The general consensus among straight male dancers—including myself—is that touching half-naked girls in leotards is awesome.
Should you ask out your partner, or she you, by the time you’ve had your first date together you’ve likely copped a feel of the waist, the legs, the butt, the boobs and the crotch (inadvertently or not). At that point, neither party could possibly feel awkward about the prospect of kissing, or a chocolate-doused body sundae for that matter.
In fact, the sexual tension has likely boiled over to the point that subsequent “dates” feel like formalities before the foreplay. “Check, please!” you say, quickly and often. Then you run home and go down on each other, like two dormant volcanoes finally exploding.
If dating is a numbers game, then the odds couldn’t be better for a straight male dancer. The females in a dance studio tend to outnumber the males by a ratio of six to one, and that’s a conservative estimate. Odds are also likely that a portion of the dudes are gay. This is in an environment that essentially demands intimacy, perhaps one of the only workplaces that allows one to engage in such touching without being arrested for it. Ironically, it’s us straight young male dancers who get questioned over our sexuality, when, really, we’ve hit the jackpot.
I’ve given a lot of thought to a large photograph of Mikhail Baryshnikov, hanging in the studio space of American Ballet Theatre in New York. Standing tall like a stallion, a long cape draped over both shoulders, the Russian marvel looks off into the distance, his hands aiming downward, as if suggesting onlookers should admire his bulge.
As a teenager, I often stared at that picture because it stood for something more than what it appeared to be. This was the man many male dancers aspired to become, and who many female dancers aspired to sleep with. If not for his good looks, then for his talent. Baryshnikov epitomized the dancing male’s sexual appeal. With gaudy jumps, supremely placed pirouettes and technical inventions of skill so athletic, and so unheard of at the time, that no one could duplicate them, the 5'6" Russian impressed like a rock star. He made ballerinos sexy and desirable, even for the non-dancers who wouldn’t know a plié from a penché.
As a consequence of this picture’s aura, I spent many teenage summers imagining what it would be like to be Baryshnikov, to have many fans and to possess the skills that drew the attention of many girls. Perhaps the easiest way to find out was to start dancing, but I didn’t try that until college. Instead, I resigned to watch from a distance, like the perverted Peeping Tom I was.
My mom—a former dancer—ran American Ballet Theatre’s Intensive program from 1997–2003, and for five weeks during at least three summers, I watched as a number of 14- to 18-year-old ballerinas trained there. During the first day of classes, I’d peek through the small windows of the studio doors to see a hot sweaty mess of breasts and thighs, arms and faces. I gauged my chances, guessing which girl might find me attractive. I tried to look as pathetic as possible, in the hopes that one ballerina would approach me, asking if I was okay. She’d pity me, of course. Then we’d find a janitor’s closet and lose our virginities to one another. It never happened, but I did make other observations. One: Chicks dig the dance belt (the jockstrap of male dancing garb). And two: The pickings are slim for the ladies in the dance studio.
So in college, at Iowa, I began dancing. It’s where I fell in love with the art form, but it’s also where I found myself in the most trouble. As one of maybe a handful of men, three of whom were gay, in a dance department of roughly 75 people, I drew the attention of a few girls. I slept with several dancers over the course of four years. Some were casual flings; others I dated more seriously. Some were aggressive; some were sweet. There were good moments and bad moments—the bad ones I hate to remember, where people’s feelings got hurt and sex became sex for sex’s sake. It wasn’t charm that attracted these women. When options are slim, sometimes you go for what’s available. I took advantage of that fact.
In my junior year of college, I began dating a fellow dancer pretty seriously. We decided to go downtown one night to join others in our program for drinks at a bar after rehearsal. I had a history with one of the other dancers there: a not-so-innocent sleepover two years earlier. The secret was ours. Minimal interaction was sometimes forced upon us during a rehearsal or a dance class, but as far as I knew, our avoidance of one another was amicable.
A few drinks and a couple of tequila shooters into the night, the former fling decided to tell my current lady that she and I had been together. A shoving match ensued, and the aftermath was a bit of a blur. One of them called me an asshole and the other smacked me across the face. Even now, I’m not sure of the order.
One thing, though, is certain. I walked home alone that night, hands in my pockets, a singular refrain bouncing around in my head: “Damn you, Baryshnikov. Damn you.”