Category Archives: body diversity
Starting with this: I didn’t think I’d wind up writing a series of posts about my surgery and what it means to me.
Long ago, in another lifetime—which is to say, “This past spring,” actually—I wrote a piece for an academic anthology about the experiences of queer athletes, dancers included.
- Perhaps ironically, given my fondness for ebooks, it’s not yet available as an ebook. Blargh.
It’s called, “Cut Both Ways: On Being Out and Not Out In Ballet” or something along those lines, and it’s about how I live in this curious intermediate place in my working life.
As a dancer and a gay man, I’m the kind of Out that’s such a foregone conclusion that it’s essentially unnecessary to even mention it.
But as a dancer and an intersex person, I’m really not out at all. (The rest is behind the cut simply because this is going to be looooooooong.)
So I realized a few exercises into barre tonight that I had eaten lunch way, way too early.
By end of class I was both bonking hard and sweating like an unfit racehorse. I couldn’t get enough air moving through my nose to do that nifty breathing exercise I use to slow my heart rate, so I sweated far more than was actually necessary.
I was also stiff in a way that I initially interpreted as ordinary fatigue, but later realized was the result of my muscles flipping me the bird every time I asked them to do anything. That’s what I get for not feeding them enough.
Still, excepting the repeat of one of our later pirouette exercises, during which I glanced at the mirror and immediately forgot which leg I was supposed to be on and semi-froze (seriously, WAT), things went reasonably well, with some really nice moments into the bargain.
I don’t think I danced as beautifully, overall, as I did yesterday, but it was still a nice improvement in terms of freedom and musicality compared with what I’ve been doing lately (read: ever).
I also kept having that weird experience of being flummoxed by frank masculinity of my body. Honestly, I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever get used to that. I’m slowly becoming okay with it, though: I am not a delicate little waif-twink, but I am graceful and occasionally even elegant.
I don’t think I ever really did the math on that. As horses go, maybe I’m basically like a Friesian: strong-boned and muscular and powerful, but also graceful and elegant. I suspect on some level I’ve codified a dancer’s grace and elegance as those of an Akhal-Teke or a young Thoroughbred, but that’s not the only possibility. Trakheners and Friesians and Dutch warmbloods are also graceful and elegant. So are the baroque Spanish breeds.
I’m built for classical dressage: the restrained power of the passage and the piaffe; the explosive brilliance of the airs above the ground.
I used to believe that the sheer mass of my body undermined the effect of adagio and so forth. Now I’m beginning to see that a powerful build lends its own magic to balances and développés and penchés.
So there’s that.
Anyway, I’m exhausted. Tomorrow should be good, though.
But first, Killer Class.
This morning, I took a shower for once (to clarify: it’s not that I don’t wash myself; I just don’t usually shower in the morning). While showering, I found myself thinking, “Gee, we haven’t done saut de basque in a while. It would be really cool to do saut de basque.”
Apparently, the Divine Killer B read my mind, because we not only did SO MUCH PETIT ALLEGRO (which I managed mostly to do right), but we did an awesome grand allegro combination with sauts de basque and cabrioles.
So, basically, it was an awesome day. I also learned, by the by, that I’ve been over-crossing my arabesques, which makes my penché glitchy. Killer B came over at one point and was like, “Try not to overcross,” and moved my foot over, and then it was like, “OHAI, FLOOR!” So that was awesome, too.
On the other hand, I really missed the bus on what could’ve been a meaningful thing at DanceTeam practice.
One of the girls, who is actually a really awesome dancer when she gets out of her own way (with which, being middle-schoolers, they all struggle), randomly said while I was drilling some choreography with her and her friend in a breakout group, “I feel so fat.”
Aaaaaaand, I totally dropped the ball.
There are so, so many meaningful things I could’ve said — and while it’s true that probably none of them would’ve taken hold immediately, it’s important to hear those messages.
I could’ve said, “Don’t worry, there’s no one right body for dance,” or “The right body for dance is whatever body you’ve got” (though that one can sound a touch judgmental) or “All kinds of bodies are beautiful” (though, honestly, that might be a bridge too far for someone who’s in seventh grade and wrestle with all the stuff that people wrestle at that age). I could’ve pointed her to some amazing dancers that are shaped like she is, if I wasn’t so terrible at remembering names (1)
- Honestly, I am stunnnnnned that I’m actually remembering the names of ALL my DanceTeam girls; it’s a bleeding miracle.
