Dancing around masculinity An interview-based study on how male ballet dancers navigate and negotiate masculinity. Lidewij Klap, BSc Student no. 11239034

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Master thesis

Dancing around masculinity

An interview-based study on how male ballet dancers navigate and negotiate masculinity.

Lidewij Klap, BSc Student no. 11239034

University of Amsterdam

Graduate School of Social Sciences Department of Sociology


Dr. Kristina Kolbe

Second Reader:

Dr. Ladan Rahbari Date: 26 July, 2021

Word count, ex. bibliography: 20.811



Cover image by Vibrantes, 2018

Source: https://www.deviantart.com/vibrantes/art/Pose-Studies-28-ballerins-2-758037681 Used with personal permission of artist




First, I want to give thanks to my respondents for opening up time in their busy schedules to do interviews with me. Without your openness and honesty about your lives I would not have been able to bring this thesis project to a successful end result;

To my classmates, Dayenne, Mira, Ghislaine, Karina, Emma, Juliette, and Karlijn, for being great company in the boat that was writing a thesis in the storm that was a global pandemic.

We might not have met in person much, but during weekly online meetings and mutual conversations I really felt like we were in this together;

To my supervisor, Kristina, for the support and good advice you gave me about the things I could do when I wasn’t sure if I could do this at all;

To my therapist, Charline, for helping me find the peace and confidence I needed when I felt like everything I did sucked;

To my boyfriend, Staf, and my Mom and Dad, for supporting me in the data processing stage of this project, for being there for me when I felt down, for wielding the big stick and making me work when I didn’t feel like it, and hanging out with me while I worked at your places for a change of scenery;

Thank you.




Inspired by the recent increase in attention paid to activism aimed at the normalization of boys and men in ballet and the efforts done by actors in the ballet world to be more socially

responsible, this master’s thesis asks the question how male ballet dancers navigate and negotiate their masculine and male identities in a context that often maintains stereotyped ideas about their masculinity and sexuality. To find an answer to that question, this thesis makes use of eleven qualitative interviews with professional and amateur male ballet dancers in The Netherlands. It finds that homosexual male dancers are more aware that they are stigmatized for not being masculine enough than their heterosexual peers, and that they therefor feel a stronger need to compensate for their perceived ‘failing’ masculinity. It finds that artistic staff in the ballet world delineates what constitutes masculinity in the ballet world, and use genre to teach this interpretation to their dancers. It finds that the same artistic staff seems to favor homosexual male dancers, but argues against claims of heterophobia in the ballet world, asserting that these claims look over the systemic marginalization homosexual men experience. Lastly, it finds that direct interaction with children is a viable alternative approach to the large-scale activism that has been happening on social and mass media to address stereotyping of gender and sexuality.



Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ... 2

Abstract ... 3

Introduction ... 5

Ballet’s complicated relationship with men ... 6

Research question ... 7

Relevance ... 8

Literary & Theoretical Framework ... 9

Gender & queer studies ... 9

Normalizing & Stigma-managing Behaviors ... 10

Pedagogy ... 14

Representation work ... 15

Intersectionality and racism ... 16

Methods ... 18

Recruiting respondents ... 18

Interviewing ... 20

Managing and analyzing the interviews ... 22

Accountability, Ethics and Positionality ... 23

Data ... 25

Analysis & discussion ... 27

Stigma-managing strategies ... 27

Pedagogy, hierarchy and genre as a boundary-drawing practice ... 34

Claims of heterophobia and the ‘Gay Mafia’ ... 40

Ballet boys, activism and social change ... 43

Conclusion ... 50

Discussion of limitations ... 51

Recommendations for future research ... 52

Bibliography ... 54




On 21 September 2019, NBC news publishes an opinion piece titled ‘Homophobia, misogyny still problematic in world of dance, performers say’, arguing that male dancers struggle with stigmatization both on stage and off. (Scher, 2019) The article attributes this to homophobia and misogyny that exist not only outside the world of dance, but that are also internalized in the system of the ballet itself. In the article, a male professional ballet dancer, the parent of a boy amateur dancer, and a ballet company director share their experiences with being bullied, dealing with expectations of their manliness, and feeling limited by the genre of ballet in how they are able to express themselves.

The article was written as a part of a wider public outrage in response to comments made on American morning television on the 25th of august 2019, Fitzpatrick summarizes on

Broadway news website Playbill (Fitzpatrick, 2019). In protest of a TV anchor making homophobic jokes about boys who do ballet, four prominent male dancers organized an open ballet class for male dancers of all ages to join in. This ballet class marked the start of the Boys Dance Too-campaign, which aims to normalize boys who dance and make dance more accessible to boys. The class inspired the article described above, as well as the online branch of the campaign called ‘#BoysDanceToo’, which became popular on social media platforms Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. The show later invited the organizing dancers for an on-air conversation and an apology from the anchor.

The uproar that emerged around the stigmatization of men who do ballet on public television highlights an important issue not only in the ballet sector but in society more broadly, namely that of homophobia and misogyny, in this case specifically relating to masculinity. It indicates that society is increasingly critical of what it means to be a man and what it means to be masculine, and society’s conception of masculinity is changing slowly. Analyzing the discourse around the question if it is masculine to dance can give an indication of how society’s conception of masculinity is changing.

In this context of a changing society, the ballet community has over the recent years become more and more conscious of its own heterosexist, racist and classist tendencies. Individual dancers are organizing and speaking out against many dimensions of inequality within the ballet world, as well as outside. The organization Dancers Amplified for example is speaking out against anti-black racism in ballet, and also addresses its intersections with homophobia.

(2021) Dance companies are organizing conferences and symposia discussing the position and


6 social responsibility of the ballet as a cultural institution in society. (ANP, 2017) However, it still remains to be seen if the efforts put towards change will have any effect on the

fundamental makeup of the ballet world. As the ballet community is becoming increasingly self-critical, aiming towards greater diversity and less discrimination of minorities, it is necessary to critically analyze renewed efforts to increase the popularity and accessibility of ballet to boys, and if those are reflected in boys’ experiences of what it means to be a man in the ballet world.

