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What Male Dancers Bring to Ballet: The Unique Contributions of Men in Ballet

Jun 5, 2023 | Ballet

A ballet performance combines subtle, quiet beauty with breathtaking lifts and turns. While it’s true that some choreographers are starting to ask women to perform those moves, for the most part, it’s still male dancers who are doing the heavy lifting.

Historically, it’s been tough for boys drawn to ballet, especially in this country. Because we’re a relatively young country, we lack the rich history of dance found across the ocean. Thankfully, societal views here are slowly changing. Famous male pro athletes have raised the profile of ballet, as have the social media presence of top male dancers – also known as danseurs – where they showcase unbelievable physical prowess in photos.

Throughout history, danseurs have made unique contributions to ballet. We’ll look at some of the most notable male dancers of yesteryear, ending with introductions to some of the most exciting danseurs of today.

Related Post: Challenges and Rewards of Pursuing Ballet as a Male Dancer

Old School Stars

You might not recognize the name Vaslov Nijinsky. He is not as well-known as some others in this post, but he certainly left his mark on ballet. Russian-born, he was one of the most celebrated dancers of the early 1900s. He was well-known for his extraordinary leaps and for the way he brought his characters to life.

Our next danseur might have borrowed inspiration from Nijinsky’s work. Rudolf Nureyev, born in the former Soviet Union, graced stages during the 60s and early 70s. Considered to be one of the greatest male ballet dancers of his generation, he was among the first male dancers to be a true performer instead of a dance technician. The performance element took Nureyev from dancing in minor roles to starring on center stage. The idea that a male dancer could perform as the lead stands today as a significant male contribution to ballet.

Also on the list of greatest male ballet dancers is Mikhail Baryshnikov, a Latvian-born classical ballet dancer. In the 1970s and 1980s, Baryshnikov was at his peak in terms of performance. While still performing on stage, he was also bringing the world of ballet into America’s mainstream. He starred in a few TV specials, notably Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and movies including The Turning Point and White Nights. Making ballet accessible might be one of his greatest contributions to ballet.

The New Guard

There is no shortage of talent, grace, and athleticism among contemporary male ballet dancers. Roberto Bolle is considered to be one of the greats. Born in Italy, he was enthralled with ballet at an early age. When he turned 12, he joined the prestigious La Scala Theatre Ballet School in Milan.

As a principal dancer of the American Ballet Theatre, he has impressed critics and audiences alike. Now in his late 40s, he still performs with the exuberance of a younger dancer and inspires both male and female ballet dancers.

Some other names to know include Ethan Stiefel, Benjamin Millepied, Cameron Catazaro, and from the Royal Ballet, principals Matthew Ball and Marcelino Sambé. These men have dedicated their lives to pushing the boundaries of what is possible in the world of ballet.

Who will follow in their footsteps to take ballet to yet another level? Possibly a student yet to enroll in Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (CPYB). We offer two-year male ballet scholarships for dancers between 14 and 19. Recognized as one of the best male ballet scholarships in the country, our program includes ongoing professional training and two years of mentorship from world-renowned instructors. Contact CPYB for more information.

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