Western stereotype of the male ballet dancer

Since the early 19th century, Western society has adopted a view of male ballet dancers, or danseurs as weak, effeminate or homosexual.

Response of male dancers

William L. Earl's 1988 exploration of American stereotypes asked upper-middle class mall shoppers to describe male ballet dancers, as a whole, using up to 15 words or phrases. The most common responses were: "Pretty boys afraid to soil themselves with honest labor", "Snobs!", "secretive", "neurotic", "narcissistic", "soft", "vain", "frail", "homosexual", "Momma's Boy", “irresponsible", "probably hard workers", "creatures of the night", "flighty", "afraid of intimacy", "use people", "cold", and "fancy".[1]

In a 2003 sociological study, male ballet dancers reported several stereotypes they had been confronted with including "feminine, homosexual, wimp, spoiled, gay, dainty, fragile, weak, fluffy, woosy, prissy, artsy and sissy".[2]

In preparation for their 2009 anthology on masculinity and dance, Jennifer Fisher and Anthony Shay interviewed several male dancers from different age groups, ethnic backgrounds, and sexualities. In the interviews, the men were asked questions pertaining to the biased picture of male dancers such as "Do you think you’re now surrounded by any stereotypes about men and dancing?" and "Are there perceptions about men who dance that you think need changing?"[3]

One of the dancers interviewed, Aaron Cota, came up against unfair prejudices but helped dispel them. He took some time off to enter the Marine Corps. He tells of his fellow Marines’ reaction: "When they found out that [I would be earning a] dance degree, they were like 'What? You’re what?'. They were kind of confused. You just have to explain it to them. When the guys in my unit would see some of the things I’ve done, or they see videos of other people dance, and they’re like, 'Holy crap, how can they do that?' ... and they’re like 'Wow, that’s amazing,' and 'That’s kind of opened my eyes ...'".[4]

Another dancer, David Allan, experienced very negative effects of the stereotype growing up. He tells of the time he performed in his school’s talent show at age eleven, "I was so excited about doing A Dance from David, my first choreography. So, when I came out in my pretty white tights, there was a big roar of laughter.... Later I met some guys in the hallway of my school who were making rude comments ... 'You’re that dancer guy' would turn into being thrown down the stairs."[5]

Effect on participation

In a study done on peer attitudes of participants in "gender specific" sports (e.g. ballet and American football), teens ages 14–18 were found to have strong stereotypical views. Males who frequently participated in a "sex-inappropriate" athletic activity were perceived as more feminine than those who did not. The study also suggested, "This stereotyping of athletes may have an important impact on the willingness of athletes to participate in certain sports. Likewise, these stereotypes may tend to filter out certain types of potential participants — e.g., macho males ... in athletic activities which are 'inappropriate' for one's gender."[6] Victoria Morgan, a former principal ballerina with the San Francisco Ballet now an Artistic Director and C.E.O. of the Cincinnati Ballet, relates "... I feel there is a stigma attached to ballet in America that doesn't reflect the reality.... This makes it difficult to attract some audience members and boys for ballet companies".[7]

Appearances in media

In the 2004 movie Shall We Dance, the main character, played by Richard Gere, asks his friend why he hides that he is a dancer. The man tells Richard Gere’s character that he was teased, called gay, and beat up as a kid because he danced.[8]

The British film Billy Elliot tells the story of an 11-year-old aspiring dancer from a working class origin, dealing with the stereotype and negative reactions from his community.


  1. Earl, William L. "A Dancer Takes Flight: Psychological Concerns in the Development of the American Male Dancer" p. 16-17
  2. Fisher, Jennifer. "Make it Maverick: Rethinking the "Make it Macho" Strategy for men in Ballet." p. 45.
  3. Fisher, Jennifer and Shay, Anthony. "When Men Dance: Choreographing Masculinities Across Borders." p. 402.
  4. Fisher, Jennifer and Shay, Anthony. "When Men Dance: Choreographing Masculinities Across Borders." p. 51-52.
  5. Fisher, Jennifer and Shay, Anthony. "When Men Dance:Choreographing Masculinities Across Borders." p. 81.
  6. Alley and Hicks. "Peer Attitudes towards Adolescent Participants in Male- and Female-Oriented Sports."
  7. Valin, Kathy. “Fear of Men in Tights.”
  8. Chelsom, Peter. "Shall We Dance."


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