Ballet’s complicated relationship with men

Originating in the courts of Italian city-states and under French king Louis XIV, the ballet has historically been a space for transgressive masculinities. There are accounts from the 17th century about story ballets being accused of being effeminate and being likely to “corrupteth and depraveth the minde” (Homans, 2010, p. 51). The popularity of men in ballet plummeted as ballet devolved into a kind of varieté or peep show in the 18th century, with only women performing. This made the ballet so strongly associated with women that, by the first half of the 19th century, men who did ballet were seen as effeminate and disgraceful and were largely shunned from the stages. (Ibid., p. 131)

It took until the re-elevation of ballet by Russian choreographers and teachers Marius Petipa, Lev Ivanov and Agrippina Vaganova around the turn of the 20th century for men to make their proper return to the ballet stage. The choreography and roles for men they created were

informed by the ideal of masculinity that existed in society at the time. However, they were created within the structures and traditions of the existing cultural practice of ballet. This meant that the association of ballet with femininity stemming from the 17th and 18th century was reinforced, although being reinterpreted by allowing men to join. It is for the same reason that the association persists to this day: 300-year-old cultural ideas are still being reinforced and reinterpreted. An excellent example of this comes from quotes ascribed to the

neoclassical choreographer George Balanchine: “Ballet is a woman” (Playbill, 2004) and “In my ballets, the woman is first.” (ForbesQuotes) It is for this reason that we continue to see male ballet dancers as being slightly effeminate.

Interestingly, there is a strong association between being seen as feminine and being seen as homosexual. Kimmel (1994) explains that in contemporary western society, homosexuality is equated with effeminacy. This means that because ballet is associated with women and femininity, anyone who does ballet is feminine. Because that men who do ballet are seen as



feminine, and femininity is homosexuality, the assumption is created that all men who do ballet must be gay. Conversely, because we equate homosexuality with femininity and assume all male ballet dancers are gay, we bring into question the male identity and masculinity of these men who do ballet.

Considering this complicated relationship ballet has had with men and masculinity, the change regarding men in ballet that is currently going on is especially interesting. It is able to give insight into different discourses and narratives that exist about masculinity, and how these have been shifting over time. Moreover, it is able to give us a new perspective on how people can negotiate gender identity; there is not a lot of research that centers men in ballet in this question.

Research question

Male ballet dancers are left in a precarious position in which they have to convince others of the validity of their male identity, which might be reconstructed differently from those outside the ballet world, and the legitimacy of their involvement in an art form that is assumed to not be for them. This then is the topic I want to investigate in this research project. My research question therefore is the following:

How do male ballet dancers navigate and negotiate masculinity?

In answering this main question, I would like to focus on three specific subquestions. My first subquestion is the following: how do male ballet dancers negotiate stereotyped ideas around masculinity and homosexuality? I will investigate how being involved in a stereotypically feminine cultural practice like ballet influences male ballet dancers’ experience and

interpretation of masculinity, and how they convince others of their male identity. I will also investigate how the same issue influences the dancers’ interpretation of sexuality, and if the dancers own sexual identity plays a role in this experience.

The second subquestion I will try to answer is how the genre of ballet and how it is taught play a role in the dancers’ interpretation of masculinity and sexuality. In media, dancers indicate feeling limited by the genre of ballet in their artistic and gender expression. (Scher, 2019) I will investigate how the boundaries of ballet and the way it is taught influences how dancers, as well as the audience watching them, are able to interpret masculinity.

My last subquestion picks up on the recent activism that has surrounded men in ballet, and asks: how can activism aimed at normalizing men in ballet play a role in changing male


8 dancers’ experiences of masculinity and sexuality? I will investigate how male dancers relate to the current activism, and if it influences how they experience their masculinity and

sexuality. By doing this I will also be able to see if the current activism manages to make fundamental changes to the discourses surrounding masculinity in and about the performing arts.


The performing arts are a reflection of society as well as an active site where social issues are shaped and negotiated. The arts as a medium play a role in the creation of representation of different. The field of performance arts production exists at the nexus of society and its artistic reflection; through representations, but also through pedagogies, management and curational choices, the production of arts has a great influence on society. Looking at how dancers navigate masculinity will generate interesting insights into how our society

conceptualizes, defines and represents genders and sexualities that investigation outside of the arts might not be able to give.

Dance scholars Shay & Fisher argue that “Men in Modern Dance might be less stigmatized – or perhaps not at all if they do tap, jazz, or hip hop – but for many prejudicial parties, a male dancer is a male dancer, is a sissie no matter what the genre” (Fisher & Shay, 2009, p. 6) and I vehemently agree. I believe that addressing the issues surrounding men in ballet will help create the tools to address the same issues in other genres of dance, the performing arts and society at large.

Moreover, recently there has been a lot of change happening in and around the ballet world.

The ballet community has over the recent years become more and more conscious of its heterosexist, racist and classist tendencies. As the ballet community is becoming increasingly self-critical, aiming towards greater diversity and less discrimination of minorities, it is necessary to critically analyze renewed efforts to increase the popularity and accessibility of ballet to boys to prevent new exclusionary practices based in homophobia. This will fit with other scholarship on how gendered (and possibly sexual) inequalities are negotiated and perpetuated in the practices of cultural production.



Literary & Theoretical Framework

In this chapter, I will discuss literature that is relevant to this research project, and how it will help guide me in my research project. I will mostly be drawing from theory in the fields of gender, feminist and queer studies, as well as from cultural and dance studies. I will also discuss some theory stemming from racial and ethnic studies. Moreover, I will discuss

empiric literature that applies these theories to the ballet world specifically. Although empiric literature analyzing the experience of men and their experiences has only emerged in the last two decades and therefore is not very extensive, the research that does exist has been a great inspiration to this research project.

Gender & queer studies

In existing scholarship on how dancers in the Netherlands navigate gender (Aalten, 1997;

1997; 2004) the work of Judith Butler has been proven useful to critically analyze the negotiation of gender among dancers. Butler argues that gender is a stylization of the body according to a cultural directive, a performance of a re-interpretation of a cultural ideal, of a discourse, that has no origin. This is what Butler calls the performativity of gender. Most important to understand is the idea that gender performativity is citational and iterative, meaning that the cultural ideal – of in this case, ideals around masculinity – is cited and re- interpreted every time someone is relating to maleness and masculinity. (Butler, 1989/2011;


This process of citation does not only happen in processes of identification. Internalized interpretations of discursive ideals are referred to in everything someone does, as well as in the creation of social institutions. The rules of an institution like ballet will thereforee reflect the discourses on masculinity and femininity that were present at the time those rules were made in. Because the origins of ballet lie in the 15th- and 16th-century courts of Italy and were first standardized in 17th-century France under instructions of King XIV, the upper-class norms are still present because of this process of re-interpretation. Moreover, because ballet gained popularity as an artform around the turn of the 20th century and the productions from that time are still performed today, Victorian ideals of masculinity and femininity are at the heart of ballet as we understand it today.

An example of using Butlerian theory on the negotiation of gender identities in the ballet world is the work of Dutch scholar Anna Aalten. Aalten has used the concept of

performativity within the context of ballet to research the construction of femininity in ballet


10 (1997a; 1997b). Based on the work of Butler she argues that instead of being a distillation of culture (Polhemus, 1993, cited in Aalten, 1997b), dance is a re-interpretation of culture. The ideal of femininity that is cited over and over, she argues, can be seen in the role of Giselle: an eternal virgin peasant girl who turns into a spirit, a kind of disembodied femininity. (1997b, p.