Instead, I sort of choked and said, “You look fine!” and then, over the course of the conversation, reiterated the things that I think are great about her dancing — she has attitude for days and she’s really expressive, which means she has awesome stage presence; that she’s naturally a great mover for the kind of dance we’re working on.
Maybe I should’ve just asked, “What makes you say that?” and tried to listen, but on the other hand, we were trying to get a lot of choreography tightened up in not very much time.
On the other hand, it’s cool that some of the kids feel like they can say stuff like that around me, given that they really haven’t known me very long. It makes me feel like, against all odds, I’m doing okay making connections and putting them at ease (2).
- Probably the smartest thing I’ve done so far was to admit that I don’t know from Hip-Hop; that they get to teach me there.
Anyway, I’m going to have to think about this: how not to be caught off my guard the next time something like that comes up, and what to say that will be both concise and, in the long run, helpful. I’ll also check in with AS about that, since she (as an actual middle-school teacher) might have some insight.
So that’s it for now. I have to run off and suffer … erm, I mean, go back to Trapeze 3 after a not-really-intentional two-week break. Eeeeeeeek.
I’m sure the I’ve mentioned my gigantor knees before.
They are at once the scourge of my balletic existence and evidence of my best asset as a dancer. I’ve got huge knees because I’ve got huge thighs, and I’ve got huge thighs because I can fly (or, well, I can fly because I’ve got huge thighs, but it sounded better the other way).
Anyway, in his ongoing and exhaustive tune-up of my technique, Company B took me to task about sus-sous last night. I’ve been working on approaching it differently, but I still hadn’t really been getting my feet tight. I still kind of thought I couldn’t — and then CoB called me out on it, and suddenly my legs figured out how to do it(2).
It’s amazing what being in a tiny class with an instructor who you admire rather ardently can do for you (true story, though: he keeps having to correct my port de bras avant at barre because I keep looking at the wall instead of turning my head towards the outside outside arm — I get kinda shy around him sometimes).
After class, I took a moment to ask him about my issues with maintaining my turnout. I showed him where it is (basically a legit 180 in first with a solid knees-over-toes plié; he remarked, “That’s really good!”) and explained the difficulty I’ve been having — I tend to lose it in fifth because my knees get in the way(3).
Be asked me to show show him my fifth, then asked if I could bring my front foot back (to nestle fully against the back foot) if I plié-ed. It took me a minute to figure out what he was asking, but I was in fact quite able to do so. Once stretched, though, I felt like I using a ton of muscle just to stay there once I pulled my legs up straight.
Turns out he has the same problem: big knees, muscular thighs (unsurprisingly, we’re both jumpers). He suggested that I soften my knees just a hair in fifth (and leave them that way) and noted that he can’t get his quite straight in a tight fifth, either.
So, basically, it’s not a question of strength or inadequate turnout; it’s just the cost of being a dancer with really well-developed thighs. I’ll take that.
I’ll take that.
He also suggested that I really focus on getting a tight sus-sous position in my tours and that I play around with when to change my feet. Right now, I think I’m changing at the end, which is what works for CoB — but, honestly, I’m not sure what I’m doing. I’ve never thought about it before; it didn’t occur to me to do so.
Truth be told, I have had almost no instruction in tours. I figured out how to do them as a little kid and then it was, like, since I knew how how to do them well enough, nobody felt it necessary to explain them to me until recently (Jake in Lexington and now CoB). I should probably mention that to CoB.
My first teacher was quite good, but a discrete men’s class wasn’t an option; there weren’t enough boys in the school. The same challenge persists in my current dance life. Basically, I’ve more or or less acquired most of the bits of proper men’s technique that I have by a process involving observation, reading, and osmosis. Excepting variations in Lexington, I have literally never been in a proper men’s class in ballet (except once, but accident, on a day when no ladies turned up).
My turns were mostly good last night, as they often are in CoB’s class. I should keep that in mind, because it’s direct evidence of the fact that the difficulty I have with inconsistent turns is mostly a question of psychology. CoB is an exceptionally good instructor for me in part because he relaxes me. Since I tend to attack life with the intensity dialed up to 11 all the time, this is a Very Good Thing.
Anyway, for some reason, I dreamed about tour-jetés all night, which is weird, since I didn’t do any yesterday.
- Neither do I, but what they should say is is that he should soften his knees in fifth.
- EF produced a a similar change in my attitude arrière a couple weeks ago: I was like, “Welp, guess this is about right,” and he was like, “I KNOW YOU CAN GET THAT KNEE HIGHER SO GET IT HIGHER” and I was like, O____O’ *cranks working leg into impossibly-high attitude*
- Isn’t there a song about this? Oh, wait, no — it’s words, not knees. Right.
