We Need to Stop Shaming Male Dancers | Opinion

have to fight through the current of thinly veiled contempt that much of society harbors for our chosen path. In our culture, girls are encouraged to take ballet; boys receive no such endorsement, except of course from ballet teachers or exceptionally supportive parents.

The boy who perseveres in dance must have a genuine hunger for it, must be uniquely motivated and dedicated, and must develop a truly thick skin.

I started taking ballet when I was 5. My open-minded parents thought it was a good way to channel my rambunctious behavior. A few years later I was hooked. I loved the physicality and, of course, the girls, but I also learned that not everyone recognized the value of dance the way I did. I don't remember the first fight I got into for being a kid who took ballet, but I remember fighting a lot before I realized that maybe I should keep my extracurricular activities to myself. But ballet was rewarding enough to be worth a fat lip or a black eye, and I emerged from my years of dance training more focused than ever.

My background is not unusual among my American colleagues—they share similar stories of discouragement, harassment and even violence. But these experiences served to harden resolve and develop courage, and I know I can always count on several of my dancer buddies for steadfast support—they got my back! Ironically, the stereotype of the sissy male dancer has given rise to a male dancer who is anything but.

Sascha Radetsky  dance
American Ballet Theater presents "Othello" at the Metropolitan Opera House on May 22, 2007. Marcelo Gomes (L) as Othello and Sascha Radetsky as Iago. Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

It's frustrating that I feel obliged to extol the virtues and describe the rigors of my profession. I'd just like to make it known that the path of the male dancer isn't necessarily easy—as with any truly worthwhile endeavor—but the rewards can be limitless. I feel lucky to have discovered a vocation that has allowed me to glimpse the great depth of human potential, both physical and mental, and has given me the opportunity to bring joy to so many people in so many places. I feel there is honor in the arts, in the world of dance, in the realm of male ballet dancing.

Exposure to ballet is all that is needed to open minds, for the combination of athletic movement, ardent drama and beautiful music can instill a profound appreciation in an audience. But for you out there who still feel compelled to malign male dancers with half-truths and petty stereotypes, well, maybe we need to step outside. I'll leave my tights on.

Sascha Radetsky is a former soloist with the American Ballet Theatre and principal dancer with the Dutch National Ballet. In 2018 he was named artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's Studio Company.