Why we should applaud the trans ballet dancer

Our trans columnist Rhyannon Styles speaks out

MOST POPULAR

Sophie Rebecca is the first openly male-to-female transgender dancer to train at the Royal Academy of Dance.

In 2013 the academy, which is 95 years old, abandoned its insistence that only biologically born female dancers should be permitted to take its female courses.

Sophie, 35, is not currently planning a career on the stage, but is training for her ‘intermediate foundation’ qualification; the dance equivalent of an AS level.

ADVERTISEMENT - CONTINUE READING BELOW

Ballet is a classic and established artform, and for centuries we’ve seen the typically dainty ballerina and sturdy prince pose and jeté on stage, enforcing binary gender roles. Who ever would of dreamed of a dancing male swan?

But in contemporary ballet, choreographers like Matthew Bourne have played with gender, employing male dancers to dance the steps of traditionally female roles. Why shouldn’t this be the next step?

MOST POPULAR

 

Photo: Spiros Politis/Dance Gazette

 

When I was a young boy growing up, not yet aware I was transgender, my little sister had a jewellery box I was fascinated with.

On the outside it had yellow and blue illustrations of cats playing with balls of wool. When you opened the box, the inside was bright pink. As you lifted the lid and revealed the interior, a tacky-sounding, out-of-tune chime would play. It was then you saw a ballerina pirouetting in front of a small triangle mirror standing proud above the cheap jewellery.

This ballerina mesmerised me, I loved the feel of her tulle tutu and gold detail on her ballet shoes. I suppose the image of the ballerina, her swan-like grace, flexibility and serene nature, are all attributes to a stereotypical form of femininity. Hence why the ballerina could be found in a young girl’s jewellery box.

Despite my early desire for this dancer, I didn’t grow up wanting to be a ballerina.

By the time I was teenager I was rebellious loud mouth with green hair, mocking any form of discipline and exercise.

But three years ago I did get a tattoo of a ballerina on my right arm to symbolise and acknowledge a degree of femininity I felt I now had. 

So to me, and many others, this story is incredibly important.

We need to focus on its merits rather than the discussion regarding the physicality of trans bodies. Isn’t it really positive and forward thinking that an institution such as The Royal Academy is open to trans-identifying dancers? Allowing them to train in the classes and environments where they identify and feel most comfortable.

I used to go to a craft club run by a woman who lived around the corner from me.

Every Thursday night at around 6pm my female friends and I would go round to her house and make things like cards, pictures and wooden spoon dollies, all paying 20p for the materials and biscuits she provided.

One night though she pulled me aside and suggested to my horror I’d be better off playing with the lads on the field and not to come back next week.

I was ejected because of my gender. She had decided this club was too girly for me.

If the RAD can allow transgender dancers to train and perfect their skills then I hope it won’t be long before we see trans females playing the role of the dancing swan without ruffling a feather.

Boys who dream of growing up to be pretty ballerinas needn’t feel ashamed or isolated anymore. This is 2016. Thank you Sophie!

Read Next: