly expand the borders of my physical capabilities, and I hone my mind to a quick-learning, focused edge. Come 8 p.m., I'll fuse dynamic movement and storytelling with the grandeur of a full live orchestra.

Yes, I'm proud of my profession. Yet I find myself slightly guarded when I tell people what I do. Like some sort of incurable blight, the male-dancer stereotype has taken root and metastasized in our cultural consciousness. Pioneers like Baryshnikov or Nureyev might have opened some minds, but their days have long passed, and despite the noble efforts of a handful of current ballet leaders to expose fresh audiences to our art form, a whole new generation looks at male dancing with skewed vision. Some of my peers are foreigners; in many other countries male dancers are held in higher esteem. I studied in Russia for a year and always marveled at the way Russians celebrated their artists, whether their medium was dance, music or the written word. But I'm American, and I want to live in my own country, as a dancer, with some respect.

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