I enjoyed this project immensely, and am very glad it did not turn out with a proud, pompous air. If it had, it would not persuade anyone, least of all young men, that ballet is worth pursuing, for more than one reason.
A Challenging and Instructing Art Form
Frilly tutus. The colour pink. Little, highly energetic six year old girls. Fancy spins. These subjects often come to mind when a person says the word ballet. Unfortunately, young men under twenty years of age limit their perception of ballet as something involving little girls running around in pink, sparkly costumes. Many do not realize how demanding and mind stretching this art is, especially when playing simple games such as charades: All that is usually acted out is a wimpy twirl. Compared to other sports such as soccer, football, and basketball, ballet is just as and sometimes more difficult. Ballet is not merely an activity for girls, but an art form that should be considered by boys because it teaches discipline and stretches one's mental and physical abilities.
During the Renaissance, the Italian dance master Domencio da Piacenza (1400-1470) copied down ballet movements in order to study and expand the art (“Popular”). Soon after, what had once been an activity strictly limited to balls and courts of the aristocratic families blossomed into an art of its own. As time passed, society adopted ballet as a form of entertainment, amusement, and performance. The newly developed art grew and spread across Europe, eventually into Russia, and later to the United States. It has always appealed to some type of audience. As of late, a study from the United Kingdom concluded that it is usually the people of the higher societies who are involved or interested in ballet (Sanderson). Otherwise, most young men refuse to associate themselves with classical dance because it has been labeled as girly.
One of the factors that play a part in convincing young men that ballet is utterly ridiculous is the fact that it is almost always obsessed over, one way or another, by many girls. Robert Parmach, Assistant Dean at Fordham College, New York stated:
Young men often feel compelled to test their bodies in athletics and the academic classroom to validate the socially acceptable manhood standards while asserting two important things to the world at large: (1) I am not a woman [...] and (2) I am no longer a boy [...] and willing to defend it at high costs.
Evidently, teenage boys will go to great lengths to differentiate themselves from girls. Some feel that pursuing ballet to even the slightest degree could make them less of a man, when in reality, it opens up a new style of art to those who are willing to experience it.
As an art form, ballet has a lengthy list of credentials. Born in the peak of the Renaissance era, it has withstood the test of time and has never been merely a passing fad. Aside from being simply an art form, ballet stretches the body both mentally and physically. In order to meet the requirements of a classical dancer, one must be physically fit, which means having strength, flexibility, and endurance. It is true that other sports (football, basketball, and soccer) require these three elements. However, it is necessary for ballet dancers to memorize the given choreography and combinations for both classes and performances. Classical Ballet widens the outlook of human awareness (Sanderson). It widens this outlook by giving people a larger palate of experiences to select. Dance is not an activity strictly limited to snobbish people, but an art form that commands high levels of devotion while teaching an excellent character trait.
Dancers learn something that is invaluable: Self-discipline. Self-discipline is extremely important, and it appears in almost every aspect of everyday life. Time management, exercising, working, and other activities are affected by this attribute because it helps one stay in charge of his or her schedule. Though ballet is not the only road to healthy self-discipline, it is a difficult, but in no way a simple one. Self-discipline is one of the character traits that makes a person more responsible, and in the end, more successful in life.
Terpsichore (Greek for “the art of dancing”) also stretches a person mentally. The brain is one of the most powerful parts of our body, and it is used to great extents when involved with dancing. When performing, a dancer has no time to let his or her mind wander; every second and every movement counts. Ballet incorporates mental processes to a significant extent. Rachel Fensham, research Professor and head of the Department of Dance, Film and Theatre at the University of Surrey, noted that dance students go through complicated patterns of movement with others around them while handling various mental processes (Fensham). Clearly, a dancer must be constantly aware of the people around him or her during classes, but especially during performances. If someone makes a mistake, it is expedient the corps continue to sail. A dancer is required to actively participate with his or her mind.
Physically, ballet is one of the toughest sports. Dancers must cooperate with one another, know their choreography, and not take any insults from their directors to heart. Cooperation is necessary because many of the movements require dancers to be in close contact with one another. Dancers must also know the planned motions, or choreography, which is essential when presenting a show. Instructors often yell at their students in order to motivate them to the highest degree of performance, much like noisy football coaches do their team. Dancers must constantly remain flexible and strong, enduring pain and soreness when overworked, something that happens quite often. Classical ballet dancers are trained to present and perform their art as if it were effortless, and it is too often that young men do not see how demanding it is when, in fact, it has many physical benefits.
An exercise many teen boys (and adult men) participate in is weight lifting, which gives self confidence, elevates their outward appearance, and boosts their self-esteem. What most boys do not realize is that if they were to complete the basic fundamentals of ballet, they would move on to a different sort of weight lifting: Partnering. This is difficult for men, but more so for women because such a great amount of trust is concerned with lifts and partnering. The monstrous supposition that ballet is full of little girls spinning in pink is one that must be disregarded. The average young man is often taken up with video games, cars, and sports. Nothing is wrong with this except that they should make the effort to seek out different experiences. Some may say that ballet is not the only way to teach self-discipline or stretch one's self mentally and physically. Other sports (such as football) do give young men these things. However, team sports do not give a young man the opportunity to relate to guys and girls at the same time. This is important. For one to be successful in life, a person must be equipped with the necessary attributes and life skills, all, of which, can be learned while being taught how to dance.
Unfortunately, many young men simply feel insecure about classical ballet. They assume it might make them less of a man, and, as Parmach stated, they are aware that they must defend their masculinity by going to extremes in either athletics or academics. The myth states that ballet is completely feminine. In reality, boys have to take every fiber of their masculinity to step beyond the stereotypes and presuppositions about ballet merely to discover this art. A young man actually proves his masculinity when he demonstrates his ability to dance. Stereotypes are something that are always having to be dealt with. In this case, young men (and many others) decide, without substantial knowledge, that ballet is merely a ridiculous activity or piece of entertainment. This is not only sad, but interesting: If this stereotype has been present for so many years, why has ballet continued to endure, inspire, and exist as an art form? Ballet has been a form of art, a mental and physical challenge, and an excellent teacher of self-discipline. It involves trust and participation of the mind and body. Andrew Rist, the Director of Ballet Minnesota, stated the essence of this matter and why ballet has had such an impact on him:
Ballet still carries a stereotype, especially in a sports oriented society. If more boys were exposed to ballet [and] understood its power and majesty, they would pursue it. There are so many advantages to ballet training. It refines a person's concept of themselves because they are pursuing the rare art. They must look inside themselves and answer very raw questions in order to portray this upon the stage. The physicality is another attraction. It allows you to not only refine your physical movement but release the power of movement. The reasons I pursued dance are: Its physical nature, the fact that the artistic side [has] allowed me to express my feelings, emotions and questions[... .]
Ballet will never be for girls only; it has such vast amounts of power and magnificence. Young men should consider ballet not only because it instructs them in a new art form, but because while teaching an excellent character trait, self-discipline, it challenges the mind and body, just as any other sport.
"Popular and Social Dance." Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia. (n.d.): Web. 6 Mar. 2012. Rist, Andrew. “Dance and Its Benefits.” Message to Elleanna E. Wiering. 14 Mar. 2012. E-mail.