Straight talk for hip-hop and ballet dudes

 

Jon B. wrote:

I’m a hip-hop dancer at a studio where ballet is also taught and I’m thinking of joining the beginning ballet class. I have no aspirations in ballet, I just want to be a stronger hip-hop dancer and I think the technique will help me. I noticed that there are only two guys in the class, and about 15 women. None of the other guys I do hip-hop with will join me so I have to go in alone. In fact the other guys think I’m crazy. My biggest anxiety about this is what to wear. Just being honest here even though I know this sounds like a girl problem. There doesn’t seem to be a dress code in the ballet class but definitely I can’t go in wearing my baggy sweats or basketball shorts and baseball cap. The other two ballet guys wear tights and tight T-shirts and that’s kind of challenging for me. I went to a dance store and bought ballet shoes and I asked the salesclerk what else I would need and she just showed me the men’s tights. Is that really the only option? Are there “tights for beginners” that aren’t so, well, tight? And what do you wear under tights? The teacher looks a little intimidating so I don’t feel like I can approach her and ask. I did some research online but it all comes back to tights. To be honest, I feel like I have an image to protect as a hip-hop dancer at the studio, and I’d like to find a way to do the ballet without screwing up that image.
 

Jamie Benson replied:

 

Dancer-choreographer-sage Jamie Benson

Dancer-choreographer-sage Jamie Benson

 

Jon, Hey!

Thanks for your inquiry. You asked a more profound question than you may realize. I relate, as a male dancer who takes ballet class but has no intention of performing it. Stepping into the, very specific, realm of ballet can be intimidating for anyone but especially for men. Sadly, even in the 21st century, ballet can challenge our ideas about what masculinity should look like.

First of all, being uncertain of what to wear is not a “girl problem.” I know plenty of guys who struggle at times with how to look their best. Like trying on different outfits before going on a first date, your first class will be your first date with ballet. It’s natural to struggle with what to wear. Shake this idea of having a “girl problem” out of your mind. I’ll give you a second for this… *insert shake here*
 

Congrats!

 

I applaud you in your conviction to be a better dancer by dabbling in ballet. It will absolutely make you a stronger dancer. Challenging yourself is (almost) always a good thing. On this note, I dare you to buy some tights and then rarely use them. Part of being a good performer is in the ability to be vulnerable. Tights will definitely do that. Trust me, it can be a very humbling experience. Since we’re chatting about trying out a beginning class, you’ll most likely be able to wear looser clothing. But, if you want to benefit from the experience, you’ll wear clothes that show your form, fit really well, and have some stretch to them. The instructor has to see your “lines” in order to help you correct them.
 

The Prescription

 

Layer any athletic clothing (that fits) to keep the muscles warm. Layering usually looks cooler anyway, plus you get to stay in your comfort zone a bit longer. Then as you get warmer, strip down piece by piece, and if it becomes necessary, get down to your tights.

When I first started taking ballet, I was also totally nervous about wearing tights. I needed, for some psychological reason, to wear fitted shorts over my tights first. It’s a good baby step to take if you find yourself apprehensive.

And for God’s sake, wear a dance belt no matter what.

A dance belt is like a thong, but more supportive. Even if you don’t jump into the deep end with wearing tights just yet, you’ll need to get your business “down there” under control. Save yourself the embarrassment and legitimate pain of flapping in the breeze.

Put the dance belt on like you would any undergarment. Pull those bad boys up above the hip for a snug fit. Now reach into the front hammock region and pull those other bad boys up too. The “goods” should all be pointing skyward.

For more, click here to read a killer article on dance belts by the blog Boys Do Ballet Too.

Click here to pick one up online at Discount Dance Supply.

It may (will) feel foreign at first, but hang in there, literally. Like other items of clothing, you may have to break them in a bit. If it’s still uncomfortable, try a different size or company. Oddly enough, you’ll probably take the class more seriously in a dance belt. In my humble experience (currently 19 years in), putting on a dance belt means I’m not messing around. It’s a true sign of commitment.
 

Why every serious dancer should dabble in ballet

 

The 21st century is all about hybridization now. Many successful dance companies fuse different dance forms together in order to say something different, and get noticed for it. In your career as a hip hop dancer, you may be asked to lift someone in a slightly balletic manner or hold a ridiculous balance or… anything really. You will have an edge if you’re familiar with more then one dance style. You may even have an advantage studying hip hop first. I suspect it’s easier to learn how to drop your weight, like hip hop dancers do, before learning to pull up in a ballet class. I’ve seen some mildly tragic examples of ballet dancers trying to bring their center of gravity down in a jazz or hip hop class. Maybe you’re in a good position, both figuratively and literally.

For you personally, Jon (and any other hip hop dancer who’s nervous about studying different dance forms), I would check out Victor Quijada. He’s a Montreal-based dancer-choreographer who started his career as a break-dancer. But, he also studied ballet and modern dance for many years, and because of it, has traveled the world dancing for famous choreographers and become well known for combining dance styles in his own creative work.

You may have a better shot working with other choreographers doing big things, too, if you can show your range as a dancer. I’ve certainly been to auditions where I had to change my dance shoes several times (sneakers, jazz, ballet, bare feet, tap) just to make the first “cut”. Stick with the ballet, kid (and tights, on occasion). Mix it up now and again with other dance styles while you’re at it. You’ll have a longer career and most importantly, you’ll never be bored. Good luck.
 