211) She gives an example of a Dutch dancer who, in striving towards this light and disembodied femininity, died from the consequences of malnourishment and addiction.

Aalten argues that on stage and in rehearsal, women embody a feminine ideal that stems from the 1900’s. Because ballet is a very involved career that demands a lot of time and

commitment from a dancer, this 20th century ideal gets internalized in the dancer’s 21st century concept of femininity. (1997) The same way men in ballet have to walk a line between stigmas of effeminate homosexuality and expectations society has of men, Aalten argues women have to balance the femininity expected of them with the strength necessary to be a ballet dancer. She argues that it is the performativity of (ballet) femininity that allowed this dancer to see her body as a malleable ‘corporeal locus of cultural meanings’. (1997a, p.


I hope to use the work of Butler similarly to how Aalten has, to identify the narratives and ideals of masculinity that male ballet dancers cite. Using Butlerian theory as a starting point can also prove useful in identifying who does and who does not get included in narratives within and outside the world of ballet. I hope that the theories of Butler will help me identify the different narratives ballet dancers use to navigate the varying demands coming from within and outside the ballet world that are a male ballet dancers have to navigate. Using the work of Butler will help me identify the differences in discourses on masculinity, see how the discourses are institutionalized in ballet, and how the dancers cope with these institutionalized meanings. I also take from Butler my definition of the concept of gender, as citational,

iterative and (re)makeable through behavior. Because gender is remakeable and can be interpreted differently by everyone, I will in this research project let my respondents identify themselves, so that I will not interpret their behavior in a way they did not intend. The same goes for sexuality: to keep myself from interpreting behavior as a certain sexual identity, I will let my respondents identify themselves. If they do not self-identify, I will refrain from labeling as any sexual identity.

Normalizing & Stigma-managing Behaviors

As I conceptualize gender as (re)makeable through behavior, I would like to introduce here some behaviors that male ballet dancers and people around them try to normalize and/or



justify their involvement in a traditionally feminine artform to those outside the ballet world.

Different authors assign the ways dancers do this a different term: Bassetti (2013) calls them normalizing processes, Haltom & Worthen (2014) call them stigma-management techniques, and Polasek & Roper (2011) sometimes call them coping strategies. Regardless of what they are called, the authors all mention some of five or six general types of these

processes/strategies. The first one is the gendered regime of artistic-professional excellence.

This regime is described by Polasek & Roper (Ibid.), Skjørshammer (2011) and Bassetti (2013) as being a tendency for male dancers to be praised and awarded for their artistic efforts more than their female counterparts, being promoted to higher level classes or higher layers of company hierarchies sooner, and being offered more opportunities to choreograph or take up directorial positions. (Polasek & Roper, 2011; Skjørshammer, 2011; Bassetti, 2013)

A second strategy is the creation of a distinctive ‘male’ kind of ballet in opposition to the stereotypical feminine image of ballet. This can be imagined as a strict split between male and female ballet, but, as described by Halton & Worthen in 2014, is more of a stylistic continuum of movement. On the one hand there is the style of ballet associated with female dancers that generally strives to look light, airy, sometimes fragile, and effortless; on the other hand is the style of ballet associated with male dancers, generally aiming to look regal and strong, with the same effortlessness as their female counterparts but incorporating larger and more

complex jumps and turns. The ‘coolness’ factor that Clegg et al. discuss greatly overlaps with this normalizing strategy: giving the boys something special that only boys do in ballet gives them a feeling of belonging. (Clegg, et al., 2016)

Thirdly, which is a less common strategy, is the emphasizing of the elite position of ballet in society. In this case, class and elitism very obviously intersects with gender and masculinity.

Although the elitist connotations of ballet are decreasing, the typical audience of a ballet performance consisting of white upper middle-class and upper-class people still gives ballet as an artform a certain status. According to Halton & Worthen (2014) male dancers can justify ballet as an acceptable activity for men because they can derive status and self-worth as a man from ballet’s position and society, despite the stigmatization of their stereotypical homosexuality. The increase in class and status then makes up for the decrease in social standing due to perceived homosexuality, as it were.

Fourth is what Fisher (2007) calls ‘making it macho’, or masculinization, which goes hand in hand with the aforementioned stylistic continuum. With Making it Macho, the traditionally masculine aspects of ballet are emphasized, and the traditionally feminine aspects are


12 downplayed to justify men’s involvement in what is still a stereotypically feminine artform.

Most commonly Making Macho is done through Sportivisation. This is described by Bassetti (2013) to be the emphasizing of the physical demands of dance and ballet in particular and presenting ballet as an athletic-sportive activity over an artistic one. The more stylistic continuum works as a catalyst here, because the movement language of male ballet dancers tends to be seen as more physically demanding. Because sports are generally more acceptable activities for men than arts, the sportivisation of ballet helps with the masculinization of ballet.

Another way to ‘Make Macho’ is the emphasizing of the heterosexual privilege of male ballet dancers, the fifth strategy. This emphasis can take many forms but is mostly described as the privilege and access heterosexual men have in a field that is seemingly dominated by women.

To give an example, ballet is often described to be an acceptable activity for men because they get to be around girls all the time. Male dancers often fulfill a traditionally masculine role in ballet, initiating movements and being the grounded, supporting partner. Ballet is justified as an acceptable activity for men because men are positioned opposite the woman, and not alongside them. Again, the stylistic continuum plays a big role in this way of masculinizing ballet.

These stigma-managing behaviors can be seen as a part of a bigger, overarching concept, namely Compensatory Hypermasculinity. I base my idea of Compensatory Hypermasculinity on the masculine overcompensation thesis, which is described by Willer et al. as arguing that

“men react to masculine insecurity by enacting extreme demonstrations of their masculinity”.

(2013, p. 981) Willer et al. refer to the work of Michael Kimmel (1994; 1996, cited in Willer et al., 2013), who explains that men develop this sensitivity to masculinity threats because there is a lot of pressure to maintain their masculine identity. However, it is impossible to reach ‘pure masculinity’, as gender identities are iterative and the ideal of masculinity gets reinterpreted when people identify as men. According to Kimmel this means that gender identities, and specifically hegemonic male identities, are relative and hierarchical, and some interpretations of masculinity are more desirable than others. Edward (2010; 2014) argues that this is also the root of ‘choreophobia’, the aversion to dance, that seems to be inherent to young men and the people who raise them, and their fear of dropping in the hierarchy of masculinity keeps them from taking a ballet class out.

