Is Pasha a Nureyev or a Baryshnikov: What's In a Dancer's Sexuality Anyway?

Okay, I’m probably going to get attacked right and left for this post, but I’ve been receiving a lot of emails asking me if my former dance instructor, the extremely personable and talented (not to mention sexy :) ) Pasha Kovalev, who is now a serious contestant on SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE, is gay or straight. My first thought was, argh, why does it even matter! But then I thought about it and realized, homophobia is totally passe and no one is asking because they want to judge anyone and, although of course it is completely irrelevant to the actual dancing, it does inform your crush on the guy (if you’re a straight female dance fan, which a good number of us are). I mean, you have a different kind of crush depending on whether he’s straight or gay, right?! (mine are usually far worse on the gay ones, but go figure…)

When I first fell big time for this one, my favorite dancer in the world (besides Pasha of course!), I did what everyone living in the 21st Century would do, an internet search of course. And how did my heart drop when I saw this, his cover story in The Advocate! NOOOOOOOO, I must have let out the most horrid cry. We’re never getting married now! (Because of course otherwise we were, since he’s not a big huge famous ballet dancer or anything…) But I have to say, it was far worse finding out this one, my second favorite, was married, and that this one is engaged to be married. After all, I’m never going to have to be jealous of any of Marcelo’s partners (you can’t envy a man; it just doesn’t make any sense).

And reading the Marcelo article of course made me fall in love with him all the more, and realize why he is, as Dance Magazine called him, the guy all the girls want to dance with. He is a big strong warm Brazilian guy, a kind of teddy bear, albeit a gorgeous one — in whose arms could you feel safer or more comfortable and secure?! Of course the actual story of the dance performance that unfolds onstage or TV is not real anyway, but dramatic narrative aside, to me Marcelo and Julie Kent, his frequent partner, are the greatest partnership around today, and that’s precisely because of the way you can tell they feel about each other: it’s obvious they truly love each other as friends and partners, and that’s everything in making a performance come to life!

I’ve never had the opportunity to dance with Marcelo of course :( but in my own experiences, gay men are crazy fun as partners. Straight men are too, but, I dunno, there’s just something about gay men, that IMO, takes some pressure off and just lets you be you. If something gets touched, you know it was an accident, or if something stupid happens like this, or this, it’s not THAT embarrassing! And back to Marcelo briefly (I know, I can never stop talking about him; it’s an illness really…), big warm swoony stage door kisses like this could never happen if the dancer was straight, right — I mean, that might be looked on … just… a little perverted or something.

But, I also think that a dancer’s sexuality, as with all aspects of his or her personal life, though completely irrelevant to the dancing, do, rightly or wrongly, come into play in constructing the dancer’s persona or mystique, should he or she ever become really famous. Joan Acocella, in reading from her latest book at Barnes & Noble recently, said that she thought part of Baryshnikov‘s fame stemmed from his reputation for being a skirt-chaser. The press, she said, just went on a field day with a straight male dancer. I personally think it was more the political situation at the time (he defected from a country we were obsessed with hating after all), because, how does that explain the fame of Nureyev? To me personally, it is Nureyev who is the more intriguing: in addition to dealing with the shock of fame and wealth after having grown up in abject poverty, the horribly difficult decision to defect and leave his family forever behind (his mother was very ill), he also had to deal with societal and political oppression based on his sexuality. And the attacks that he had to endure, of leading a life of “debauchery” in the West while those left behind in his homeland starved, were criticisms I’m sure Baryshnikov never got. And, as for partnerships, please — that between Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn was the stuff legends are made of. For a very good, rather poetic book on this most fascinating of all dancers (IMO) please go here.

Anyway, back to Pasha, and THE QUESTION! Sorry for the long-windedness, I just wanted to make everyone read about all my favorite dancers :) Okay, well, I don’t want to be gossipy, but I feel there is nothing wrong with pointing you all toward something he said on TV on either the first or second episode of the show! Remember! Remember what he said about why he wanted to become a ballroom dancer, what led him to dance in the first place! That’s a pretty good indication :) If you can’t find it anywhere on the show’s website, I’ll give you a hint — it’s the same thing said by this other dance hearthrob on what drew him to ballet in the very fun documentary, “Born to Be Wild,” which if you haven’t seen, you can read his words on that issue here.

30 Comments

  1. yay! one more for our team! (high five!)

    seriously, the idea that “every guy in dance is gay” is a stereotype, and combining that with general homophobia, is hurting audience membership, and ultimately, the art form because people may be less reluctant to try ballet, as opposed to trying out for a basketball team. i hope there is a day when a straight male dancer doesn’t “make news” anymore (like Balanchine, or Baryshnikov…both of whom we’ve heard a lot about their “skirt-chasing”)

    i think it’s funny because when i meet male ballet dancers who are straight, they want to make sure you know that they are straight. i think it’s sorta funny, but good that they are trying to do their part in fighting the stereotype that they face all the time. Straight men, we know you are out there in ballet! Now, the trick is…how do we get them to date women who are not ballerinas??

