By Gabriella Beauvais, University of Oregon Student, guest contributor
A son tells his parents he wants to be the best of the best. He aspires to be the strongest, quickest, and most agile of them all. He understands the rigors his body will undertake and that such aspirations require dedication, commitment and an unwavering passion. A son tells his parents he wants to be a ballet dancer.
What if your son is ridiculed for his dreams? What if he is laughed at, mocked and made to believe his dreams are not worth pursuing, simply because they do not fit society’s ideals on what boys should be interested in?
On August 22, Good Morning America co-anchor Lara Spencer laughed at the idea of Prince George having been enrolled to take ballet classes as a part of his curriculum. She later apologized for her insensitive comments towards the young prince after receiving social media backlash for her reaction.
Ballet dancer Gustavo Ramirez, 24, has been dancing since he was nine years old. He’s been performing professionally for Ballet Fantastique since 2016. He began his training in Cali, Columbia, at the Columbian Institute for Classical Ballet (Incolballet), becoming professional at the age of 17. At 18, Ramirez moved to the United States of America to continue his success.
Children deal with ridicule and bullying from their peers as soon as they start grade school. A boy in ballet is not an unusual occurrence—and unfortunately, neither is making fun of him for it. Ramirez reflected on his childhood and on his experiences as he entered this athletic art form.
“When I was a little kid, I think it was a harder environment because all my friends wanted to be soccer players. People didn’t know how to compare their athletic abilities in soccer to mine in ballet. People know famous soccer players, but they don’t know famous dancers. It was pretty hard,” says Ramirez.
Building his confidence was something that remained a constant for Ramirez as he grew up dancing.
“I feel like all my life, I’ve been afraid to tell people I’m a ballet dancer, because of social stigmas – it’s just all these things that come with it,” says Ramirez.
While he worked on his confidence, Ramirez also built his strength and endurance through ballet. Ballet requires focus and tension coupled with elegant facial and body positions to make the moves look effortless.
“I like how you get to not only show the physical but also the art side of it – you get to be really physical, like doing amazing jumps and all this weird stuff, but you also get to put emotion into it. So, it’s not just showing my power and that’s it. It’s powerful but graceful – I can make you fall in love with me or make you feel in danger,” says Ramirez.
Just like any other sport, there is practice. Ramirez is at the studio from 10:30-4 pm every day. One of his coaches and directors, Jessica Mackinson, Assistant to the Artistic Director at Ballet Fantastique, provides clarity on the athletic art form:
“It’s invigorating in a way because you are expressing yourself with your entire body, so your body is your instrument. You tell a story...give a perspective.” says Mackinson. “You’re moving your body, so it is producing those endorphins; you’re pushing your body to an extreme. It’s not only physical, but it’s also artistic. It’s also very internal too, kind of like baring your soul in a way, whether you interpret someone else’s ideas and art or bring your own experiences into it.”
Along with a group of about 15 other national and international professional dancers, Mackinson coaches Ramirez at Ballet Fantastique’s downtown Eugene studios. A former professional dancer, she also runs the secondary rehearsals for the professional company performances.
“I love it. I feel like ballet is for everyone. Originally, ballet was for men—only men could do it. Then, as more women started to dance (starting in the 1700s), it turned very female. I think there is room for all genders; it is for anyone who loves ballet,” says Mackinson.
As a teacher of the craft, Mackinson elaborates on the growth and change she has seen in the industry.
“I think as we move forward there’s been a lot more fluidity as to who is expected to dance certain roles – It used to be very much ‘men do this and women do this.’ There’s been a lot more female-female partnering and male-male partnering than the traditional female-male partnering. There is more ambiguity as to who lifts whom, who catches whom, so that’s been kind of fun to explore and to see those horizons broaden,” says Mackinson.
Although men and women both perform ballet, their active role in the athletic art form can be vastly different, especially in the traditional setting. The sport not only encourages men to join, but men are needed for movements such as extreme lifts, catches and falls. Brooke Bero, a fellow Ballet Fantastique company dancer of Ramirez, shares her opinion about men pursuing ballet.
“As an athletic pursuit, it’s wonderful. Dancers are some of the most well-rounded people I know, and I think it can benefit everyone in many ways. For me as a female, I often think it would be amazing to be a male dancer. They get to do these wonderful, powerful moves —the steps they can do are amazing,” says Bero.
Ramirez has been greatly impacted by his love for dance and for ballet in particular. Aside from the performances, awards and scholarships, he values his impact on young aspiring dancers, like he once was.
“I’m thankful to give the chance for other people to see that it’s possible. To give the chance for a little kid to see and know that he can be like me. I also like showing that this can be a career and people can be happy as a dance artist. I think that’s the most valuable thing,” says Ramirez.
He wants to see change happen for and within his community. He hopes the future will be bright for young male ballet dancers.
“I hope the thinking can change that says, ‘just because you do ballet you are you are not athletic’. I want them to see us as high-end athletes, in the same way they see all these figures in football or soccer. Its equal—actually, we’re higher because we have to portray emotions. They just have to run. You know, I can run, but ballet is more than that. Ballet is art,” says Ramirez.
He hopes one day, more people will have an appreciation for the arts. He does not want praise and complements for his skill. He wants to see more attendance at theaters and at shows everywhere.
About enrolling a boy in ballet, Mackinson says “Yes, it’s ballet. If you enroll your son in ballet, he’s learning poise, he’s learning memorization skills, he’s learning social emotional skills, and he’s learning athleticism, placement, posture, determination, musicality and vocabulary. Not only is ballet in English, it’s also in French, so meanwhile, while he’s learning all these different movements, he’s learning another language, and it’s challenging. For anyone to belittle all that effort and discipline is sad.”