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


Courtesy Ballet West

Celebrating 75 Years of Sugar Plum

America's oldest Nutcracker celebrates its milestone 75th anniversary this month.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Alvin Ailey surrounded by the Company, 1978. Photography by Jack Mitchell, © Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation, Inc. andSmithsonian Institution, All rights reserved.

You Can Now View More Than 10,000 Photos From Jack Mitchell's Alvin Ailey Collection Online

From 1961 to 1994, legendary photographer Jack Mitchell captured thousands of moments with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Now, this treasure trove of dance history is available to the public for viewing via the online archives of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The collection includes both color and black-and-white images of Ailey's repertoire, as well as private photo sessions with company members and Ailey himself. Altogether, the archive tracks the career development of many beloved Ailey dancers, including Masazumi Chaya, Judith Jamison, Sylvia Waters, Donna Wood and Dudley Williams—and even a young Desmond Richardson. And there's no shortage of photos of iconic pieces like Blues Suite (Ailey's first piece of choreography), Cry and Revelations.

We couldn't resist sharing a few of our favorites below. Search the collection for more gems here.

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
Getty Images

Our Wish List for the Next Decade of Dance

There are lots of gift guides floating around the internet this time of year. But the end of the decade has us thinking about more than presents.

As much as the dance world has evolved over the past 10 years, there's still a lot of work to do. So we started pondering: If we could ask Santa for our wildest wishes, what would we want to him to bring us in the '20s?

GO DEEPER SHOW LESS
contest
Enter Our Video Contest