A Man in Tights Speaks Out

I am devouring Frank Augustyn’s ballet memoir as quickly as I devoured Karen Kain’s. The (ghost-)writing isn’t quite as good but it’s great to get the male perspective on the ballet world. Here is a sample:

I never really liked doing interviews anyway; the same old questions kept coming up. How does it feel to be a partner? You’re the one who stands behind the ballerina, and you don’t have much to do, was the implication. You get your one chance, a minute-and-thirty-second solo, to prove that you are good, and that’s it. You must feel like you are a second-class citizen on the stage there. That’s not very masculine, is it?

I have to say that I rarely felt that way. I was happy and proud to be working with an accomplished ballerina. I was proud to present her. After all, most of the time I was a prince, it was my job. I never felt I needed to step in front and take that curtain call at the end in order to feel good. I don’t think a partnership can work if either the man or the woman needs to be centre stage all the time. When I looked around at the great partnerships in ballet…I didn’t see two people fighting for the limelight. I saw two people working together to make something happen. To me, there was an equality in all of this. There was also something almost mystical, where one plus one made more than two.

…As I’ve mentioned, when I first started dancing, I was possibly the only person in the universe who didn’t know that there was a stigma attached to male ballet dancers. Now I knew. In the eyes of the media and just about everyone else in the land where hockey ruled, ballet was for girls and women. So I’d have to face these silly questions again and again. It was convoluted, because no one was actually coming right out and saying what they meant. You knew the underlying theme was, What the hell are you, a heterosexual male, doing here in this world of gay men? Always assuming, of course, that you were a heterosexual male. Dealing with this without protesting too much, and consequently seeming homophobic, was not easy. I simply did not understand what all the fuss was about. It did not matter to me whether my male friends were gay or straight, I saw people as people. Plus, by the time I was nineteen or twenty, I’d seen male dancers in Russia and Europe who were huge stars, commanding a great deal of respect. For me, all this illuminated a sickness in our society, which I didn’t like, but there was not much I could do about it. The articles about me all seemed to be trying to dispel any confusion there might be out there about my sexuality by making me out to be more heroic and more male, macho rather than creative, tough rather than sensitive. I was angry with many of them, because they made me sound so unlike me. I often came across as a sports jock, when I thought of myself as an aspiring dance artist. I saw nothing in my aspirations to be ashamed of, and I did not need or want to gain “masculinity” by being compared to hockey players.

—Frank Augustyn, with Barbara Sears, Dancing from the Heart: A Memoir 

He also describes the very gay Rudolf Nureyev as “the ultimate symbol of masculine strength and virility in dance.” No wonder Kain and Augustyn hit it off they way they did. They are both exceptional human beings as well as exceptional dancers.

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