Real Men Like the Ballet

by Max Andrews

I was speaking with a good friend of mine earlier today and she told me about why her recent ex-boyfriend broke up with her (let’s call her Jane and him Richard).  Jane is in her last year as an undergraduate in theatre.  Richard couldn’t come to terms with an appreciation for theatre and the arts. According to him these things are only useful if used for explicit ministerial purposes.  This led to Richard breaking up with Jane.  This is such a sad state of affairs.  What makes this a curious situation is that I’m fairly confident this ideology is rampant in men.  I often hear that if a man is in theatre, the ballet, or the arts he must be gay or feminine. I’m going to argue on the contrary. It seems that being masculine or manly has become equivocated with being macho or a rough and tough man who likes football and hockey.  There’s nothing wrong with football and hockey, surely real men can like these too, but there’s more to being a masculine man than just that. Men who have an appreciation for theatre, ballet, opera, gymnastics, poetry, and the arts are men who encompass so much more about life.

Let’s primarily consider just a few of these examples.  Ballet is such a beautiful feat.  This is one of the most beautiful expressions of the beauty and ability of the human body. Imagine an adagio, slow graceful movements to slow music, while the woman is performing several movements and entrechats and she comes to rest in battement tendu (sliding her straightened out leg beside her).  While she comes to her last position imagine the man gracefully approaching her for their final coda.  He forms his body to hers for a perfect coupling. The grace, discipline, strength, and the form of dance is a spectacular demonstration of the body.  It’s a presentation of how the beauty of the body can be expressed–the intimacy of the coupling of body to body.

Theatre is a mastery of genius.  Think of Shakespeare and MacBeth, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet.  Shakespeare’s prose and language are nothing short of genius.  He mastered the English language and was able to use this ability to express it in sensual, pleasurable, and lovely forms–particularly in Romeo and Juliet.  This work depicts a form of Alcibiadian love.  In Plato’s Symposium there are many friends discussing what love is.  Towards the end an Athenian celebrity named Alcibiades comes in having had wine.  Alcibiades proceeds to tell Socrates about his undying love for him.  He chases down Socrates’ love envying his reciprocation.  It’s the never-ending pursuit of the person. (This of course can be expressed in non-homosexual ways).  Romeo and Juliet depict this very type of love.  Recall Hamlet’s struggles throughout the play.  Hamlet faces one of the most serious existential questions–should he kill himself?  In his soliloquy (which is actually debated if it was ever intended to be one), he discusses the absurdity of life. “To be or not to be.” We’ve all heard that. It could be translated as, “To exist or not to exist.” “To die, to sleep–to sleep–perchance to dream, ay’ there’s the rub, For in that sleep of death what dreams may come.”  This is so pervasive to our psyche.  Do you recall the Robin Williams movie “What Dreams May Come?”  In this film Williams’ children and wife are killed.  Then, he is killed in an accident and goes to heaven.  He learns his wife is in hell and would rather himself be in hell and she be in heaven.  It’s a cosmic suicide.  It’s the dreams in death and what they may become–suicide.  The mastery of genius, questions of existence, and literary beauty coming to life.  To be able to take beautiful dramas, comedies, and tragedies, which were once in the mind of a genius, to be penned and then to be lived is an amazing expression of human imagination and expressions of life’s tensions and joys.

So often we all look at something called “art” and wonder what in the world it’s doing and why it’s called art.  Consider Vincent van Goh’s painting, Starry Night.  Notice the rolling clouds.  The rolling feature in the sky capture your attention and brings your focus from star to star. After sliding your eyes across the night sky following the rolls the night sky impresses itself onto the rolling hills of the town, which itself is rolling.  At the center of the town is the church.  The church is unadulterated by these rolls–why?

Look at the painting “The Great Wave.” Notice the structure of the wave.  The tips of the wave are themselves wave.  This gives the impression of some kind of monism.  What I mean by that is there is an element that is the most fundamental concept of reality that portrays itself in this fashion.  In this painting, a wave is a wave of smaller waves.  This is strikingly similar to reality–isn’t it?  This painting has been a fascinating expression of fractal geometry–that is, everything is composed of the same thing just in mass quantities of that thing.

So why hasn’t poetry, theatre, ballet, and the arts been accepted into being recognized as being many and masculine? One could only speculate.  The tremendous discipline and, sometimes, physical feats that are performed are just as demanding and rigorous as football and hockey–if not more.  From a Christian perspective the aesthetics (theatre, art, poetry, ballet, etc.) are reflections of God’s beauty.  There is a sense of objective beauty in the world.  Poetry may very well be the closest way to express the beauty of language, mind, and genius.  Theatre may be the most fun and sobering way to allow imagination become real.  Ballet is one of the most stunning depictions of the ability and beauty of the human body.  It’s not necessarily the people who depict this–it’s what they do with their bodies that point beyond themselves to so much more.  A masculine man must not necessarily participate in all these disciplines but he ought to appreciate what they represent, depict, and point to. Why should this be excluded from masculinity?  Shouldn’t a man encompass and appreciate the most important questions of existential reflection, of imagination, and of beauty?– I believe the answer is: absolutely.


3 Comments to “Real Men Like the Ballet”

  1. Definitely like this post. It was very well written and so true to life. Many of those things states I had never even thought about. But I just love how God is everywhere and in everything and it can ALL be used for His glory. It’s just a matter of whether we’re allowing ourselves to see God in all these areas. I worship God through the arts, in many ways. I see a beautifully painted picture in a gallery and I give thanks to the Lord for the talent he blessed someone with to make something beauty that I can enjoy. Same with theatre. God has a bigger imagination than ours and it (along with ballet, gymnastics, etc) is just one way to express His qualities. Like I said, I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you for writing and sharing ;)

  2. Great post. Great writing. Fascinating subject.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, I think men’s attitudes and behaviour towards the arts boils down to upbringing. And upbringing tends to be a reflection of ‘where we’re currently at’ as a civilisation.

    We’re currently post industrial and well into the technological/ information age which means rugged, manly, gnarly men just aren’t required in quite the same way they used to be (to farm the land with hand tools for instance etc). The rapid increases in prosperity and productivity (after the agricultural and then industrial revolutions) has also allowed governments to cream off more and more in taxation, allowing the state to grow and grow and grow. Power, protection and decision making (all traditionally male roles) have been steadily taken away from the ordinary man-in-the-street (and even from local, typically male, committees, guilds and councils) and today these duties and responsibilities are largely taken care of by the state. The last few decades have seen an even greater centralisation of power, knowledge, skills and decision making (eg the EU, think tanks, alphabet agencies and various ‘paid experts’). And state welfare now enables (and even encourages) women to bring up children without a live in father/ breadwinner… and perhaps without a father figure at all! (even highly skilled labour is now being replaced by robots)

    All of this can leave your average modern man feeling rather redundant or under valued at a time when women appear to be gaining more and more independence and becoming more assertive and even competing with men in the (now typically office-based) workplace rather successfully. You could speculate that this has led to a ‘crisis in masculine identity’ and perhaps an over compensation for that expressed as men eschewing anything remotely ‘sensitive’ or ‘arty’.

    But that wasn’t my main point…. because the state has another trick up its sleeve. Having usurped, to a large degree, men’s tribal roles in terms of power, decision making, skills and expertise, protection of the family, general leadership and even fatherhood the state now offers men surrogate versions of manly/ tribal activities in the form of………. sports! Sports are games which allow men to ‘play’ at all of these things which no longer exist in real life.

    But sports do something else too. Sports teach men (from early childhood) about war strategy and having a war mindset. Being part of a compartmentalised hierarchy, obeying orders, acting as a ‘unit’ (part of a team), overcoming exhaustion and even fear of your opponent/ enemy, playing against an opponent (often dehumanising your opponent)…… this is all war! Sports covertly teach men from the earliest age how to be patriotic (blindly obedient to ‘your’ team – ‘your’ leaders – based purely on where you were born), racism (it certainly lays the foundations). The sports teams’ colours and flags and scarves mirror the national flags and colours of the state. Sports teaches us to think in terms of duality, opposites (us vs them) based on arbitrary difference (ie geographical location) and it teaches men aggression and competitiveness, but exclusively in terms of hierarchy (win or you lose…. others must lose for you to win).

