Tuesday, February 13, 2007

For Lara

I've been thinking about the ballet a lot lately due to recent correspondence with a friend, and in the process I found myself reminiscing about the first time I went to see a ballet performance. Having grown up in a small town in Iowa, I confess that in saying my exposure to classical dance prior to that first performance was minimal I am understating the case greatly. In other words and without all the flowery rhetoric, I didn't know shit about ballet. So I thought I would provide an introduction to the magical world of dance for someone else like me who might be forced to brush the hayseeds off his nice pair of slacks and be dragged kicking and screaming to the local auditorium to see some dance troupe or another.

"No way!" I hear you beer-swilling young dirtbags muttering. "I'd rather have someone tape car battery electrodes to my genitals and throw the switch than go to a ballet. Assuming of course that they use the kind of tape hospitals use that doesn't hurt so much when they rip it off."

So why would you possibly drive your late model pickup with big tires to a dance performance? Normally, if you're a straight adult male the reason you do anything smacking of culture is to get laid. (Bear with me guys, you know this already, I'm explaining stuff to the ladies.) If you've been with Amber long enough to have had not one but two "where is this relationship going" talks, the day is not long in coming when she's going to haul your sorry ass off to the ballet. And you will go. This is because you would really like to have sex with Amber sometime this year, and because your life will become a total hell on earth if you don't go. (Again, for the ladies.)

So what can you expect? If like Homer Simpson you imagine cute bears with little hats riding tricycles you're pretty far off the mark. Ballet is essentially a lot of really skinny women wearing funny pink shoes and gay men in tights running around and jumping and shit. Wait, come back! I haven't finished yet. That's the only the superficial impression, just like a person from Djibouti might at first think American football is just a bunch of thugs dressed up like tanks who crash into each other for a few minutes then break for a beer commercial. Let's not go there; my point is that if you know something about the ballet and see the right performance of the right company, it can be a heart-wrenchingly beautiful experience that will transform your life forever. Sadly, it will be one that you can never talk about with any other guy except me.

Let's take a quick time-out and examine that last statement. I'm exaggerating of course: there are lots of virile hairy-chested heterosexual men who enjoy the ballet. Too bad they all live in Russia. Here in the Bible Belt if you are a man and say that you like dance, people either assume that you play for the other team or that you're talking about strippers. As a result of this unfortunate cultural myopia I've taken to automatically adding "but I'm really straight, honest!" to any sentence about ballet that I utter in the presence of someone who doesn't know me. You also might want to try saying this emphatically to yourself a few times in the mirror. The practice will help you sound convincing when you're standing around the water cooler at work and the other guys are talking about last night's UNLV basketball game and you start telling them what you did last evening.

Now that we've established that you are going to see a ballet and that you need to be very careful who you tell about it, the next thing you need to learn is about the type of performance that you might see. Basically, there are two kinds of dance: classical ballet and weird modern shit. The weird modern shit could be anything from Lucinda Child dancing in a square over and over and over again to a Philip Glass recording (yes, I saw her perform it, and no, I don't want to talk about it); to Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, which is a bunch of fat guys dressed in tutus (really); to the breathtaking agile magic of Pilobolus. I have written about Pilobolus before, as some few of you may recall. If you ever have a chance to see them perform please do so, even if you don't think you like "dance." Take Amber. You'll have the experience of a lifetime and get laid -- what could be better?

Classical ballet is the "really skinny women in funny pink shoes and gay men in tights" thing I was talking about earlier. This statement probably needs further explication. The women are really really skinny. They often really damage themselves in the process of becoming really skinny, which really sucks. I won't go into why this is so, but hopefully this is changing. But even if the female dancers you see are blimps compared to the way they used to be, they will still look really thin to you. Some of this has to do with simple physics: your gay male pas de deux partner (see below) can't lift you and hold you in the air with one arm if you weigh 180 pounds. And if you are a woman with big hooters and you leap eight feet into the air, no matter what kind of bra you are wearing, when you hit the ground your boobs will still be in transit only to arrive with an impressive jolt just when you want to jump again. Thus if you are an exceptionally well-endowed female dancer you will have a strong and recurring incentive to seek another line of work. Don't expect lots of cleavage at the after-party, is what I'm saying.