Kimmel (1994) also explains that, in western contemporary society, the concepts of sex, gender and sexuality are strongly intertwined. Masculinity has a strong connection to being



sexually attracted to women, and being attracted to men is equated to femininity. Because of this, Kimmel explains, male homosexuals are seen as feminine or effeminate, creating the idea of homosexuality-as-effeminacy. Moreover, he explains that the closer one comes to the ideal of masculinity, the more homophobia is required to maintain this masculine identity. For this research project this means that male dancers, regardless of their sexual identity, have to resort to compensatory hypermasculinity to justify their involvement in a typically feminine behavior and prove that they deserve to maintain their male and masculine identities within hierarchical system of masculinity.

Doug Risner (2002a; 2002b; 2007), Jennifer Fisher (2007) and Candice Pike (2011) discuss the consequences of these normalizing and stigma-managing behaviors, focusing mainly on the discursive exclusion and harm they can do. One argument these articles share is most effectively put into words by Fisher (2007), who explains that this way of negotiating masculinity tends to replace the one-sided stereotype of the effeminate homosexual male dancers with the one-sided stereotype of the macho caveman male dancer. Risner (2002a) and Pike (2011) both argue that the de-emphasizing of homosexuality in the ballet world can, intentionally or not, conceal the presence of homosexual men in the ballet world.

In his autoethnography, Risner (2002b) uncovers that the concealment of homosexual men in dance education is based in Compulsory Heterosexuality. Compulsory Heterosexuality, a term coined by Adrienne Rich (1980), is different from Heteronormativity in the sense that, where Heteronormativity is the idea that heterosexuality is standard or preferred, Compulsory Heterosexuality is the idea that heterosexuality is required to exist in a certain situation.

Compulsory heterosexuality therefore also requires one ‘ideal’ interpretation of masculinity.

Because gay men, as described earlier by Kimmel, diverge from ‘ideal masculinity’ by being attracted to men they do not fall into this interpretation. This leaves them vulnerable to

gendered criticism in their training and the professional world, as their (sometimes presumed) homosexuality lowers them within the hierarchy of masculine identities.

Compulsory heterosexuality can lead to the assumption that no-one is homosexual. Because of this, there a lack of information about what it means to be a homosexual dancer and their experiences in the ballet world. Risner (Ibid.) highlights an example where this lack of

information left him vulnerable to sexual violence from his peers as well as from his teachers.

This, in combination with male ballet dancers’ vulnerability to gendered criticism, has major consequences for homosexual dancers’ mental health. It is because of this that Risner argues that efforts to normalize boys and men in ballet, while aiming to make ballet a safer space,


14 have a counterproductive effect when they depend solely on the five normalization behaviors described above.


Risner traces the social stigma associated with male ballet dancers back to the way ballet is taught, to its pedagogy. He argues that because they are based in heteronormative ideals, the pedagogies and normalizing behaviors described above reproduce stereotypes about

homosexuality and homophobic attitudes in the ballet world. Someone who also writes about the pedagogy in the cultural field is Anna Bull. Similarly to how Butler and Aalten argue that (gender) identity is makeable, Bull (2019) argues that within the world of performing arts, the self is makeable and identities like ‘artist’, ‘musician’, ‘dancer’ are not given but achieved.

Because of this, she argues, cultural practices become a resource for the creation of self and identity-formation. The way cultural practices like classical music are taught, the pedagogy of cultural practices, depends on this idea of makeability.

She takes the example of classical music, where there is a strong focus on the relationship between student and mentor. The mentor teaches the student their ideal of what it means to be a musician and guides them towards achieving this ideal, which means that to identify as a musician is to become a representation of the ideal musician according to the teacher. I argue that in ballet the teacher-student relationship is similarly important1. This means that to gain the identity of a ‘professional male ballet dancer’ means to become proficient in representing the ideal of the male ballet dancer as taught by the teacher.

Within this creation of self-identity, Bull argues that pedagogy in art forms like classical music uses the concept of genre as a boundary-drawing practice. (Ibid., p.40) When identities are achieved by means of proficiency, the internalization of genre-specific rules is crucial to the formation of this identity. Ways of dancing ballet that divert from this way of teaching and training ballet are taught to be ‘wrong’ or ‘not ballet’, the latter one of which is an interesting accusation. It is using genre to create boundaries of gender: this is how real men in ballet behave, doing it differently is doing both manhood and ballet wrong.

1 I argue why the pedagogical relationship between teacher and student in ballet is comparable to that in classical based on my data. I set out exactly why this is the case in the chapter ‘Analysis & discussion’, subchapter

‘Pedagogy, hierarchy and genre as a boundary-drawing practice’.



Representation work

Although I will focus mainly on the ‘backstage’ world of ballet, meaning behavior in and between rehearsals and training, to leave the performance these behaviors are aimed to achieve out of my research would be ignorant. After all, in rehearsals, dancers aim towards a certain performance on the stage. To include the performance of ballet in my research, I will draw on the work of Stuart Hall. Hall writes about representations in media and how these representations are not reflective of meanings, but constitutive to meaning making. The people that create these media then have enormous power over the dominant meaning that is broadcasted through them. Hall also explains that although the dominant representational regime can be powerful, not everybody accepts this representation as the truth. By doing this, cultural producers can unsettle and challenge existing representations, after which the

audience renegotiates or rejects this meaning. (Hall, 1997)

If we see the art form ballet as a medium that gives meaning to the idea of masculinity, it is the production teams, coaches and teachers that have the most power over what productions get to be on the stage, and what they have to look like. It is these people then who get to decide which meaning to assign to masculinity. The question then becomes who the audience is, and how they decide to interpret this representation. The obvious audience here is of course the audience in the auditorium coming to visit the ballet. A less conspicuous ‘audience’ then are the dancers, who have to interpret the choreography to be able to execute it and therefore get to renegotiate the meaning originally intended by the choreographer.

Someone who works on Hall’s conception of representations is Vida Midgelow, who writes on how masculinity has historically been represented in ballet, and how new representations unsettle narratives about what makes a ballet man. She analyzes a handful of ballets that have changed the image of men in ballet to find out what it is about these ballets that challenges traditional masculinity. She argues that unsettling can be done in different ways with different degrees of success, citing different choreographies that rework classics as examples. She goes on to describe that ballet can unsettle masculinity by having dancers cross-dress2, which tends to be common in classical pieces and is not very effective in challenging representations of masculinity. Gender-bending however, like in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, can be very effective. She explains that gender-bending the characters of a classical piece often requires

2 Cross-dressing is such a common occurrence in theatre it has a name: A travesti role is a female character that is played, sung and/or danced by a man in women’s clothing. Its counterpart is the Hosenrolle or breeches role, where a male character is played by a woman.


16 the story surrounding the (now male) character to change, which in turn changes the way men are represented. Gender-bending characters also allows for more freedom in the movement language of male ballet dancers, allowing them to do moves that are traditionally reserved for female or feminine characters. (Midgelow, 2007)

Like Midgelow, I hope to use the work of Hall to find out who it is that gets to create the dominant representations of masculinity in the ballet world. Understanding the origins of the representations will help me understand how they are reproduced and who gets to do the reproducing. Moreover, the work of Hall will help me find out, who the audiences of the ballet are, and how the representations effect the audiences; it will help me find the people who reinterpret or reject the representations, and why and how they do so.

Intersectionality and racism

Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term Intersectionality in 1989, to criticize the idea that different dimensions of inequality operate independently from each other. Building on the work of other black feminists like Sojourner Truth, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, and Angela Davis in the 19th and 20th centuries, she argues that the marginalization black women experience is not just the sum of their marginalization as women and their marginalization as black people, but that these two dimensions influence and change how either functions, creating a kind of marginalization that is unique to black women. (Crenshaw, 1989) The concept of intersectionality was further broadened by Patricia Hill Collins, who included more dimensions of inequality and applied the idea to issues beyond racism and sexism. Hill

Collins for example argues that the dimensions of class, gender, sexuality, religion, caste, marital status, disability, and physical appearance are also part of what she calls the

interlocking matrix of oppression. Moreover, Hill Collins argues that these social identities can be both marginalizing and empowering. (Hill Collins, 2000)

One of the more obvious social identities that is marginalizing within the ballet world is race.

Tracey Owens Patton writes about bodies that break with the traditional idea of a ballet body, focusing on the racialized ballet body. In an autoethnographical article, Patton (2011)

describes how her blackness was policed through the weaponizing of body shape, and uniformity of aesthetic. She relates that she was disciplined for having a larger bottom than her white classmates and missed out on featured roles because of this. Here, body shape intersects with race, and made for a way for the staff of her school to discriminate based on race. She also reports being told that her hair texture and skin tone made her stand out too



much from the other dancers to be cast in the corps de ballet. In this case, ballet’s standard for the corps to look homogenous was weaponized against her.

In this research project I attempt to take intersectionalities in account. I then need to consider that the way male ballet dancers navigate and negotiate their male identity is likely influenced by other social identities, like their sexuality and their race. Lester Tomé for example

discusses the case of Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta, the first Black male dancer to reach the rank of Principal Dancer at the Royal Ballet in London. Tomé explains that dancers like Acosta are “both valued and devalued for their race and nationality” (2019, p. 298) and are indicative of a kind of performative inclusion that does not actually address the systemic issues black dancers. On top of that, Tomé explains that non-white dancers are sexualized and included for erotic pleasure, as a form of fetishized diversity. (Ibid.)




At the beginning of this research project, I had the intention to approach recruiting and data collection as I usually would have, as if the novel Coronavirus (Covid-19) was not an issue.

However, Covid-19-related measures proved to be a significant influence in my research process. In this chapter, I will describe the process of recruiting respondents, the methods used while interviewing, the processing of the data, and how the Coronavirus played a role in these topics.

Recruiting respondents

For this research project, I initially aimed to interview solely professional dancers of the Dutch National Ballet. This had multiple reasons. Firstly, selecting dancers from the Dutch National Ballet is a convenience sample. The Dutch National Ballet is located in Amsterdam and is the only typically classical ballet company in the Netherlands. As I myself live in Amsterdam as well, The Dutch National Ballet is simply the ballet company nearest to me.

Secondly, I selected these professional dancers because they are very involved in the broader ballet community, and thereforee would be able to give their accounts of their experience as men in ballet in a way that is both broad and detailed.

Thirdly, the Dutch National Ballet has recently been at the forefront of discussions

surrounding heritage, diversity and social responsibility in ballet. The Dutch National Ballet has been organizing working conferences on these topics since 2017, discussing for example how to treat the tradition and heritage of ballet in a changing society. (ANP, 2017) A

significant number of dancers from the company are also personally involved in activism around diversity in ballet. They do this individually, as well as in organizations like Dancers Amplified. (2021) Moreover, because the company consists of between 75% and 80% non- Dutch dancers. (Het Nationale Ballet, 2017) For all these reasons, the dancers will likely be sensitive to the intersections of nationality, ethnicity and other dimensions that might be at play with gender and sexuality.

To reach out to these professional dancers I wanted to post a call for respondents on the intranet of the company. From the first few respondents I recruited there, I would then be able to perform a Snowball sampling strategy. (Bryman, 2016, p. 415) To be able to place a

message on the company intranet I reached out to the press coordinator for the company, as they are responsible for all communications external to the company. I attempted this multiple times over e-mail as well as over telephone. However, because the company was not



performing at that moment due to Covid-19, the press manager presumably was not as active as they usually would have been. After a period of non-response of about a month, I therefore decided to shift recruiting methods to a more direct approach.

After re-evaluating my recruiting methods, I decided to try to reach out to the dancers

directly. As most of the dancers have public accounts on the social media platform Instagram, I decided to reach out to them there. Based off the website of the company, I sent Direct Messages to about half of the male dancers working at Dutch National Ballet at that moment, namely the ones I was able to find on Instagram, with the intention of performing a snowball sample after that first ‘round’. To be able to see if the rank a dancer holds within the company has any influence on the data, I tried to reach out to dancers from all the ranks within the company. As the information on which dancers hold what rank is freely available on the company website (Het Nationale Ballet, 2021), this did not complicate the recruiting process.

Of the fourteen dancers I attempted to contact in this first round, three dancers responded within two or three days. Two more dancers responded after two weeks, and another dancer another two weeks later. The delayed response can be blamed on timing: my messages were sent out during the dancers’ spring break, and a busy rehearsal period directly after. This means that in the first round, while first seeming to halt at 86,7%, non-response ended up being 60%. At the end of every interview, I asked all of these respondents if they would recommend any further colleagues to add to the snowball sample. Of the four new

respondents suggested for the second round two responded, making for a non-response of 50% and seven respondents.

Because the snowball sampling approach had not proven effective enough to recruit sufficient respondents, I decided to start recruiting adult male ballet dancers of any level, professional or not. Although these respondents might not have the same qualities on which I selected the professional dancers, it does allow me to gather accounts of the ‘broader’ ballet world,

meaning amateur and pre-professional ballet, instead of just the professional side of ballet. As the literature review shows, the amateur, pre-professional and professional sides of ballet are very intertwined and including non-professional dancers will give insight in those sides of ballet, as well as nuance the accounts given by the professional dancers.

As I personally do not know or have the contact information of any adult male dancers, I sent out an open call for recruiting respondents on multiple platforms. As I had already been using Instagram as a recruiting platform, I posted my call with my contact information on my


20 personal page and asked my friends and other followers to spread the word. Next to that I posted the same call in groups on social media platforms like Facebook. These groups are aimed at spreading information about auditions and gigs for dancers who are not part of dance companies or have agents. These dancers thereforee tend to be amateur, pre-professional or semi-professional. These calls resulted in seven possible respondents who were interested in participating. Two of these I had to turn down for being underage, the other for only having experience with styles other than ballet, eventually giving me four non-professional

respondents. Because these calls were open, I have no further information on non-response.


