Ballet student Ashton Bradley in a scene from "Danseur." Photo courtesy NuArts Foundation.

"Danseur" Documentary Confronts the Social Stigma of Being a Boy in Ballet

Updated on 08/28/19

"I never wanted to stop dancing, I just wanted the bullying to stop," says American Ballet Theatre corps member Patrick Frenette in the trailer for Danseur, a new feature-length documentary about the social stigmatization young men face in ballet. His words shed light not only on the prevalence of harassment boys endure from peers outside the studio, but also their passion and determination to keep dancing in spite of it. The film, produced by NuArts Foundation, features interviews with ballet students, teachers and directors, as well as professional dancers like James Whiteside, John Lam, Derek Dunn and Harper Watters. Screenings are slowly being added around the country—check out the list of dates at the bottom of this story.




The documentary is the brainchild of director Scott Gormley. "I have a son who is a dancer, so I watched what he went through," he told Pointe. "I thought, is this typical?" After doing some research and talking to other parents and dancers, he realized that cruel and relentless teasing, along with social isolation and disapproval from peers and adults, was all too common. "It just felt like a message that had to be broadcast. My goal with the film is to educate people about the subject and hopefully start some conversations about what young men face when they choose to dance."

Gormley spread the word that he was working on the documentary and, after interviewing several young men, developed a teaser. "Once it was on YouTube and people started sharing it, I got more emails and more phone calls," he says. He eventually reached out to high-profile dancers like Whiteside, who were eager to participate. Gormley noticed common themes from all of them. "No matter who it was, they said they felt like they were an outcast from the general population," he says, adding that most bullying took place during middle school. "I'd hear that they were embarrassed, that they wouldn't share with other kids that they were dancing, that they'd disappear after school and make excuses for not participating in sports." Some were physically assaulted, while others lacked parental support, especially from their fathers.

The abuse is enough to make many boys quit ballet. "But what I found really interesting," says Gormley, "was that the ones who moved past it had a pretty strong sense of self early on. No matter what anyone else thought, they were going to dance because they loved it." (Sadly, two of the dancers featured in the film have since died. Fourteen-year-old Alexei Bauereis was struck by a car in 2016; Darrell Cleveland, a beloved teacher in Dallas, was murdered in 2017. The film is dedicated to them.)

Screening Dates

Upcoming screenings for Danseur are listed below. We'll keep you posted as more are added.

September 4, 2019: Chicago, Illinois, in partnership with See Chicago Dance and the Ruth Page Center for the Arts

September 15, 2019: Falmouth, Massachusetts, in partnership with Turning Pointe Dance

September 17, 2019: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in partnership with Pennsylvania Ballet

September 27, 2019: Saratoga, New York, in partnership with the National Museum of Dance

September 29, 2019: Portland, Oregon, in partnership with Portland Ballet

Latest Posts


Left to right: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, Lindsey Donnell and Alexandra Hutchinson in a scene from Dancing Through Harlem. Derek Brockington, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dancers Share Their Key Takeaways After a Year of Dancing on Film

Creating dances specifically for film has become one of the most effective ways that ballet companies have connected with audiences and kept dancers employed during the pandemic. Around the world, dance organizations are finding opportunities through digital seasons, whether conceiving cinematic, site-specific pieces or filming works within a traditional theater. And while there is a consistent sentiment that nothing will ever substitute the thrill of a live show, dancers are embracing this new way of performing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Fancy Free" (1981)

In Jerome Robbins's 1944 ballet Fancy Free, three sailors on leave spend the day at a bar, attempting to woo two young women by out-dancing and out-charming one another. In this clip from 1981, Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was then both the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre and a leading performer with the company, pulls out all the stops to win the ladies' affections.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Bethany Kirby, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

An Infectious-Disease Physician on What Vaccines Mean for Ballet

As the coronavirus pandemic grinds into its second year, the toll on ballet companies—and dancers—has been steep. How long before dancers can rehearse and perform as they once did?

Like most things, the return to normal for ballet seems to hinge on vaccinations. Just over 22 percent of people in the U.S. are now vaccinated, a way from the estimated 70 to 85 percent experts believe can bring back something similar to pre-pandemic life.

But what would it mean for 100 percent of a ballet company to be vaccinated? Tulsa Ballet artistic director Marcello Angelini is about to find out—and hopes it brings the return of big ballets on the big stage.

"I don't think companies like ours can survive doing work for eight dancers in masks," Angelini says. "If we want to work, dance, and be in front of an audience consistently and with the large works that pay the bills, immunization is the only road that leads there."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks