Ballet, renowned for its grace and elegance, has captivated audiences for centuries. However, when we envision ballet, our minds often conjure images of delicate ballerinas in tutus, overshadowing the male dancers who possess equal talent and artistry. Throughout history, men have played a pivotal role in the development of artistic interpretations within ballet. Yet, societal pressures, biased misconceptions, and entrenched norms have cast a shadow on the dreams of young boys aspiring to become ballet dancers.
In an effort to shed light on this ongoing debate, we sat down with Samir Bellido, a Peruvian ballet dancer, to discuss his personal journey and unravel the detrimental effects of stereotypes. Join us as we delve into the world of male ballet dancers, exploring the challenges they face and the remarkable contributions they bring to the dance floor.
In this thought-provoking article, we aim to challenge preconceived notions and highlight the importance of embracing diversity within the ballet community. Samir’s firsthand experiences will expose the harmful consequences of pigeonholing male dancers, while also revealing the potential for ballet to be both a lifeline and a catalyst for change. Discover why men belong in the dance studio and why their presence is vital for the evolution of this timeless art form.
Don’t miss this captivating interview that will transform the way you perceive ballet, fostering a greater appreciation for the exceptional talents of male dancers. Together, let’s celebrate their contributions and break free from the confining constraints of traditional gender roles within the ballet world.
Ballet has been one of the most beautiful art forms for centuries, but when people hear the word ballet, they tend to imagine a beautiful, delicate woman in a tutu, however, there are just as many male ballet dancers who deserve the spotlight and the recognition just as much as their female counterparts. Even though the role of men in ballet has always been important for the development of artistic interpretations, at some point in the history of the western world, the narrative of a boy’s dream of becoming a dancer is being threatened by historical norms, societal pressures and biased misconceptions. To share a light on this ongoing debate about how and why men should be seen in a dance class we asked Peruvian ballet dancer Samir Bellido about his upbringing and how certain stereotypes can be both harmful and lifesaving.
… I could finally be the person I always wanted to be
Hi Samir, thank you for taking the time to be a part of our next print issue. I’ve been a fan of yours for a while now.
Oh no problem, my pleasure!
Before we jump into our main topic, I would just love to hear a little bit of your upbringing and when did you first fall in love with ballet?
So, when I was 15 I asked this girl in my school if I could join her for ballet class, just really out of curiosity. At first, I was kind of scared but when we arrived there, I instantly felt this kind of enchantment. Some might call it love at first sight. It really was this feeling when you meet someone and you feel this tingling in your stomach. And this is exactly what it felt like when I first entered a ballet class. And I knew, from this moment on, there is no turning back.
That’s really sweet. How did your parents react about your new discovery?
Not going to lie, I was very anxious about telling them. Because where I grew up, people still have this stereotypical idea how a man should be. But after my first ballet class I knew that it was worth it. I didn’t tell them that I wanted to become a professional ballet dancer, but that this would be something like a hobby that I would practice 2 -3 times a week after school.
So at 15 years old you started doing ballet? Maybe this is a misconception but isn’t this a little too late to be considering a career as a professional ballet dancer?
So when did you realize you wanted to do ballet professionally?
So, right after this six month ballet workshop, we had this big showcase where I could show off what I’ve learned so far. And honestly I was just happy to be there. So, after the show this lady came up to me and basically gave me a scholarship to join the Nation Ballet School in Lima. It really felt like one of those dance movies where in the end the lead gets a contract for a company. She said that I have everything that I would need to form myself into a professional dancer, but I would need to get proper training. This opportunity really pushed me to think I could be a professional dancer someday.
How did your parents react?
It was good, because now I actually could show them that I got this validation from someone who actually knows the business inside the world of ballet. This experience definitely gave me some confidence to let them know that this career path could actually work for me. And if they see that I’ve been selected out of 2000 people, maybe they would understand. And thankfully they did. I mean, they were still a little bit ignorant about how you can make money out of ballet, but they trusted me with this decision and I will forever be grateful for that.
So you were still underage when all those wonderful opportunities were happening. My question is, how did you manage to keep the balance between your school work and your ballet training?
So right after school I would take a two hour train to make it to my 10pm ballet class which would take until midnight then take the two hour train back home and wake up at 6am for school. And that was my daily life until I finally graduated from high school and I could finally concentrate on what I am really passionate about. But the training was really rough. My ballet instructor was this stereotypical russian teacher who would stop the music when you mess up something and you would have to do it again in front of the class. And if you make the mistake three times in a row, you would be asked to leave the dance studio. I even heard his voice stuck in my head right before falling asleep at night. And over the course of one year some many people have left the class that in the end I was the only one left. But even though I don’t fully support his standards of teaching, I did really shape my character. But honestly I enjoyed that lifestyle, because I knew this was necessary to become a professional ballet dancer someday. And I could finally be the person I always wanted to be.
So, how did you make the big jump to Europe?
The director of my ballet school in Brazil told me about this opportunity in Austria and I was like “Yes, let’s do it!” and we made it happen. I didn’t know what I would expect there but I always wanted to dance somewhere in Europe and now, here we are!