To gather my respondents’ accounts in this research project, I made use of semi-structured interviews. Semi-structured interviews are ideal for gathering open-ended qualitative data, Bryman (2016) explains, because they don’t force the respondents’ feelings into presupposed categories. Because this will allow me to dig into the personal experiences and understandings of my respondents instead of my and other researchers’ understanding of the ballet world, without having to fit their reality to my presupposed categorizations. This will benefit the rigor of my research process. Moreover, this style of interviewing allows me to highlight the personal experiences of my respondents, make a personal connection and build up rapport.

Because the topic of this research project can be quite sensitive, building up this relationship between me as a researcher and the respondents will be crucial to the quality of the research.

To help with the semi-structuredness of the interview, I made an interview guide which I could refer to during interviews. This guide started off with introducing questions like ‘Can you tell me about yourself?’ and ‘When and how did you start doing ballet?’. I would then follow with a question that was part introductory and part probing question, namely ‘What is it like being a man in ballet?’. From this, I had questions written down for the themes that I expected to encounter, which I could refer to when the conversation turned to those topics.

This interview guide changed after the first few (pilot) interviews to be more to the point of the research project.

Because of the international character of the ballet world, I did not want to limit my research by only interviewing Dutch-speaking dancers. Because of this, I allowed the interviews to be taken in either Dutch or English: for those whose native language was Dutch the interviews were taken in Dutch, the rest were done in English. I chose English as the second language for practical reasons: it is the language I am second-most fluent in, it is the language the



respondents were familiar with, and it is the language in which I am writing this thesis. This also meant that I had to translate my interview guide, so that I did not obstruct the flow of the conversation by having to translate questions on the spot.

As with the sampling process, Covid-19 also influenced the interviewing process. The social distancing measures that were in place to curb the spread of the Coronavirus made it so that not all the respondents were comfortable meeting in person. Because of this, next to taking the interviews in both English and Dutch, I offered all respondents the option to take the

interview either in person or remotely. For the remote interview I suggested using Zoom, the recently popular video conferencing software. Especially in the beginning of the interviewing process, when distancing measures were stricter, giving the respondents the option to do the interviews remotely was expedient.

While a convenient alternative to in-person interviewing, having the software as an interface between me and the respondents did influence the interviewing. Bryman (2016) explains that remote interviews can feel distant, sound quality can be bad, and poor internet connection can impede the ‘flow’ of the conversation; all things that can make it hard to build up rapport. On the other hand, using software to do remote interviews can make the conversation feel

informal. Weller (2017) for example argues that doing remote interviews can hide research materials like recording equipment and notebooks, which in a traditional interview setting can make the respondent feel observed and uncomfortable. She argues that the physical presence of the interviewer in traditional interview settings, which can make the respondent feel pressured to give socially acceptable answers, is removed by doing remote interviewing and can actually be beneficial to the building of rapport.

Moreover, remote interviewing allows for the inclusion of respondents I would not otherwise be able to interview because of travel time. Reñosa et al. (2021) give an excellent example of a longitudinal, multi-country project, which they would not have been able to do without the aid of video conferencing software. They add that digital remote interviewing removes barriers for people to join a sample not only because of distance but also because of effort;

they have found that people who are used to using software like Skype, Facetime, or Zoom are less likely to be fearful of joining the research sample. Reñosa et al. do discuss the flip side of digital remote interviewing: it does for example require a certain level of comfort with using technology. Digital remote interviewing, when used as the only data collection method, therefore can exclude groups of people who aren’t used to using these technologies, like the


22 elderly. In the case of this research project this proved not to be an issue, but it should always be considered when digital remote interviewing becomes part of the research process.

Another downside Reñosa et al. discuss is interview fatigue. They describe that remote interviewing requires the people involved to focus not only on the interviewing, but also on the functionality of the software. The people involved in the interview are also more likely to get distracted because there is no other person present to focus on. Both these things, though not directly affecting the building of rapport, can influence the quality of the interview. Over all, although we have seen that digital remote interviewing has its downsides and should not be preferable above in-person interviewing because of these issues, the Zoom interviews proved to be a suitable alternative, when in-person interviews were not always possible, and complemented them well.

Managing and analyzing the interviews

The recorded audio of the interviews was transcribed at first, depending on the language, by one of two transcription AI (artificial intelligence) softwares, after which these transcriptions were checked and corrected by hand. The interviews taken in English were transcribed by Otter.AI, and the interviews taken in Dutch were transcribed by Canvas. I chose to use transcription AI software for practical reasons: the automatic transcription saved me a lot of time. The choice for the two different softwares for the different languages was also practical:

there was no free software that was able to transcribe in both Dutch and English, and I did not have the funds to buy one. Although some would argue that having the interviews transcribed by computer would impede engagement with the data and decrease the quality of research, I do not think this is the case. Because computer-generated transcription is flawed, the result needed to be checked by hand. Similar to hand-transcription this requires deep engagement with the material, and I would argue this compensates for the lack of engagement present in hand-transcription. Because of this, this hybrid kind of transcription combines the speed of computer-generated transcription with the quality of hand-transcription.

After being transcribed I coded the data using Atlas.ti, which I chose because it is the software for qualitative data analysis I am most familiar with. As recommended by Bryman (2016), I coded the interviews in multiple rounds, in accordance with the aims of Grounded Theory. Bryman presents multiple ways to do Grounded Theory coding, from which I chose to code my data inspired by the way described by Charmaz (2014). Charmaz defines three phases of coding: the first phase is Initial coding, in which I stayed close to the data to code



what exactly is being told in the interviews. Initial coding is followed by Focused coding, wherein the most significantly emerging codes and the codes that are most analytically interesting are created to synthesize theoretical concepts or categories. The process ends with theoretical coding, in which the data are used to specify the relationships between these emergent concepts and categories and start constructing a theory. (Charmaz, 2014; Bryman, 2016) After having coded the interviews, I used the codes to reconstruct the main themes that emerge surrounding how male ballet dancers have to navigate and negotiate their masculinity, both within the ballet world and outside. The results of this process I have described in the chapter ‘Analysis & Discussion’.

Accountability, Ethics and Positionality

I have anonymized the interviews by refraining from recording names and any background information about the respondents that does not directly influence their attitudes and opinions regarding the topic. Categories I did record were age, gender, race, nationality, sexual

orientation, and the place they grew up. In the case of professional dancers, I recorded where they trained (which for each informant was in the country they grew up in), how long they have danced professionally, and their rank in the company at the time of the interview. In the case of non-professional dancers, I recorded how long they have been dancing in general. I believe all these categorizations relate to their experience of inequality and can influence their experiences of masculinity and sexuality.

