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.
What's more daunting than getting into your dream college dance program? Figuring out how you'll cover the costs of tuition, room and board, incidental expenses and more. Here's the good news: The right scholarship(s) can bring your dream school well within reach.
Look Around, Look Around
Scholarship applications are due between the fall of senior year and graduation time, so familiarize yourself with funding opportunities during the spring of junior year. And there are a lot of opportunities out there, says Kate Walker, chair of dance at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, TX. "A lot of school guidance counselors now have software that automatically matches you with scholarships," she says.
Seek out scholarships on your own, too. According to Walker, "a lot of corporations are required to have some community engagement, including offering scholarships, so research corporations in your community." Your parents' employers might offer assistance too, says Doug Long, an academic and college counselor at Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, MI. "They might have scholarships you can apply for just because your parent works there."
Other sources of grant money you won't have to pay back (as you would a loan)? The YoungArts Foundation; competitions/conventions, like New York City Dance Alliance; and the university or dance department you're applying to. Even some scholarships aimed at athletes are open to dancers!
A winning scholarship application involves a fair amount of paperwork, especially if the organization requires you to show financial need. In addition, certain scholarships ask for the College Board's CSS/Financial Aid Profile, which gives the awarding organization a more complete picture of your family finances.
Other ingredients of a successful scholarship application include recommendation letters, a dance and/or academic resumé and an essay or statement of purpose. Treat these components just like college applications: Have multiple trusted adults proofread your materials, and ask for recommendation letters or transcripts long before deadlines.
A note for non-dance scholarships: Including objective measures of achievement can only help you. "List national recognitions, like YoungArts or other competitions," says Long. "That shows the scholarship committees that people at high levels have acknowledged you as an artist of quality." And don't forget who your audience is. "Especially in writing samples, make sure you paint a vivid picture for your reader," Walker says. "Don't assume they know about all the things—like barre every day—that we as dancers take for granted."
No award amount is too small to be worth your time and effort. As Walker says, "Don't pooh-pooh a couple hundred dollars in award money, because any scholarship is funding that you didn't have yesterday."
A version of this story appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "All Aboard the Scholar-ship."
Every ballet dancer knows the time, sweat, and occasional tears the art form demands. But many non-dancers are clueless about just how much work a ballet dancer puts into perfecting his or her dancing. So when the mainstream crowd recognizes our crazy work ethic, we'll accept the round of applause any way it comes—even if it comes via four men in tutus. Yep, we're talking about "The Try Guys Try Ballet" video.
Remember that fabulous old-school clip of dancers tapping in pointe shoes that Tabitha and Napoleon D'umo brought to our attention back in March? As we mentioned then, toe-tap dancing was actually super popular back in the 1920s and 30s—which means there are more videos where that one came from. And because #ToeTapTuesday has a nice ring to it, we thought we'd take this opportunity to introduce you to Dick and Edith Barstow, a toe-tapping brother and sister duo from that era who are nothing short of incredible:
Guess who's back? Back again? The Academy's back! Tell a friend.
After one day at The Academy, the All Stars have successfully taken the Top 100 down to 62. But their work is just getting started: Now they need to keep narrowing the field to a Top 10, ultimately deciding who each will partner with during the live shows.
We've said it before and we'll say it again: New York City Ballet principal Sara Mearns is some SERIOUS #goals. Her strength and power onstage borders on superhuman. But what's extra magical about Mearns is that she really puts in the fitness and cross-training work outside of the rehearsal studio. And she's overcome her fair share of injuries. Which is why she was the perfect source for Vogue's latest ballet fitness story.