It is our responsibility to empower the next generation of dancers, no matter what their gender may be!
Lara Spencer was not the first to laugh at a boy in dance class and she most certainly will not be the last. Ballet and dance, overall, has been stereotyped as a feminine field where you will find only females dancing around. This is so far from the truth and the very history of ballet and dance tells us otherwise.
Ballet originated during the time of the Renaissance in Italy and was found at lavish weddings and royal events. Domenico da Piacenza (c. 1400–c. 1470) was one of the first dancing masters. Working alongside his students, Antonio Cornazzano and Guglielmo Ebreo da Pesaro, he trained in dance and taught nobles (royalty) the art. Notice these were three males who were masters in dance.
Catherine de Medici of Italy married the French King Henry II and introduced the ballet movement to the French court and stimulated the growth of ballet de cour, which included dance, decor, costume, song, music, and poetry. Ballet caught on in France and became so popular that by the year 1661, Louis XIV opened the very first the first ballet school in France.
Get ready for it… only men were allowed to dance in this ballet school. The very first ballet school did not allow women to join in until 1681. That is right. The very first ballet school ever opened was open only for men for 20 years. In 1681, women were finally accepted into the school.
Does it appear this ballet we speak of and have feminized was really for the males?
For several years, as a graduate student, I conducted a study focusing on ballet dancers. My initial purpose was to examine variables such as stress, body image disturbance, self-esteem, and social support. Furthermore, the study examined ballet dancers living with chronic skin conditions.
Ballet dancers were found to have lower levels of social support than nonballet dancers. A call to action and further research would be beneficial regarding social support for ballet dancers and the reasoning behind lower levels of social support for the ballet dancers versus nondancers. Research has shown that gender differences for ballet dancers in regards to social support suggest lower levels of social support for male dancers and isolation in the more feminized world of ballet (Risner, 2002; Williams, 2003).
“Risner (2002) suggested five themes for experiences of males who dance: (a) homophobic stereotypes, (b) narrow definitions of masculinity, (c) heterosexist justifications for male participation, (d) the absence of positive male role models (straight and gay), and (e) internalized homophobia among male dance students. These five themes establish a negative environment for the male dancer.” (Chinappi, 2017).
Halton and Worthen (2014) propose examining other cultures that are more tolerant of males in dance and for dance educators to resist stigmas placed on male dancers, allowing for a broader social acceptance. Doing more in the community to achieve acceptance and higher tolerance levels for males in dance. “For example, large universities showcase male talent through sports in brochures. To build a better support system for male dancers at this level, administrators could feature college male dancers as prominent talent at their institutions through educational and promotional brochures.” (Chinappi, 2017).
The ballet community has come to form a call to action to help bring boys to the forefront. In a field where boys were the first and only dancers allowed in the class, the ballet community is trying to put an end to the stigma. This does not happen overnight and will not happen with just one appearance on Good Morning America. It is a week later and already the #boysdancetoo has died down. This is a continuous fight, as with any other fight individuals may have. The ballet community and the dance community, joined with others can continue to make a difference as long as we do not stop fighting for our male dancers.
Jacqueline Chinappi holds a doctorate in psychology and teaches college level psychology courses. Dr. Chinappi’s dissertation focused on ballet dancers with skin conditions and she currently teaches theatre arts at Broadway Bound Dance Centre in Toms River, NJ. All four of Dr. Chinappi’s daughters are dancers.
Chinappi, J. F. (2017). The Effects of Chronic Skin Disorders and Ballet on Body Image, Stress, Social Support, and Self-Esteem: A Quasi-Experimental Study (Doctoral dissertation, Capella University).
Haltom, T. M., & Worthen, M. G. F. (2014). Male ballet dancers and their performances of heteromasculinity. Journal of College Student Development, 5(8), 757-778. doi:10.1353/csd.2014.0084
Risner, D. (2002). Sexual orientation and male participation in dance education: Revistiting the open secret. Journal of Dance Education, 2(3), 84-92. doi: 10.1080/15290824.2002.10387214
Williams, D. (2003). Examining psychosocial issues of adolescent male dancers. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. (UMI 2090242)