I opened the interviews with the questions if the respondents can tell me about themselves, how long they have been dancing, and, in the case of professional dancers, how they came to work at the Dutch National Ballet. I opened this way to let the respondents self-identify and self-categorize, so as to not make any presuppositions. An informant might, for example, report feeling attraction towards other men, but not explicitly identify as homosexual. To assume that they are would exclude the possibility for these dancers to be bisexual or

pansexual and would detract from the validity of the data. If the informant did not mention the categories named above here, and they were not spontaneously mentioned during the

interview, I would have asked them at the end of the interview, letting them self-identify as any categorizations they might deem relevant. This however turned out to be unnecessary, as all respondents mentioned the categories above themselves.

All these identifying markers can however very easily indicate who the respondent is. There are, for example, very few black dancers in the company. Revealing a dancer’s race as well as


24 their rank in the company might very well single them out from the other dancers. To prevent this, I will only reveal these markers when strictly necessary. Anonymizing the data this way will protect the respondents from anyone that might use the information to the informant’s detriment. Another example I can imagine is when the respondent disagrees with someone higher up in administration; any expressed critiques must not have negative effects on their career because they could be traced back to the informant. I will store the data of my thesis on a separate hard drive. This way I can ensure the information about the respondents is safe from attacks over the internet, and I won’t lose it in case of computer malfunctions.

Homophobia in ballet can be a difficult topic. It might be possible that critiquing the way dancers are taught to behave might cause friction between me and the respondents. I think it is important to emphasize my neutrality when it comes to possible accusations of homophobia, and to not present them as my own opinions. Talking about homophobia in ballet might also trigger underlying trauma respondents might have concerning homophobic violence in their training or professional careers. To address this, I want to emphasize at the beginning of the interview that the respondents do not have to talk about anything they feel uncomfortable talking about, and that the interview can be paused or stopped at any moment.

I also have to evaluate my own positionality. For example, I came upon this topic because of my own passion for ballet. I have danced myself since I was little and greatly enjoyed

watching ballet as an audience member. I am also a (former) employee of the opera house that employs the ballet company. My investment in and appreciation for ballet as an art and this company in particular could very well influence my way of doing research. I am also a sociologist and consider myself a feminist. This makes me especially critical of inequalities present in society and of the institutions that reinforce them. Although these two stances might seem contradictory, they can co-exist and amplify each other. My love of ballet as an art form and a form of expression makes me more sensitive to its shortcomings. My

sensitivity to ballet’s shortcomings in return incites me to address these issues so that I can in turn appreciate the art form more.

There is currently a shift happening considering the heritage and history of academic dance, which has been classist, sexist, and racist, and the social responsibility the institution of classical ballet has regarding diversity and social equality. By doing this research I am taking up a position in a debate concerning human rights. I aim to create a thesis that is feminist, meaning that I try to give a voice to the oppressed. This means that, simply put, I am arguing against the way that this history and heritage of ballet is institutionalized and used to exclude



some. It is up to me to present my findings in a nuanced way so as to change the ballet world for the betterment of the oppressed group of non-heteronormative people in ballet, while maintaining what it is that drew them to ballet in the first place.


As stated before, I stopped recruiting after my sample had reached eleven respondents. This happened naturally: the snowball sampling method for the professional dancers had run its course, and reactions to the open call had stopped coming in. The resulting respondents are aged between 20 and 35 years old, which is similar to the typical age range of a ballet company. Represented among them are five different nationalities, those being Dutch, Spanish, British, American and Canadian. All of them self-identify as men, and five of them self-identify as gay or report having a boyfriend. Two of the respondents explicitly mention identifying as Christian and/or regularly going to a Christian church.

Seven of these respondents are professional dancers, who all dance with the Dutch National Ballet company. All of the respondents with a non-Dutch nationality are in this group. Of these professional dancers, three are in the lower ranks of the company, three are in the middle ranks, and one is in the upper ranks of the company. On top of their previous experiences dancing as an amateur and pre-professionally, their experience dancing professionally ranges between five and seventeen years. One of the respondents is retiring from dancing professionally in due course. The other four respondents are non-professional dancers. Three of these are amateur dancers, whose experience dancing ranges between six and thirteen years. Remarkable here is that all three report having had ambitions to become professional dancers but decided against doing so in the first few months of, or one even before starting, pre-professional training. The remaining respondent is a student majoring in contemporary dance, who has three years of dance experience.

The eleven interviews lasted between 30 and 75 minutes, most of them lasting between 50 to 55 minutes. Nine of the interviews were taken remotely, as described earlier in this chapter.

The remaining two interviews were taken in person, in locations suggested by the

respondents. One of these was taken in a city park, and the other one in the foyer of the Dutch National Ballet. Four interviews were taken in English, as there were four respondents whose native language was not Dutch.

Although about half of the dancers I reached out to while recruiting was not white, none of the non-white responded or agreed to an interview. As I was unable to put extra effort in


26 contacting these dancers due to time constraints, my sample consists of male dancers I would categorize as being white, or who could pass as being white. Because of this, my data is likely to be biased towards the more privileged experience of white or white-passing masculinity.

As described in my theory chapter, there are specific experiences black dancers experience because of the intersection of race with gender and sexuality, especially regarding

fetishization. This research project will regrettably be unlikely to be able to reflect how

dancers navigating masculinity intersects with the problems of racism and colorism within the ballet world, because there will be no first-hand accounts of this intersection.



Analysis & discussion

In this chapter, I will analyze and discuss the data I presented in the methods chapter. First, I will investigate how male ballet dancers negotiate stereotyped ideas around masculinity and homosexuality. I will discuss how male ballet dancers in the Netherlands make different use of the stigma-managing strategies described in earlier scholarship to relate to masculinity, and how institutional inequalities influence how straight or gay dancers navigate the stigma

differently. Secondly, I will investigate how the genre of ballet and how it is taught play a role in the dancers’ interpretations of masculinity and sexuality, and discuss how the genre-

specific, hierarchical and pedagogical makeup of ballet as an institution influence the dancers.

Lastly, I will investigate how activism aimed at normalizing men in ballet play a role in male dancers’ experiences of masculinity and sexuality, explaining how the dancers relate to current activism aimed at the relationship between masculinity, and how they feel it could be improved.

Stigma-managing strategies

A large component of existing literature on men in ballet focuses on the employment of stigma-managing, normalizing or coping strategies and techniques. As expected, most of the respondents mentioned either having heard of people using these strategies and techniques or know of specific cases where they saw people using them. A few respondents mentioned having used the strategies themselves:

R: “I don't really feel particularly stereotyped. But yeah, I think it. I think it's

interesting that it's that it's projected on young children, where it's like, oh, as a boy, he is doing something that's like seen as, ballet is seen as feminine. But as a man, he does ballet. It's impressive.

