Monday, May 17

Men en pointe: ballet dancers kick against gender stereotypes | Ballet


“I He was always drawn to pointe shoes. They were like magic! I was wondering: Why can only girls use them? “Iván Félix is ​​a 24-year-old Mexican ballet dancer who has been dancing en pointe for three years.” I think a lot of people look down on men who dance in pointe shoes because they think it’s too easy, or we do it because we can’t dance like a man in a traditional way, ”adds Félix who dances for Les Ballets Eloelle in New York, a company in which all the roles, often comedic, are played by men.

Since Amalia Brugnoli popularized the art of pointe in 1823, the form has become part of the dancer’s mystique, while men use floor work and perform incredible jumps and athletic movements. When dancers have performed en pointe in the past, it has traditionally been for comic effect, not to show skill. For example, the men who play Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream have to match the head of a giant donkey with hoof-like movements in pointe shoes. Now, male ballet en pointe dancers want to be taken more seriously.

'Why can only girls use them?'  ... Iván Félix in pointe shoes.
‘Why can only girls use them?’ … Iván Félix in pointe shoes. Photography: Iván Félix

Kadeem Hosein, 25, says: “I studied ballet for about three years before starting en pointe. I knew it would help strengthen my feet. Second, and more importantly, I enjoyed watching the tips work, so I thought why not? “Now he lives in London and, although he is not a professional ballet dancer, he still trains in pointe.” I think it would be interesting to see performances where the roles can be played by men or women, “he adds,” not by force, but by choice of the dancers. “

Rosine Bena-Porter, a ballet teacher from Nevada, has been teaching this art form for 50 years. He tells me that his mother, with whom he taught, was always an innovative instructor and began teaching men to work on pointe shoes because “she was fed up with trying to correct dancers in pair work.” He hoped that if men could understand the movements behind toe work, they would be better partners. But “we both realized that men got so much profit [although] they did complain more about the pain ”. Pointe shoes can be extremely taxing on your feet. Having danced en pointe myself, I know the agony dancers mask on stage to make their movements seem effortless. Today, Bena-Porter requires all of her dancers to learn toe work regardless of gender. However, it only requires its male students to study the form for one year. After this, they can continue or return to training without tip work.

Cost is a barrier, because pointe shoes wear out quickly. Dancers can go through two pairs in a performance, which adds up as they are priced from around £ 50 to over £ 100. Brian Syms, a dancer in the US, adds: “Size has been a problem. for me. I have begun to understand that the way a man on top should take care of his feet differs slightly from that of a woman. My weight always seems to be a pain factor and my shoes die very quickly from a mixture of weight and sweat. Unfortunately, there is no pointed men’s self-help book, so I had to piece together what the girls know and figure out how it applies to my 12-foot size. “

Brian Syms, dancer who dances en pointe
‘Some people don’t like the idea of ​​playing around with the genre’ … Brian Syms. Photography: Jeff Holcombe

Syms continues: “As a gay black man, it became important to me to be represented in ballet. I began to have another yearning, this time for the ballet stories, which I have come to love so much, to reflect the world we currently live in. This beautiful colorful world full of complex individuals. I wanted to see that on stage, and the place to start was with me. I have known for some time that I felt better represented as a person and an artist when I danced these female roles in the privacy of empty studios and my bedroom. “

Have you ever faced discrimination for being in tip? “There are a good number of people who are going to turn their noses at you, either because they don’t like the idea of ​​playing with the genre or because they just think you’re not strong enough to dance to the point. But people’s opinions are just that, and while they can sometimes create an uncomfortable environment around us, we must not allow them to affect our performance. “

In Oakland, California, the Ballet22 dance company was founded last year to “push the boundaries of what is possible in ballet by breaking normative gender stereotypes, specifically through the use of genderless pointe shoes.” When I asked the Royal Ballet if they were considering training men en pointe, a spokesperson responded that: “Most of the repertoire does not require male dancers to be en pointe.” They explained that “there are some roles that do require it” and “when that ballet is revived, the dancers are trained in pointe work for the role.”

It may take a while before the option becomes commonplace, but we are certainly moving in the right direction. Speaking about the future, Syms tells me: “I hope the pointy men’s movement forces us to take a look at representation … The world is so much more than gender roles these days, people are so colorful and diverse , it’s a shame not to see him in ballet. “


www.theguardian.com

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