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Ballet, Homophobia, Sexism

Readers of this column might recall a daft piece I wrote about my 6-year old boy who studies ballet.

Nothing I have ever written has ever elicited as emotional a response as those 750 words. Many male dancers contacted me to wish my son well. They also shared experiences from their own lives, some of which were far less amusing than the ones I wrote about.

The piece I whipped up last spring for the Brainstorm blog viraled its way back to the Washington Ballet (where my son takes classes). The very next day, the company graciously invited him to observe a rehearsal.

The Washington Ballet has an extensive program of community engagement and if I understand correctly they even reached out to my son’s school after reading the column.

I think I now understand why: Many dancers commented to me that they wish they had teachers who intervened aggressively to put a stop to the taunting they endured (my kid, I have come to learn, was very lucky in that regard).

It is, in truth, the taunting that puzzled me and absolutely “flummoxes” my guest in this video. He is Septime Webre, the director of the Washington Ballet and an icon in the DC Arts Community. As Mr. Webre notes, male ballet dancers are esteemed as rock stars in other countries. Why they would be mocked in the United States is the question we set out to explore in this interview.

What was difficult to tease out was the distinction as to whether sexism or homophobia comprises the source of these stereotypes. Mr. Webre offers some very thoughtful observations on this issue, going on to note that his company operates in the “post-Gay” world, where people don’t get hung up on sexual identity.

Throughout this conversation we off-roaded a bit. So don’t be surprised by our disquisition on Washington Capitals’ star Alex Ovechkin and, naturally, my socks.

We also discussed the company’s forthcoming production of The Great Gatsby with some lovely footage of the piece that opens November 2 at the Kennedy Center.

I think you will enjoy this video and I want to thank Mr. Webre and the Washington Ballet again for all the good work they do on behalf of dance and dance education. I also want to thank the producer of this episode, my former student Quint Simon, an amateur ballerina and one of the School of Foreign Service’s finest

A final note: My son is in a ballet studio twice a week. In one class he is the only male and seems to have come to peace with that. The other is an all-boys class which he loves. I asked him tonight what he liked most about it and he responded “the leaps.”

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