- Decided on very subtle costuming for my ballet/lyra piece for Fall Showcase (which is in September): grey tights, white crepe/gauze/whatever-you-call-it shirt. Ordered said tights and shirt.
Really kind of looking forward to the tights, as I’ve recently figured out that I don’t hate dancing with stuff between my shoes and my feet after all and part of me is like, “YAY, ACTUAL BALLET TIGHTS.” Definitely plan to add suspenders/braces for Lyra purposes, though now I have to figure out where to find said suspenders/braces if they don’t come with the tights (which are the kind that can be used with braces or rolled down a million times).
- Hit up Sansha’s New York Store website again. Decided to buy a couple of shirts that were on sale. Checked the sizing chart; nearly had a heart attack about the incredibly-diminutive weight ranges, realized I was looking at the ladies’ chart.
Turns out I’m squarely in the middle of the weight range they predict for guys my height, which makes me a Sansha size 6. But still. Wow. They are definitely thinking Kirov ladies, here. If I was a girl, I’d be an XXL and wouldn’t be able to buy almost anything from Sansha’s website. Bleh.
- Ordered another pair of the leather Silhouettes because I think they’re discontinuing them. I haz a sad about that, because they are the BEST SHOES EVER for my particular feet.
Also ordered a pair in white for the Showcase performance.
Got a wild hair and added a pair of the stretch canvas shoes, because at this point I’m like, “Might as well,” and also because I was $9 or something short of the minimum order. Maybe I will love them?
- Got two free pairs of tights. None of them were useful for me (all ladies’ styles; insufficiently opaque for men in most applications), so I ordered a couple pair that I think might fit at least one of my friends from class. I figured, what the heck? Might as well be the Free Tights Fairy while I’m being the Buying All the Freaking Shoes In A Panic Fairy.
- The ballet part of the piece for Fall Showcase is much better now. I still feel like I should put the tour-jeté sequence back into the second phrase, because at the moment there are two bits that basically run flatly back and forth across the stage (stage L – stage R, then back), which still seems kind of boring.
- Discovered that I can do renversé, attitude turns, and the necessary balances (pique arabesque, first arabesque to penché, balance à la seconde from pas de chat Italien) on the mats and on the floor. Also that I make myself straighten up and fly-right when I’m half-assing my turns, which I was totally doing at the beginning of Open Fly tonight, because developing even worse turning habits is the last freaking thing I need to do.
Anyway, I should’ve been in bed a billion years ago, so that’s it for tonight.
Acro-Balancing tonight. It was fun, although quite challenging at times.
I discovered that being all legs makes mounting more challenging, but balancing easier when you’re the flyer. It makes being the base kinda weird sometimes — thigh stands are okay, but short arms and long legs makes a steep mount in foot bird or candlestick.
Ballet also makes a lot of it easier — if you have a good arabesque, you know how to use the muscles in your back for the foot bird.
I also discovered that I can still do a tripod headstand forever and ever and do cool stuff with my legs during. I’ll have to see if I can get my handstands back. They are awesome for for stability and balance, and I think that would be handy (no pun intended, I swear) for partnering.
I noticed today that, for this week, the top search that led someone to my blog was “why should ballet dancers be an ectomorph?”
Grammatical awkwardness aside, I think that’s a good question, and one that I haven’t touched on in a while.
The short answer is:
“Because that’s the trend.”
My full answer to this question is really long, so here’s the TL;DR version up front:
They shouldn’t, necessarily — but because fashion and function influence each-other profoundly in the performing arts and especially in ballet, trends in the art form stemming from the mid-20th century have created a situation that makes it easier for ectomorphic dancers to succeed as professionals. Likewise, I would posit that choreography has evolved to best suit the ectomorphic bodies currently in vogue.
Since professional dancers broadly inform our cultural definition (“what a ballet dancer is“), we have come to think that ballet dancers should be ectomorphs — but really, there’s no overwhelming em>functional advantage.
Functionally speaking, some advantages exist — ectomorphs are usually light, and thus easier to lift when partnered — but disadvantages also exist — ectomorphs are more prone to osteoporosis; they’re less likely to be good at explosive movements like jumps. The mesomorphic and endomorphic body types also come with advantages and disadvantages in dance.
At the end of the day, it’s really a question of fashion.
…And now, on to the “Really Long, But Feel Free To Read It Anyway” version: