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Being Transgender in a Binary Ballet World

I'm a transgender ballet dancer (male to female) who desperately wants to perform in a professional company. I haven't come out about my gender because I'm afraid it will hurt my career. Yet it feels wrong to do male variations and have my teachers tell me to be more masculine. What can I do?

—Anonymous


Only you can determine when or if you are ready to share this news. While increasing numbers of transgender contemporary dancers, like Chinese cultural icon Jin Xing, are challenging social norms, ballet—more than any other dance form—is defined by stereotypical gender roles. The art form's training, attire, and gender-specific aspects and movements, like pointe shoes for women and double tours for men, can be confusing to navigate as a transgender dancer. Choreographer Katy Pyle, a cisgender (non-trans) dancer, addresses this dilemma in her Brooklyn-based company Ballez by including a spectrum of gender identities and roles (such as a "Tranimal," a creature that's part bird and part man as the title character in her Firebird).

If you're emotionally prepared to start a conversation about your gender, you might approach a trusted faculty member. But if you feel that your program may not support you as a transgender woman, you could enroll in a different school where you can embrace your femininity more freely. As the dance community becomes more sensitive about the full spectrum of gender identity, it will hopefully welcome all genders into its fold. For more support on how to speak with your teachers, check out PFLAG, the nation's largest network for people of all orientations, allies and families.

Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at advicefordancers@dancemedia.com.

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