The irrepressible Jamie Benson

The irrepressible Jamie Benson

 

More about Jamie:

Jamie Benson, proclaimed as “one of the strongest, hottest contemporary dancers of his generation” by L.A. Times critic Lewis Segal, is a dancer, choreographer & alumnus of Cornish College of Art. Heralded as “Chaplin-like” by Backstage West, Benson first garnered attention originating the role of “Eldon” in LATC’s Ovation award-winning Shag with a Twist. Benson performed in the film Rent, McDonald’s Mario Art commercial, on T.V. series Dance360 and in the Rudy Perez Ensemble. Jamie Benson currently performs with RedWall Dance Theatre and Bardos Ballet Theater. Benson’s choreographic work has been presented at Luckman Fine Arts complex, Highways Performance Space, the Bootleg Theater and Triskelion as well as featured in the New York and LA Times. Jamie Benson has instructed at Gold’s Gym, Fancy Feet, the Pasadena Academy & Spoke the Hub. Benson recently led over 300 people in the NYC & Portland, Oregon line dance event Le-Grand-Continental & co-founded the Shakedown Dance Collective for amateur NYC dancers. To learn more, visit jamiebenson.com.

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Straight talk for hip-hop and ballet dudes

  1. Great response from Jamie! Especially about being vulnerable and perhaps finding yourself even more committed to your ballet efforts while wearing tights! I know for sure, as an adult (woman) taking ballet, I feel much more the part in my leotard vs. yoga gear. I take class with a man who started by wearing running leggings… Or maybe they were yoga leggings… Tight, spandexy, athletic looking, gray and blue in color. Serving the same tights purpose, but easing him into it.

    That said, jumping in with all your guts and heart on display comes across as so brave and bad-ass (who knows? maybe you’ll get a date out of the whole thing?!). What guy can lay it out there, start a new dance form (never mind ballet), AND be down with himself enough to don the tights (fake it till you make it, anyway!). Good luck. I am proud of you for believing in the cross-discipline benefits, believing in yourself, and making it happen. Enjoy!

    • A brilliant addition to my response Kara, thanks! Totally, put your whole self out there, wear the tights. You may surprise yourself and be more compelling to the people (and ladies) around you. Be fearless. Life is short. Dance on Jon. Dance on Kara.

  2. You’ve hit the nail on the head…..errrr, well you’ve discussed this somewhat uncomfortable topic in a clear and non biased way, and offered rational suggestions on how to tackle it. Thanks, I will be directing my male ballet students to this article.

    • Right. on. Thanks Shannon!

      It’s a subject that could use more attention I’m finding. I started a discussion on Linkedin about issues that bubble up when boys dance (see here —> http://linkd.in/1efEVoy) and the response is remarkable. I may end up writing a whole op-ed about the unfortunate psychological crap that happens when men dance, or do things that are mainly associated with women.

      Dance on Shannon.

  3. Hey there, a discussion that I started on Linked-In reflecting on this article further, and ultimately the stigma of the sissy in dance, is really heating up. It’s happening in the “Dance Industry Professionals Worldwide” Group. Here’s the link if you’re game –> http://linkd.in/1efEVoy. Best! j

  4. Hm. Can’t read the article on Linked In unless you’re a member of the group, so I “applied” to join the group and my application has been pending for several days… must have a long line of folks beating at the door to get in…

    • A ha, I see. Didn’t know there was such a bottle neck to get into that Linked In group. Pardon. It’ll be worth it, someday. It’s a great conversation to have ballettothepeople. Thanks for allowing me a stab at it! More to come!

  5. Thanks for sharing this post on my site, BalletToThePeople – it’s so awesome! I love the honesty and completely agree with all you’ve written, Jamie. When I started ballet (at 23) tights scared the living daylights out of me (never mind a dancebelt!), but then a friend pointed out that I wear just as revealing clothing when I do Crew or cycling which helped.
    I completely agree with your point of clothing getting you in the mood for class (I love the quote “putting on a dance belt means I’m not messing around”!). I actually have a bit of a hierarchy of what I wear in a class – if I predict a class is going to be really hard or in the run up to a performance I’ll start wearing smarter kit to class (i.e. black tights instead of a biketard) to get me in the mood.
    Thanks for an awesome post!
    Dave

    • DaveTriesBallet! I’m rehashing my year and realize you posted a comment I never saw here. Glad to have found it, eventually. Athletic clothes reveal just as much and indeed dance-specific clothing really helps one set a badass intention for ballet class. Thanks for the support good chap. Keep up the good fight and dance on everyone. See you in 2015!

  6. Many costumes worn by men in sports nowadays (2015!) feature stretchy, revealing, body huggy garments e.g. football, wrestling, rowing, speed skating, swimming, cycling, triathlon, surfing, cross country / nordic skiing, speed skating, etc. Footless leggings (running tights) and compression shorts are commonly worn by guys in temperate climates. However, the stark maleness of a guy wearing his dance belt underneath of his footed tights for ballet, in combination with ballet slippers and a t-shirt or leotard top, is a look all unto its own IMHO (and unique to all other genres and forms of dance by males BTW). Ditto for a ballet boy in a unitard.

    The culture and aesthetics of ballet, with all of its hide bound traditions, demands of committed trainees and serious performers alike, I think, a certain personal willingness for a kind of bodily self exposure (vulnerability), exposure that might be considered immodest and embarassing OUTSIDE of the studio and BEYOND the theatrIcal performance venue. But within these specific spaces, contexts, confines and enclosed social environments it is perfectly SAFE for males to appear and be seen garbed in conventional guy’s ballet dancewear. These are special places to see and be seen I think when it comes to using one’s body in an extremely stylized manner, or learning to master same.

    If idealized male and female bodies weren’t so visually appealing artistically speaking, then there wouldn’t be such fabulous sculptures rendered of them in ancient and renaissance times out of bronze and Italian marble. A great subject to ‘tackle’ indeed!

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