I: Yeah, why do you think that is?

R: I mean, I guess also, when you're learning the basics of ballet, is that it’s more, it’s more similar to what women do? And so, I think, I mean, it's something that I at least enjoy about ballet is that it really, I feel like it celebrates both genders. Like, it's, it's like, you know, men look really strong doing this. And I think also like, can express like movement that might be more feminine, but also looks manly in its own way on stage. […] And I think also, yeah, that's what I enjoy about ballet is that we don't have that direct comparison.”

Respondent 3


28 Here, the respondent explains that for young children in amateur ballet, the movement style of ballet is still quite homogenous, and that that is why young boys get stereotyped when they take ballet class. He goes on to explain and that the difference in styles between boys and girls that happens later is why he does not feel stereotyped as an adult male ballet dancer. It is an excellent example of the gendered stylistic continuum of ballet described by Halton &

Worthen. (2014) Another respondent reports that he felt that the stigma-managing strategies helped his parents come to terms with that their son wanted to do ballet, and allowed him to take lessons after seeing a male ballet dancer:

R: “At one point we moved house, and not long after we moved there was an article in the newspaper that they were looking for dancers, amateur dancers for Nutcracker.

[…] So yeah, then my grandparents took me to the audition, and then, well, I got through the audition, and I got to dance in the Nutcracker. And eventually, because of the Nutcracker my parents saw that, hey, ballet isn’t just for girls, and after that they let me take ballet class.”

Respondent 11, author’s translation

In multiple moments later in the interview, the respondent illustrates what exactly it was about participating in the Nutcracker that changed his parents’ mind about him doing ballet:

R: “Even if I look at just my own parents, they were really against ballet, sort of. I really wasn’t allowed to do that, they really didn’t want that. And only after, when I participated in Nutcracker and my mother helped with the boys backstage and stuff, only then they were like, okay, ballet’s not just for girls, just purely because they didn’t really know. […] And when eventually Nutcracker came by, when I danced in that, their eyes really opened to a whole new world, so to say. And then it really was like, oh, you know, it ís possible. So the fact that I got to participate in that production where my friends and family came to see me perform really was an eye-opener for them, you know? Like, oh, it is possible, and it’s not just for girls, and that the men who do ballet are also very tough, and very capable, and stuff. So yeah, there’s that.”

Respondent 11, author’s translation

The respondent here mentions that his parents did not feel okay putting their son in ballet classes, until they learnt that there were other boys and men doing ballet and that they can see these men as traditionally masculine. They had to internalize that men who do ballet can also be ‘very tough, and very capable, and stuff’. This need for activities to have some kind of



‘toughness’ to be acceptable for boys and men to do is described by Bassetti as being part of Sportivisation and Making Macho (2013). This quote then helps us see how male dancers can relate positively to stigma-managing and normalizing strategies without having to use the strategies themselves. Instead of the dancer themselves using the stigma-managing strategies to convince others that doing ballet does not harm their masculinity, in this quote it is the other (namely his parents) using the strategies to convince themselves of the same. By

mentioning this, the respondent is showing us that it does not necessarily matter who it is that uses and internalizes the stigma-managing strategies, but that they are used at all.

The aforementioned quotes illustrate that the stigma-managing strategies are very much present in discourse about masculinity and ballet dancers. This raises the question why it is that these dancers and, as proven above, their families, feel the need to do so. Multiple respondents express the desire to be seen as manly:

R: Yeah, as a straight dancer I’ve personally had to deal with, yeah, that people make fun of you, quite a lot, especially as a child. Right now, it’s better. But now I

sometimes have the feeling, when I wear some costumes, where I’m like, this isn’t cool, and others are like, oh my god this is amazing, so yeah. It’s just the difference, you know. And I don’t have a lot of issues with it. Although sometimes I feel like, I actually want to do something, to just do something manly, you know? Just, something more tough. But on the other side, ballet is very tough, you have to be die-hard. It’s a really strange thing.”

Respondent 4, author’s translation

In the above comments that a straight professional dancer is having trouble with being seen as feminine or effeminate. He mentions that especially wearing specific costumes he feels like he is less masculine. However, he mentions not having too many issues with being as

feminine in costume, and then quite quickly reverts back to the stigma-managing technique of sportivisation. The reflexivity of ‘it’s a really strange thing’ here, regarding how he feels ballet is at the same time already manly but also not masculine enough, is almost an

afterthought. Interestingly, respondents who identified as gay tended to be a bit more reflexive in all their thoughts about their desire to be seen as manly:

R: “I was thinking about, we were talking about societal stereotypes. [And I feel like I need to say that] I am part of that society too, so I have those stereotypes in me as well, you know? I feel like manliness is important for myself, too. I also feel


30 uncomfortable been seen as feminine. […] And I think that that’s the same for a lot of people. Not for everyone, there’s a lot of people who don’t give a shit, and I really admire that. But I don’t have that myself. I feel like it’s really important that people like me, and that they think I’m manly, and tough, and whatever. Even though I know that, like… I know that [those are old-fashioned societal expectations].”

Respondent 6, author’s translation

The above respondent, who reports having a boyfriend, is very reflexive about how even though he is the object of a homophobic stereotype, his being part of the society that originated the stereotype means that he has internalized this stereotype, and that is why he feels the need to be seen as manly. Another respondent who self-identifies as gay is even more specific about why he thinks male dancers and their families resort to using the coping strategies to be seen as masculine:

R: “I, I had a girlfriend, yeah that's true. And I did that to compensate, absolutely. And what I also did, and made me also be where I'm at, and I think every, so many

homosexuals in my generation and basically every generation have struggled with that.

That is um, we try to compensate by being excellent at something, we try to, to find excellence in something in order to, for approval. […] And I've been successful at what I was trying, because otherwise I don't know what I would've done with myself at some stage, to be honest. And, we, I've shared with friends over here, that without, that are all gay, and we all share the same thing, they're all very successful also, because they have had that pressure that they have put onto themselves because of society.

I: Yeah, so you have to, you're kind of disappointing society by being gay, that's a weird word to use but, disappointing–

R: No, it's true, that's exactly what we feel!

I: And you become super good at something, like ballet, to compensate for that feeling–

R: Yes!”

Respondent 1

In the above interaction the respondent reports having to resort to stigma-managing strategies to cope with a deeply internalized feeling of precociousness. He mentions feeling like failing at being a man because of his sexuality and feeling like he is disappointing society. Because of this feeling of failing society, he then has to revert to the strategies of the Regime of




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