And all male ballet dancers are gay. Of course this doesn't matter, I just thought I'd give you the old heads-up. In this regard they are just like waiters and hairdressers -- we all know one or two that are straight, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule. I'm joking to some degree, but if you think I got defensive earlier about my heterosexuality because I like ballet, just imagine what the life of a straight male professional ballet dancer must be like. I'm pretty sure that if I was one I would never go out in public unless I was wearing a dark blue sweatshirt that said "I FUCK WOMEN!" in four-inch white letters on both the front and the back. And if I could make the letters light up and flash twice a second I would certainly do so.

The dance program that you will see being performed on any given occasion will most likely be either A) a combination of classical ballet and weird modern shit or B) all just weird modern shit. Part of it depends on the tradition of the company you are seeing. For example, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is not likely to include classical ballet in their performance (at least that was true when I was seeing them regularly), whereas the New York City Ballet is quite likely to do so. But it is very unlikely that you will attend a performance where it is all classical ballet, at least in the U.S. Whether this is pandering to imagined American taste or simply because the classical repertoire is so small is something I don't know. It might just be that an all-classical performance would be too physically taxing for most companies. I'll try to find out the answer and let you know.

At this point I should wrap up the first part of my introduction to "dance for the straight man". In the second segment I'll talk about some of the dance terminology you should know, what to watch for in a performance, how female dancers smell, what kind of shit the dancers are wearing when you see them, and what it's like to be a little girl growing up and wanting to be a ballet dancer. I know about the last thing because I had an opportunity to observe it first-hand. If space permits and you look like you're still awake I might also talk a bit about a couple of ballets that I like a lot and one that I detest.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention: I love ballet. I'm very passionate about it, as perhaps you can tell. I even like some of the weird modern shit some of the time. Maybe I'll be able to impart some of that passion to you, then you too can become a fiercely heterosexual ballet aficionado just like me. Actually, the proper term is balletomane, but that sounds even more gay than "ballet aficionado" plus I don't know how to pronounce it, so let's just stick with the former appellation. Actually, let's call ourselves "dance lovers." That way chicks will automatically dig us. Our very name will suggest to them their two great passions in life, dancing and being loved.

-- Hulles


cK said...

Great photo find of Lol! She's wrestling with migraines today and traveling at the moment, so she might miss this entry, but I'll point her back to it if that's the case.


Female ballet dancers (POST-performance) smell like smoked chipped beef. (Seriously.) At least, the best dancers do.

cK said...

Thanks, by the way, for writing about this. You'd mentioned it briefly the other night. It's nice to read the fuller account.

Hulles said...

cK, if you think even the best dancers smell like smoked chipped beef after a performance I never want to be invited to dinner at your house. Sorry about Lol, too. And don't point her back to it, point her front to it so she can read it. Ha ha.

And you're welcome.

cK said...

Sorry. The smoked chipped beef is an inside joke with her. (It's actually her inside joke, but I've known her long enough to be let in on it, though I usually misremember this as curried chicken or something like that.)

Lara said...

Crap - I wrote a revoltingly long comment and I think it got lost...wah. Maybe I will rewrite when I have the gumption.

Hulles said...

Wah on my part too. I looked forward to reading it lots. Find the gumption, damn it. Thank you. The end.

JC said...

"it can be a heart-wrenchingly beautiful experience that will transform your life forever."

Sounds pretty poofty to me Nancy. -jk

The 'hayseed' comment made me chortle though. Sorry this is so short, but I have to get back to chopping wood and polishing my gun collection.

p.s. When is the next IEP meeting?

Hulles said...

Hey, JC, welcome back. I thought the bog people got you at last. Glad they didn't.

And yeah, yeah, polish your gun all you want, I know in your heart you want toe shoes of your very own.

Good lord, what does IEP stand for? I know I should know, but I think I killed that synapse somehow when I was trying to come up with "heart-wrenchingly beautiful experience". The strain proved to much for it.

Hulles said...

"Proved too much for it," I meant. Damn homonyms! They're as thick as bar flies around here.

JC said...

