I feel their eyes on me. Did I miss a step? I have too much makeup on, don’t I? Is my fly open? The bright stage lights shine on me, and beads of sweat form at my brow. As the tiny droplets plummet, so does my fear of the audiences gaze. There is nowhere I’d rather be than here. Proud of who I am. Proud of how hard I’ve worked. Proud to be a dancer.
I grew up in a family where participation in the fine arts was unprecedented. Dad wrestled since childhood, mom played basketball and ran two marathons, my older brother was the first person at Wheeling, IL, High School to receive 12 varsity letters, and my two sisters excelled in swimming and gymnastics.
At 7, I recognized that I was the odd duckling. I remember flimsily swinging a bat over a T-ball, then flailing around and bruising my behind. To toughen me up, my father convinced me to join wrestling. Though he realized it made me unhappy, he promised that once I entered high school, I could choose whether or not to continue.
After skipping the first wrestling practice my freshman year, I imagined my dad coming home in a rage, but he didn’t. It was OK that I chose not to wrestle anymore.
Getting the Bug
That year, I attended a performance featuring Orchesis, our school dance troupe. I sat in awe, and immediately wanted to be one of them.
When auditions came for the following year’s troupe, I was petrified. What would my friends think? Could this be the biggest mistake a guy could make in his high school career? Would I be deemed the school’s ballerina boy? Nevertheless, I showed up at tryouts and made the troupe.
The following August, I removed my black and blue sneakers, put on a new pair of socks, and walked into the room of my first dance class. I timidly moved to the back as our director projected first position over the pulsating music. Only a handful of boys stood amidst a sea of girls. I felt a little relieved after noticing that the other guys seemed apprehensive, too.
As we pointed our toes and lifted our arms, we glided through one movement to the next, graceful and relaxed. The groans of sweat-soaked boys preparing for another grueling wrestling practice lingered in the back of my mind, and I shuddered. But as I stretched, I regained my concentration. The loud music vibrating through the room had replaced the bludgeoning voice of my wrestling coach. That day, I felt more invigorated than ever before.
It’s been three years since I first stepped into that room, and I’ve learned and experienced more than I ever anticipated. For Orchesis main show, I’ve choreographed three pieces. I’ve also worked with numerous renowned choreographers, I’ve worked at Dance for Life in Chicago and performed at Dance Chicago and recently at the AAPHERD convention.
I realize how fortunate I am to have been exposed to a part of our culture I’d never known before. The most significant change I’ve experienced, however, has occurred within. Dance has influenced my growth as a human being. My perception of how I function”physically, emotionally and mentally”increases everyday. My family has also learned to support my passion. My biggest surprise, though, was the reaction I received from guys who would be considered typical jocks. I’m no longer laughed at, and many of them are my friends. At first, I was skeptical about inviting them to performances. I decided I would though, and after the first show they attended, I went out into the foyer and panicked at the thought of what they’d say to me. I wondered if they’d see me differently now, and if they would notice that I still had some eyeliner on. I went right back to the dressing room. A few minutes later, someone knocked, and I opened the door. There stood four of my friends, launching into how impressed they were with my performance.
Dealing with It
I’ve been called a “flaming ballerina,” and it hurts. However, when I remind myself of the support system I have, I find it much easier to shrug off derogatory remarks.
I believe that today’s dance and music artists are cultivating more respect for male dancers than ever before. Singers, dancers and choreographers such as Usher and Wade Robson are respected by both girls and guys for their abilities to make dancing smooth and sexy, while maintaining their masculinity. There are still many people who think all male dancers are gay, but as our culture continues to develop, an appreciation for dance, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, will continue to grow, too.
What makes me proudest to be a male dancer is the chance that I could enlighten the mind of even one audience member.