    This is the reason why sports games have always been given (bizarrely when you actually think about it) the same status as ‘news’ for a century now! (A century which has seen an awful lot of war….). Sports has become essential training for men. This emotional, physical, psychic conditioning is so in-your-face most of us can’t even see it.

    But just imagine if dance such as ballet (with its intricate *partnering* of both opposite sex and same sex partners as well as its group movement) was given the same status and time allocation in children’s upbringing as sports. Throw in some yoga, meditation and martial arts …. add some more drama, fashion and increase the music and visual arts (which is always pitiful). Now imagine if the ‘news’ carried as many stories about the arts as it did about football. Just thinking about that makes one imagine a totally different mood permeating all of society.

    The bottom line is that the state loves to go to war. For (those who run) governments, war is (among other things) a cold, clinical business enterprise – a very profitable one too!

    And so having already taken over so many of the traditionally male roles in society, promoting a sports orientated culture for boys and men allows the state to kill two (actually four) birds with one stone.

    1. Sport distracts and placates men with a substitute their for fast disappearing tribal / community/ nuclear family life.

    2. Sport prepares males to fight wars for the state – either literally to go and ‘fight for their country’ as soldiers or in terms of supporting war as a policy thanks to of a war-like mindset encouraged by sports. ie patriotism, racism, difference, hierarchy, win-lose competition.

    3. Sports fills up men’s ‘tribal talk’ time with talk of transfers, ref’s decisions, player’s performances, your team’s strategy, league tables etc. (ie sports politics and gossip). WIthout sports men in bars and pubs and on their tea break might be more inclined to talk about REAL things like their feelings, relationships, family life, politics and traditional tribal subjects like possible threats to their family, community, livelihood etc and what to do about them.

    Sports talk ‘neutralises’ men’s brains and conversations (just as celeb gossip neutralises women’s brains and conversations). Think how different the world would be if thousands of men gathered every weekend NOT to sit in sports arenas, eating hotdogs to shout with passion at sports players but gathered instead at town and city halls to talk politics and local issues which affect their (families’) lives, and to shout with passion at political people to sort out real issues.

    4. Lastly (returning closer to topic….) Sports also helps to define ‘manliness’ / ‘heroism’ ONLY in terms of whacking a ball around a field. It’s not that that kind of manliness or heroism is ‘wrong’ per se …… it’s the total absence of intellectual prowess and artistic sensibility being part of those ‘manly’ definitions which is the problem. And the fact that the red blooded, overtly heterosexual, sport loving man has often (but not always) transferred the majority of his tribal/ community/ familial loyalties and interest from his own family/ community to ‘his’ sports team/ country/ government.

    Sports helps to keep men divided (polarised) by defining manliness as being ‘ignorant, uncultured but spirited and tough’ (the perfect soldier, bravely obeying orders) …… as opposed to the antithetical ‘intellectual man’ who is ‘intelligent, well educated, cultured but weak and devious/deviant to the core’ (the perfect politician or banker… or ‘gay’). This perceived division into two basic camps amongst men with an impassible schism in between is NOT beneficial to men or to society, but it is thoroughly beneficial for the state….. which is why they encourage it.

    Two things which will really help to balance out men (and save the world in the process!)

    1. The internet. (the exchange of intelligent, inquisitive information and cultural ideas – bypassing the mass media – such as your blog post!)

    2. For children to be raised once again by at least one stay-at-home parent and in a stable loving non violent family (rather than being raised predominantly by the state, MTV, Disney, Hollywood etc). The more loving and secure the upbringing, the MORE secure the child becomes as an individual (such as breaking free of restrictive social stereotypes)….. and the LESS that child will trust outside authority (such as the state, advertising and peer pressure). That leads into the effects of men (on everyone) of feminism….. a whole other subject….

    Phew… that’s my 2 cents on the matter :)

  3. Reblogged this on allisonjbraun and commented:
    I enjoyed this post by a friend of mine. He makes a very serious and excellent point and his writing is fantastic. Enjoy!

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