How a Group of Gay Male Ballet Dancers Is Rethinking Masculinity

David Ebershoff: I’m a writer, editor, and teacher. My novels include The Danish Girl, adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Academy Award-winners Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander, and the #1 bestseller The 19th Wife, which was adapted into a television movie.

1. The Ballerino

When I was 15, I met a dancer from Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet. The company had come to Los Angeles to dance in the Olympic Arts Festival, and my parents volunteered to host a post-performance dinner in our backyard. I recall about 200 people — family friends, Olympic officials and maybe 25 dancers — eating curry (is that right?) off paper plates. But that’s not what this is about. No, this is about the ballerino — my word for him — I met and what he represented to a lonely gay kid in Southern California in 1984, a kid who had never before met another gay person. Earlier that evening, I had seen the dancer turn, leap and smile onstage, expressing through the mute language of ballet who he was. Something about his movement told me he was gay, and I felt he was dancing not only for himself but for me. Onstage, the ballerino wore brown tights that showed the trunks of his thighs, and everything else. Now he was in loose linen pants with a drawstring belt and an open collar that exposed the rod of his clavicle.

He said hello. I could barely speak. He might have said, “Lovely party,” but that was it, he was on his way. The isolation of my queer youth was about to return. Out of nowhere, I told him he was my favorite ballet dancer in the world.

He seemed startled, and a little embarrassed, but he came to understand what I was trying to say: “If you need someone to talk to, you can write me, care of the Ballet.” The next day, I rode my bike to the library and looked up the address in Winnipeg and sent a letter trying to express something about myself I had never expressed before. Two months later, he wrote back, apologizing: He’d been on tour. Although time has devoured that sheet of paper, I still remember the gentle message embedded in his words: One day, you too will find yourself.

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