Ballet boys have seemed like an oxymoron to the general public for centuries. The backlash is profound in popular media, such as the recent remark made by Laura Spencer on Good Morning America. These four UA male dance majors shared their insight into what they experience in their daily lives during rehearsals, balancing school on top of dancing, and their personal stories on how they came to be who they are today in the UA theater and dance program.
Oscar Villalobos III is a senior in the Honors College studying dance and theater with a focus on dance. Villalobos, like many other male dancers, began dancing later than most female dancers. He explains that he began dancing at the age of 17 at a fine arts academy in Florence, AL.
“It is normal for male dancers to begin later because when boys are younger they are likely not influenced to try out dance or something associated with the arts,” said Villalobos.
Young boys are more likely to be influenced to try baseball, football or something considered more masculine. Villalobos began dancing under his own discretion once he was old enough to realize that it was something he wanted to pursue.
Villalobos explained that, when he was younger, his family was incredibly supportive, but other students in his high school did not respond with the same positivity.
“I would hear snotty comments in the hallway because people, especially in the South, do not take kindly to men who commit to something that is viewed as feminine,” he described.
Since beginning school at UA, the backlash Villalobos faced has not necessarily resided, but it has evolved. He explained that now he is not necessarily attacked for being a male dancer but rather for pursuing the art of dance in general.
“People see dance as a profession that doesn’t seem steady or secure, and they judge us, whether male or female, for the fact that we are pursuing this,” Villalobos said.
The art of dance has been prevalent for centuries and has served as a means for physical activity. The traits you learn from dance help to make one a well-rounded person – both physically and mentally.
“The dedication, discipline and honor you receive from constantly being critiqued on the way your body moves helps to develop an incredibly focused mentality. Dance has developed the way I present myself not only while in class but every day,” Villalobos emphasized.
The Honors College is also notorious for providing courses that allow students to speak their opinion. In many situations, students also learn to express themselves through words and it allows them to use an outlet for their emotions. Villalobos noted the importance of including classes like these in students’ schedules.
“I have always viewed the Honors courses I choose to take as additional opportunities to utilize deep thought and friendly debate among my peers,” said Villalobos.
In dance, one is never perfect. A dancer is never finished working and never reaches a point of perfection. According to Villalobos, the UA dance program is infamous for providing enormous amounts of opportunities to their students. Although, these opportunities are not handed over unless you are deserving of them. Students are expected to fully commit themselves to the department in order to collect the benefits the program has to offer. Many communities on campus are highly political and based on who has been around the longest while in the dance community, one reaps the rewards they sow.
Drew Martin is a senior dance and chemical engineering major. Martin began dancing when the studio at which his sister danced opened up a new all-boys hip hop class.
“I was only five when I first started dancing, but at the time I was on the baseball team and I was the worst one on the team,” Martin described.
After trying out dance he felt good at something after not being successful with baseball. Martin saw dance as an opportunity for constant improvement which drove him to continue down this path. The backlash Martin received when he was younger eventually forced him to keep the fact that he danced a secret.
“In elementary school I would ask my friends to come watch me dance or ask them to come along with me for ‘bring a friend to dance week’ and they would either laugh in my face or say that they were going to show up and never did. I felt embarrassed to be a dancer so I ended up hiding that side of myself up until high school,” Martin said.
Martin grew out of this peer-inflicted embarrassment and is still pursuing his dream at the university. He explains how dance involves constant and specific training, which is what drove him to continue with dance in the first place. Muscles that are not utilized in daily life must be trained in order for dancers to be successful.
“You have to find a way to motivate yourself. No one is going to be there holding your hand, telling you exactly what you need to fix…we’re too old for that. We have to be completely connected to our bodies mentally and physically to know exactly what we need to improve,” Martin said.
Dance allows a chance for personal growth as well. This art form is not only focused on moving the body in new ways – dance also involves instilling values to make one a better person. Dancers are constantly critiqued on their body, which can be difficult to receive. For a dancer, corrections are part of everyday life.
“You have to constantly compete against your fellow peers, but the difference is that we don’t tear each other down, we constantly try to make each other better as well as ourselves,” Martin said.
Martin was previously an Honors student but decided to drop it from his degree plan due to the excruciating schedule. There seems to be a gap in understanding what exactly dance is and how successful you can be pursuing it. This lack of education leads to natural segregation between people who appreciate the arts and people who think it is a waste of time and money.
“I tend to avoid people who don’t dance because others just don’t get it and I don’t relate to them as much, which has helped prevent backlash since I’ve been at UA” Martin said.
Martin also adds that, from a male perspective, dance has made him a better man. Dance emphasizes the value of hard work, and it teaches students to be accepting of and connected to their bodies and minds.
“Many other sports do not implement these values so naturally as dance does,” Martin said.
Martin summarized the hardships he perseveres through each day, but noted that in the end it all becomes worth it. Martin is striving for his dreams and is proud of what he has accomplished while at UA. Martin knows that he is pursuing exactly what he was meant to do on this Earth even if backlash from the outside community must be experienced.
Christian Hatcher is a junior majoring in musical theater and criminal justice. Hatcher is also in the Honors College. He became interested in freestyle dancing at a very young age when one of his friends taught him how to spin on his head during recess. Hatcher did not begin formal training until two months before coming to college. He focuses primarily on acting but came to UA knowing he needed more training in dancing and enrolled himself in several classes in order to improve.
Hatcher’s mother was an actor and singer herself and knew many people within the industry via Broadway and television. His mother influenced Hatcher to perform in plays, which she wrote herself, at their local church. Hatcher was also influenced by his brother, who also is associated with singing and dancing, to continue his journey through performance, and he attributes his brother for being the reason he is still pursuing a career in the arts.
In Hatcher’s experience, he did not receive the same backlash as Villalobos and Martin. “Performing is something I have always been very good at, so I don’t think it was difficult for people to believe that I could make a career out of it,” said Hatcher.
Much of our society understands the term “struggling artist” as an attribute that applies to every person pursuing a career in the arts. Being successful in the arts is not something that has to cause failure and misery, which is a common misconception.
“There are a lot of preconceived notions about our field that a lot of people don’t understand,” Hatcher said.
Hatcher has been successful within his two majors as well as the Honors program. He describes his Honors classes as yet another outlet to release his emotions and opportunities to speak about important aspects of life. Hatcher described that many people in his Honors classes have held views different from his own. Hatcher holds himself to high standards and understands that success is a mindset.