Let’s bring it back to March 2020 and the truth is we lost a lot in the pandemic. Especially, the art scene has suffered a lot during this time. How was your experience with having regular classes and performance to then suddenly have to pause for months.?
I remember just going to rehearsal and we all knew something bad was in our way. They told us to go home. At first, they told us we were going to stop for a few weeks. And weeks become months. And I felt like I was losing everything that I was working for the past few years. Meaning, my training, my fitness and energy. My apartment is really small so it was really impossible to do proper training there. I tried everything that could have replaced a bar, but honestly it’s just not the same. You need the mirror, you need the bar at the exact height and it was just not possible to get the same exact effect. So I stopped and just did yoga for months. Then I started meditating.And honestly, I found this stillness and it did really help to cope with everything that was happening around us. I guess the people who practice yoga daily are in the right. It helps you not only to stay in shape but also just with your overall well being as well.
I am a theater nerd myself. And I have to say that while we all were in lockdown, I missed live performances the most. Because honestly, you just can’t replace live performances. You can film them and some of it translates pretty well to a small screen but nothing will ever top the experience when you go to a theater and just feel the energy of the performers. Can you agree with that?
Yes, definitely, Going to the theater really is a full experience. You get your tickets, you wear something nice, you enjoy the performance. I remember our first big performance right after everything was shut down for months, and you just stand there on this big stage and you feel this tension and energy from the audience. And you don’t really appreciate this experience until you don’t have it. I had goosebumps the whole time throughout the show. It is just a reminder that you are human and you are alive. And this is the reason why we are performers in the first place.
I know this is a basic opinion, but I love the ‘Nutcracker Ballet’. Since I was a little boy I just fell in love with the music, the show and the characters. And I saw on your Instagram that you got to finally dance the prince in this beloved ballet saying “A black Peruvian prince making his dreams come true in Whiteland.” How was this feeling of finally dancing this role and the importance of seeing your skin color represented on stage?
It really was amazing. Since I was 15 I always wanted to be the Nutcracker Prince, actually any kind of prince. But the truth is they don’t usually cast boys who look like me to be the prince and if they do they are usually crazy good with their technique. So at first, I got cast as the understudy for the prince and I was fine with that and I didn’t want to think too much about it because I didn’t want to get my hopes up . But then I realized that I had the same rehearsals as the first cast and they wanted me to learn this part more exclusively. They then told us that they will split up the dates where my colleague and I would be both dancing the part on different show nights. And just like that I was there, finally being the prince in ‘The Nutcracker’. It was definitely a dream come true.
When people hear the word ‘ballet’ – they tend to have this stereotypical picture of beautiful delicate ballerinas, who wear pink tutus and play fairies all day. But we all know that reality looks different. Especially for men there is this huge double standard. Can you elaborate on this thought a little bit?
Absolutely. In Lima, there is an idea of how a man should be. Different is just wrong. This stereotypical picture comes from the church and the government there. I knew that, being a ballet dancer, people in Peru would have their opinions about it. Even being gay over there is basically like a death sentence. I struggled a lot with my sexuality. Growing up, I put up this persona how everyone wanted me to be, but honestly I just couldn’t do this anymore. Fun fact, my voice in Spanish is actually deeper than in any other language because I was training it for years to sound like everyone wanted me to. I even prayed hoping that my homosexual tendencies would go away. It was very frustrating. But I knew that in the ballet world, I could be whoever I wanted to be and even live out my more feminin sides. I can be delicate, I can be feminin, which was actually my first association with ballet in general. But honestly there is no feminin or masculin me, there is just me and that should be enough. I mean, there are not only “feminin” guys in ballet, there are also a lot of what our society understands as “masculin” guys as well. The ballet classes just helped me to express myself the way that I wanted to. It was definitely a safe space for me.
So what I realized about our conversation is when I ask you about the ballet world, you mostly combine it with being gay. In your point of view, is there this strong connection with being gay and being a ballet dancer. Or was being a dancer your kind of first step of your coming out?
I don’t think ballet is a place for you to be gay. I just knew that my feminin side in ballet would be there more welcomed than in any other place. It was good for me to have this safe space. But then when I first came to Europe it was very shocking to me to see these hyper maskulin ballet dancers who have families and wifes. It just didn’t make sense to me, because in Latin America we usually put those things in the same box. Ballet gives you the space to find out who you really are and maybe not necessarily your sexuality. The stereotype will always be there but it’s not the whole truth.
What do you want to say to young boys who are aspiring to become ballet dancers?
First I would say to anyone who wants to become a dancer, well despite the training, you need to learn how to take care of yourself first. You need to know how to cook, how to take care of the paperwork, there are just things nobody prepares you for. But you need that inner motivation to get there because else it will be very difficult. Have the certainty that you want it for 100%. And if you are certain, just go for it and don’t think too much. Because what will take you further is your hard work. At the end of the day it will be definitely rewarding to see that you’re doing this whole process for yourself and nobody else. And this is the most rewarding aspect of the job.