Intellectually Elitist Prick

I'm suprised you've forgotten being that you are the president and all. One supposes you have a lot of brands in the fire, what with being Crumudgeon-in-Chief and all. That's a lot of pressure.

As for the Bog People, I managed to escape their moss-ridden (sic.) country by paddling home in a giant wooden shoe (suckers).

Anonymous said...

I read your synopsis with great interest & amuzement, but I need to correct you on certain points. Yes, there are an abundance of gay men in ballet, BUT NO, the majority ARE NOT GAY! I am surprised to hear you of all people to make that generalizaion!! Peter Martin of NY city ballet, Fernando Bujones, Edward Villela of Miami ballet, and host of others are ALL HETEROSEXUAL, and today half the men in the ballet classes both pro and semi pro ARE ALL HETEROSEXUAL; The dance curriculum in most schools require minimum training in ballet regardless if you want to get a BFA or MFA in dance! and the simple fact is that unlike most student's expectations or understandings, once they do sign up in ballet courses, they realize how extremely difficult, injurious, and tedious the study is, and so most of the men in adavanced ballet IN CONTRAST TO MODERN, are heterosexual; in fact most of gay men for some reason DO NOT LIKE Ballet, and tend to concentrate on furthering their dance training in the field of modern! I do not know why that is, We also have a joke that most blondes in ballet class will usually drop out afer the second week of classes, which to this date, I have won upwards of $255 in bets after the blonde students did indeed drop within the first few weeks of class. SAME THING with gay students in ballet, Don't get me wrong- I have a lot of gay friends in the dance business, but for some strange reason, they do elect to pursue modern more than ballet.
I think the mosnomer of gays in ballet stems from the fact that in ballet the body language, port de bras, and the elequence, and self carriage of the male when partnering the woman, makes him look a little too sensitive and effiminate.

Also, do keep in mind that originally, ballet was made for men by men, and only after Taglioni the famous female Italian female dancer of last century women got into it!

Anonymous said...

Wow - Pretty ignorant and seemingly spiteful. In my experience, less than half of the male dancers I've met were gay. I am a straight male ballet/modern dancer, and I consider dancing to be the most masculine thing I do. Regardless of our sexual preferences, I'll bet most of us are in such good shape that beating the ass of a homophobe such as yourself would pose no problem.

Anonymous said...

I'm a former professional ballet dancer, and I did actually get a kick out of this post. I'm glad to hear you are a dance lover! I wish ballet had a more main-stream following in this country. (By the way, that's the reason so many classical ballet companies include contemporary works into their mixed-rep programs -- it's a way to reach out to a broader audience. But most still do perform the full-length classical ballets in addition to rep programs.)

Just to echo the above comment, my experience was that perhaps half of the men I danced with were homosexual.

And... if I may be so bold... heterosexual male ballet dancers make the absolute best lovers. Being a good partner onstage involves knowing your partner's body better than she does -- anticipating her needs and timing every second. And that instinct comes with them offstage as well.

Hulles said...

Thank you Anonymous! I'm glad you got a kick out of the post, as you say. When I was notified of the comment on the post, I groaned to myself "Great, more hate from a humorless male dancer." As you might imagine, it was a pleasant surprise to read your comment.

I am very much a dance lover, and to be brutally honest, I could care less about the sexuality of the male dancers since I am myself not interested. But I am quite certain that you are correct that male hetero dancers are phenomenal lovers. I really liked your justification for that as well. I think I'm the "absolute best lover" of course, but I fervently hope that the rest of the top 20 are male dancers. That would make me happy.

I understand about tough times for the arts, and I sympathize with the dance companies completely. My friend Lara, for whom these pieces were written, was principal dancer then ballet mistress for Oakland Ballet, and we talk about this sometimes. It still saddens me that full-length classical ballets are few and far between though, but that's just the way it goes these days I suppose.

BTW, Oakland Ballet was selling off its props and costumes recently. I SO wanted to pick up a Wili costume; I'm not sure what I'd do with one but I know I want one. Wasn't in the cards 'cause no bucks. Oh well.

Thanks again for the comment, it made my day. I'll be here in MN putting the "man" in balletomane. Great, that'll piss more people off probably but it's too funny not to use. At least in my mind it is. Ciao.