Thoughts on gender have evolved since Louis XIV's era. Maybe it's time training evolves too. Photo by Matthew Murphy for Pointe.

Is It Time to Rethink "Men's" Class?

Next semester, there'll be a new course name on the syllabus of Boston Conservatory at Berklee: "Constructed Gender Identities in Classical Ballet: Men's Variations."

But this is not a new course, just a new title. The old name is one you might recognize: "Men's Class."


Three female ballet dancers perform arabesque in ballet class

Ballet class at Boston Conservatory at Berklee College. Photo by Michelle Parkos, courtesy Boston Conservatory at Berklee College.

The official course names for both Women's Variations and Pas de Deux will also start with the qualifier "Constructed Gender Identities in Classical Ballet." What does this mean? Well, for starters, it means that all three classes will be open to any dance student who wants to take them, regardless of their gender identity.

"As a higher education institution, we do not want to be offering a course that's only available to certain students based on their gender identity," says Cathy Young, the executive director of Boston Conservatory at Berklee and former dean of the dance division. "We want all of our students to be able to access all the material that's being offered."

Even though the dance division has previously had male-identifying students take pointe class and female-identifying students take men's variations, it is now official school policy that these classes must be open and inclusive to all.

In addition to increasing access, this change is also designed to help present ballet in its historical context. "Classical ballet is built around a particular presentation of gender that reflects a specific moment in time," Young explains. "This is not about making a judgement about that, but contextualizing it."

She admits that she's a bit apprehensive about how some in the ballet world—possibly including Boston Conservatory's own faculty members—might interpret this shift. So she's very clear: "This is not at all about dismantling ballet traditions, or devaluing traditions. It's about reframing how we present this material to our students, so that everyone can engage with this form."

A black dancer flies through the air in a split on a black stage

Boston Conservatory student Lilly Rose Valore, the first trans woman studying in the dance division, performs on the main stage. Photo by Jim Coleman, courtesy Boston Conservatory at Berklee College

These changes came at the urging of the student government association. But the school's leadership has been having several conversations about gender for the past two years, ever since then-sophomore Lilly Rose Valore announced that she identified as female and asked for access to parts of the ballet curriculum recommended for female-identifying students. Ever since transitioning, Valore has worked actively to make the school a more inclusive and accepting space. Today, the conservatory also has students who identify as non-binary.

"Labeling your curriculum around gender identity, you're excluding students—that seems deeply unacceptable to me," says Young. "Our job as a conservatory is to respect the traditions but also reimagine them so they are relevant to the world we live in now."

She also wants to make sure the school is nurturing every student. "In terms of training them as performing artists, the center of what we do is helping them develop their unique, individual voice. We want to make space for all of those voices."

Update: This story was updated on December 19 to properly identify student Lilly Rose Valore.

Latest Posts


Paul Matteson teaching at Lion's Jaw Performance & Dance Festival. Photo courtesy Matteson

These 5 Mistakes Are Holding You Back from Improving

There's a healthy dose of repetition in your dance education—whether it's those same fundamentals you're asked to practice over and over as you deepen your technique or the many run-throughs it takes to polish a piece of choreography. But teachers also see the same missteps and issue the same reminders from student to student, perhaps over decades in the studio.

We asked five master teachers to describe the things they wish they no longer had to correct—because if students could just remember to incorporate the feedback, they'd be on their way to becoming better dancers.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Getty Images

How Can We Confront Implicit Bias? The Director of Jacob's Pillow Shares Her Ideas

At Jacob's Pillow's June gala, something happened that outraged me: A patron who identifies as black/biracial felt a white man seated behind her touch her tightly coiled hair. When she ignored him, he audibly complained that her hair would block his view of the stage. At dinner, the patron was further subjected to a series of objectifying questions. "What are you?" asked the white woman sitting next to her. Not "who are you," but a dehumanizing "what." "Who was black? Was it your mother or your father? What do your children look like?"

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Jodi Melnick and Marc Happel presenting to Sara Mearns. Photo by Christopher Duggan

The Dance Magazine Awards Celebrate Everything We Love About Dance

What a night. The Dance Magazine Awards yesterday at the Ailey Citigroup Theater was jam-packed with love for dance.

From legendary icons to early-career choreographers we can't stop obsessing over, the Dance Magazine Awards, presented by the Dance Media Foundation, recognized a wide spectrum of our field.

And with more performances than ever before, the night was an incredible celebration of the dance community. As host Wendy Perron pointed out, in many ways, we doubled the usual fun this year: Some honorees had two performances, some had two presenters, and David Gordon and Valda Setterfield were themselves, well, two awardees.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
contest
Enter Our Video Contest