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:
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*
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.
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.
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.