DANCE ‣ Toxic Masculinity in Ballet
Updated: May 6, 2021
Victoria Parker, Senior Editor, Dance
If you stay up to date in the world of ballet, you may have heard about the 2019 incident at New York City Ballet. Three male dancers either retired or were fired due to sexual misconduct against fellow company members. Sadly, this is not a new story. Companies all over the world have had cases similar to this arise with both their male dancers and male staff, but why? Why has sexual misconduct been so prominent in ballet for so many years? Many, me included, agree that the root of the issue stems from a history of toxic masculinity.
Toxic masculinity refers to the negative, stereotypically ‘male’ traits that tend to show when a male is feeling threatened or emasculated. For example, toxic masculinity can be aggressive anger, over-sexualized speech, constant competitiveness, and a need to dominate. For years, these traits and actions have been associated with the male aesthetic and often promoted by other male peers. Society applauds these character traits in men and insists on their presence in “real men.” However, knowing what toxic masculinity is, still does not explain why it is so prominent in ballet.
Essentially, the issue comes back to society. Not only does society promote toxic masculinity, but for years it has belittled male dancers. The classic story of the little boy getting bullied and teased for wanting to pursue dance has been a ‘classic’ for much too long. Boys who desire to study ballet are almost always made fun of or given a hard time so often that most quit, thus the majority of female dancers at the higher levels. If they are not made fun of, they will at least be openly referred to as gay, whether this term be used neutrally, positively, or negatively. Dancers or professionals in the industry often estimate that only around 60% of male dancers are actually gay. This leaves 40%, almost half, that are straight, but are still being met with words associated with homosexuality.
Both parties find these assumptions hurtful and unnecessary, not because they do not wish to be associated with homosexuality, but the fact that it is an assumption based on the sole fact that they train in ballet. The strength, power, and agility of male dancers is often sadly overlooked by the public. Just like any other athlete male dancers develop muscle mass through rigorous daily training. Because people ignore these facts, male dancers of all sexual orientations often feel the need to defend themselves and point out this information.
Defensiveness can lead into toxic masculinity and an over compensation to prove their masculinity. Males frequently develop habits of violence, needing to control others, and demeaning women. Society likes to blame the man for projecting these habits, when in actuality if society could just accept the male dancer for who he is, an elite athlete, maybe men would not feel the need to always be on the defensive.
As a community knowledgeable about ballet, it is our responsibility to discourage the assumptions that ‘all male dancers are gay’ and let our friends who are male dancers be who they are with no influence from us. We should also be encouraging youngers boys and men to pursue dance if they want and stop viewing ballet as strictly feminine. Ballet is an incredible mix of art and athleticism that no other sport compares to, and we should treat it and it’s dancers as such.