What it's Really Like for Males in your Studio
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.
Harper Watters is a ballet dancer for today's generation. A social media maestro and a charismatic performer, the Houston Ballet soloist is equally at home in front of the camera hosting his hit YouTube series, "The Pre Show"; interacting with fans on his crazy-popular Instagram account; or showing off his beautiful classical technique onstage. It's a multifaceted identity that's proven to be invaluable to his career—and it's taking him to places he never even dreamed of.
Getting corrections from our dance instructors is how we grow, and as students, it's important that we do our best to apply every correction right away. But sometimes—whether it's because we're in physical pain, or have a lot on our minds, or are just not paying attention—those corrections don't sink in. And from a teacher's standpoint, giving the same corrections time and time again gets old very fast. Here are 10 important corrections dance teachers are tired of giving. Take them to heart!
Summer intensive auditions can be nerve-racking. A panel of directors is watching your every move, and you're not even sure if you can be seen among the hundreds of other dancers in the room. We asked five summer intensive directors for their input on how dancers can make a positive impression—and even be remembered next year.
When we think of a dancer who's broken barriers, American Ballet Theatre principal Misty Copeland tends to be the name that comes to mind. And though Copeland has been a crucial advocate for equality in the world of ballet, Raven Wilkinson—a mentor of Copeland's—is considered one of the original pioneers of the movement.
In 1955, Wilkinson became the first African American to dance with the renowned Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Her fortitude in the face of bigotry and hate cemented her legacy. Now, with the release of the new children's book Trailblazer: The Story of Ballerina Raven Wilkinson, a new generation of dancers will be inspired by her tale of overcoming obstacles to achieve a dream.
The book details Wilkinson's life, from her experience as a young dancer training in Harlem, to her run-ins with the Ku Klux Klan while on tour with Ballet Russe, to her later ballet career in Europe. "There were times where my heart really hurt because of the situations I had to deal with," she says. "But I always had faith that I was made to be a dancer and that I was gonna dance."
Dance Spirit spoke with Wilkinson to discuss the new book and get her take on racial equality within the ballet world.
Postmodern pioneer Trisha Brown redefined how dance is seen and felt. A founding member of Judson Dance Theater, Brown frequently collaborated with other experimental artists like Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Twyla Tharp, and Steve Paxton.
She embraced pedestrian movement, pairing everyday gesture with rhythm and fluidity. "It's liquid," says Wendy Perron, who danced with Brown in the '60s and '70s. "Like a river with many tributaries, water coming out of a faucet, or being on a raft and seeing the water move away in different directions." Brown also pushed beyond stages with choreography in fields, museums—even on the sides of buildings.
There's a common misconception that a dancer's body has to be thin. But the truth is that talent knows no body type, and the number on the scale never determines an artist's capabilities. Here are some extraordinary dancers fighting the stereotype of what a dancer "should" look like.
We always love a good halftime performance. And we LIVE for halftime performances involving talented kids. (Fingers and toes crossed that Justin Timberlake follows Missy Elliott's lead and invites some fabulous littles to share his Super Bowl stage.)
So obviously, our hearts completely melted for 5-year-old Tavaris Jones. Tavaris may have just started kindergarten, but during Monday night's game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, the Detroit native danced with the panache of a veteran pro at halftime.