December 11, 2019
This copy originally appeared in the October 23, 2019 print edition.
Elegance. Grace. Fluid movement. These are things typically associated with ballet, more specifically, women in ballet. However, male ballet dancers are challenging the gender norms within dance.
The life of British royal family member Prince George, the eldest child of Prince William and Duchess Catherine, is often on display in the public eye. When his school curriculum revealed he was partaking in ballet on Aug. 23, Good Morning America’s co-anchor Lara Spencer responded with laughter.
“Prince William said Prince George absolutely loves ballet,” Spencer said. “I have news for you, Prince William; we’ll see how long that lasts.”
It did not take long for the dance community to highlight the insensitive nature of Spencer’s comments. After that episode was put on air, the #boysdancetoo movement emerged on social media, picking up steam as the dance community stood in solidarity with Prince George.
Consisting of over 150 thousand posts, the hashtag served as a place for people to express support and tackle the stigma surrounding male dancers. Nashville Ballet joined in on the trending hashtag, posting a photo on Instagram featuring an ensemble of male dancers. The caption reads:
“Ballet promotes strength; it cultivates discipline and focus. Ballet provides us with a sense of community, an outlet for creativity, and an avenue for understanding others. Ballet creates a space and a world in which reductive gender stereotypes don’t belong. Ballet is as much masculine as it is feminine, and we’re tremendously proud of and inspired by all our male dancers. #boysdancetoo.”
The Monday morning after the episode aired, Spencer issued a live apology for mocking the young royal’s participation in ballet.
“I screwed up,” Spencer said. ”The comment I made about dance was insensitive, it was stupid and I am deeply sorry. I’ve spoken with several members of the dance community over the past few days. I have listened, [and] I have learned about the bravery it takes for a young boy to pursue a career in dance.”
The controversy surrounding Spencer’s comments blossomed into a discussion on male dancers, bringing awareness to the hardships they often tackle. Bullying is an all-too-common side effect many male ballet dancers face.
A study conducted by Doug Risner, a dance sociologist at Wayne State University, revealed that 93% of male ballet dancers endured teasing or insults, while 68% experienced verbal or physical assaults. The staggering rates of bullying against men in ballet inspired “Danseur,” a film directed and produced by Scott Gormely. The 2018 documentary examines the struggles and obstacles men in ballet combat such as slurs, hostility and violence.
Patrick Frenette, a professional ballet dancer cast in “Danseur,” defended Prince George on social media as well. In an Instagram photo featuring a shirt with “Danseur” on it, Frenette wrote:
“By rallying together to support children who come under fire for their choices to pursue ballet, we are showing that we are prioritizing the safety of this innocent boy who loves ballet. We are refusing to be bystanders, lest we allow our indifference to provide a platform for more hateful and damaging rhetoric.”
Along with being the only boy on the team, senior Kelton Ramsey is one of the BHS dance team captains. At just three years old, Ramsey joined the dance scene, learning hip-hop at a studio and later moving to Rock City Dance Center, where he participated in ballet and tap. However, hip-hop mostly dominated his dance style. Last year, he decided to join the school dance team, making the transition from studio to varsity dance.
“Studio and varsity were like two different things, so I had [to] learn varsity things,” Ramsey said. “I had to learn the different dynamics of it. It was kind of hard for me to tap into varsity, because studio was more of a freedom type of thing, more creativity. Varsity is more like, this is what it has to be, this is strict, this is the structure it has to be in.”
Ramsey was selected as the only senior captain for the dance team this year. However, before he was chosen, Ramsey developed concerns about the challenging role.
“It was very nerve-wracking, because I was like, ‘I’m probably not going to get captain,’ Ramsey said. “I’m the only boy; no one’s going to take me seriously. [That] was the number one [reason] I wanted to be captain, so I can prove to people that I can be taken seriously. I can do this.”
Despite feeling anxious about the demanding role, Ramsey was met with an overwhelming wave of support and positive feedback regarding his accomplishment.
“Everyone knew about [my being selected as captain],” Ramsey said. “On Facebook, it got [reposted] more than 100 times, which was a really shocking. I didn’t think that people would actually care. Everyone has been very supportive. It’s like everyone knows who I am, they know what I can do now.”
Although he has not personally experienced hateful rhetoric or negative comments about his dancing, Ramsey knows the detrimental gender expectations that are still present in modern times affect others.
“We’re still stuck in that phase that ‘boys can’t do what girls do [and] girls can’t do what boys can do,” Ramsey said. “I feel like now [it] has gotten better, but there’s still things that can change.”