Confronting Traditions: Analyzing the Consequences of Classical Ballet’s Dependence on the Gender Binary


This paper examines classical ballet’s dependence on the gender binary and its consequences by analyzing pedagogy, traditions, ideologies, and methodologies that perpetuate unduly gender norms. This paper will also study the unique contributions of select dance practitioners who intentionally dismantle gender binaries through their teaching, choreography, restaging, partnering, and costuming, initiating many long-awaited changes in the dance field.

In ballet, women’s bodies become exposed as an aesthetic object, as their fragile and limber movements, thin figures, and delicate features are demarcated predominately by men and patriarchal structures (Markula & Clark, 2018). The gendered difference in choreography, casting, and expression between the man and the woman implies a vacuous requirement—the weak, feeble, and inferior woman needs a man’s strength and romance without considering the impact of the social construct of gender. These realities produce submissive and docile bodies, as they reinforce gender norms and hierarchy, authoritarian teaching methods, body objectification, and disordered eating (Vandekerkhove, 2018).

There is an unethical pressure to conform to dominant norms of gender and sexuality and a blatant lack of representation for the LGBTQ+ community in ballet. Dancers who do not identify with these gender binaries and norms cannot fully express themselves through ballet’s overwhelmingly heterosexual depictions of romance and implicit yet fundamental elements of idyllic “feminine” and “masculine” movement and aesthetics (Weems, 2008).

While these ballet traditions still hold strong, influential dance practitioners are pushing for evolution in the field. The current generation of dancers, choreographers, and leaders can and should serve as the bridge between old traditions and new standards.