    :)

  2. I know, Jennifer, they do always date other dancers, what’s up with that!!! Except for Baryshnikov, and that was Jessica Lange… Well, there is Charles Askegard! (although Candance Bushnell is pretty famous too…)

  3. The sex lives of famous people are always fascinating…perhaps irrelevant, but that is human nature.

    I suppose we, the masses, want to know if there is any teeny, tiny chance that movie star x or dancer y or athlete z is might be on our ‘team’ and hence worth pursuing, if only in fantasy.

    From what I can deduce, the percentage of gay men in ballet remains about 50%…of course it is a much higher percentage than among auto mechanics. ( My friend Kathy used to say that we gay guys are hyper-developed on the right side of our brain.) A lot of male ballet dancers seem gay – even if they are straight – because ballet is so elegant and the gestures and port de bras and carriage are all sort of feminine.

    Most young guys in a ballet company will tell you they are straight; there is peer pressure just like in any other setting; and some of them simply haven’t come to terms with their sexuality. One young ballerina I knew used to talk about the boys in her Company like this: “Before __________ realized he was gay…” or “____________ is still playing it straight…”

    Oddly, being gay, I tend to spend much more time watching the female dancers than the male.

    When I started going to NYC Ballet in the 1970s, there was much talk about whether Balanchine was actually a deeply closeted gay man and that all his marriages and infatuations with ballerinas were false.

    Then of course there is the whole issue of bi-sexuality in the dance world…

    • Baryshnikov is bisexual…at least once, he was “docking” with another male dancer. But lots of guys touch other guys once or more, or show it off hard in front of other guys…

  4. I think people are fascinated with favorite dancers’ sexuality in the same way that people are fascinated with what our favorite mega-celebrities do all the time – they’ve created these fascinating and mysterious personas on stage, and out of human nature we’re curious to know more about them. I a gree that it makes for a kind of fun celebrity crush… gives you your own connection to the person you see on stage. But it’s funny that to us, our celebrities are dancers, not megamovie stars!

  5. Oh yes, for sure…the dancers are fascinating on so many levels and not least because of the things they can do that we mere mortals cannot. I’m always thrilled to meet them and talk to them for a few minutes but I don’t want to get too close…I don’t want them to lose their mystery. I like to be kept guessing about most aspects of their lives…

  6. The idea that all ballet dancers are gay is COMPLETELY false. The majority of ABT is straight. Grrrr :-) And my experience is that a large majority of the larger dance population is indeed straight…more so than people would think when they stereotype ballet dancers. Of course some of the straight ones are always questionable….

    Pasha is adorable though, who wouldn’t have a crush on him? And he was fantastic last night.

  7. My first reaction to your post was exactly what you feared – oh no, she’s not dredging up the old straight vs. gay male thing in ballet, is she? But on second thought, why not discuss it? Despite the fact that society has made some genuine progress in this area, we still live in a world in which many people continue to be homophobic. I know of a number of people (primarily men, of course) who will not even consider attending a ballet performance because of the “type” of men (they employ other language, of course, which I will spare you) who perform and even among regular balletgoers, I always come across some who are constantly speculating on who is straight and who is gay (and who are then disappointed when they find out that a favorite male dancer of theirs is in fact gay – I have one friend who thinks a particular male dancer at NYCB is absolutely great – if he ever discovered that that particular dancer is gay, he would never be able to view his dancing in the same light again). Philip is probably right in suggesting that it is simply human nature for people to be intrigued with the sexuality of famous people (or dancers, in the case of us balletomanes) but I would still love to see the day when we can all get beyond the straight/gay thing and just enjoy the ballet performances and performers on their own merits. In the meantime, is it really true that virtually all straight male dancers date, live with or marry other dancers? (If so, do they need to get out more?) Ballerinas, on the other hand, do seem (in many cases, at least) to get involved with and marry men outside the dance world. Is there some particular reason (financial security, for example) for that? Do I see a doctoral thesis in the making for someone out there?

  8. Looking at the NYC Ballet roster I see almost an exact 50/50 split between gay and straight guys…

  9. heh heh heh…here’s the Isenbeck commercial we were talking about. I think this says it all: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z8JWuq9Ubz8

  10. Personally, I could care less what team dancers play on — they all look AMAZING when they are performing. Maybe this is why the public is so interested? They just look so …yummy. And then, I suppose the next step is to imagine dancers cavorting together….ah, possiblities. So, yeah, I guess we are a pretty fascinating bunch to the average bear!

    • I love to watch the pas de deux in many ballets because they are so erotic with the ballerina in a tutu and so incredibly limber and flexible and their male partners grabbing them by their tiny waist and spinning them…subtle, but so very erotic…let’s face it, sexuality makes the world turn around. None of us would be here without people having sex – enjoy one of life’s great pleasures!

  11. Thanks for posting that, Erin — hahahahhahha! I LOVE it!

  12. Why are people so obsessed with a dancer’s sexuality. Especially the male dancers! I like NOT knowing. It makes things more interesting…

    Also, sexuality can change too. It is fluid. Ivan used to have a girlfriend. Now he is dating Travis.

    I enjoy the mystery.

  13. The whole point of a dance performance–of any art, but in dance it’s personified, so it becomes about identity a bit more naturally–is how easily you get to shift around. I mean, sometimes, I’m identifying with the male and sometimes he’s more a love object, and sometimes I’m in love with the ballerina probably just the way a straight man would be, and sometimes I’m in love with someone’s plie or the way she moves her arm, and that tells a story all by itself–is a romance in itself. Sometimes I’m madly in love with whoever jumps a certain way, or works with a certain quality of rhythm, or falls into her partner’s arms in a certain way, or places his hand on his partner’s rib cage.

    I don’t know, I don’t feel that I have a very sophisticated way to think about this, but the idea that to defend ballet, people have to say it’s not as gay as you think makes me MAD. Why shouldn’t it be gay? Why can’t gay boys have this eensy-weensy corner of the culture, where THEIR way is the norm and the breeders follow?

    The whole topic makes me want to quote James Baldwin (riffing off Dubois) on how every black knows everything about white culture, but whites don’t have to know about black culture (though they borrow from it and use it all the time). It’s like in the first few decades of Hollywood, when all the machers were Jews–and defined via the movies what American culture was–but god knows no one was going to admit it out loud.

    Likewise, imagining yourself as a bird or a sylph or a nobleman–all those extreme acts of imaginations–is something any cultural minority, sexual or otherwise, has had lots of practice with, because representations of them in the culture are scant. That’s beginning to change, but the girls who are writing you can help it along by accepting that along with all the other fantasies that go into their crushes for Pasha, the TV dance star, they can imagine whatever sexuality they please. He won’t mind, I’m sure.

  14. Thanks for all the great comments, you guys! Apollinaire you’re so smart :) I know exactly what everyone is saying, and Mimi is obviously right that sexuality can be fluid. And, Apollinaire, having to defend ballet like that makes me outraged too, believe me.

    I mean in this context where people were emailing me asking me about Pasha (all of them were female), I think it’s more about a normal guy on a reality show (that’s what reality TV is after all, not a fantasy world but real people, just on television) and whether you, a girl, stand a romantic chance with him. So, it’s the same situation as if there’s some guy in your office, or wherever, who you like and you want to know if you should pursue him or risk embarrasing yourself if he turns out to not be into women! I can relate to that, of course :) I feel like the women asking me what Pasha’s sexuality is are the same as the ballerinas in “Center Stage” asking what Sascha Radetsky’s character’s orientation was. They’re interested in the guy plain and simply.

    But, clearly, the reason this is a big issue to most of us (particularly ballet people) is that we’re all reacting to the very serious problem of male homophobia. If it’s a straight man doing the asking, obviously something completely different is going on. And we’ve all had that horrible experience with the man (because it’s always a man) who makes homophobic comments about dancers and won’t go to the ballet because he’s scared and hateful. And we always end telling him, oh don’t worry, they’re not all gay, when of course — OF COURSE — what we should be saying is that is doesn’t matter and asking them what they’re so scared of. How many frigging times have I had this conversation?… Personally, I don’t like to associate with uncultured homophobes, so I usually terminate my relationship with that kind of guy (either on the spot or casually depending on how bad they are). I just don’t have any desire to be around such people, they add nothing to my life, they don’t expand my ken, they’re just frustrating bores, and life is too short for that! I know most women don’t want to do this … and herein lies the problem… and a male dancer’s sexuality becomes this big issue that it otherwise wouldn’t be. I personally think it’s fine for women to wonder what a favorite male dancer’s sexuality is because they’re doing it for non-political, non-homophobic reasons. What I don’t think is fine is that we continue our friendship / romantic relationships with homophobic males who insult us by judging our favorite dancers, our favorite pasttimes.

    • The homophobic guys are afraid they will find the men in tights with bulges erotic – which they are – like superheros. So what, just because something is erotic does not mean you must have sex with it….It is just erotic. Foods can be erotic, but I would not have sex with food…well maybe someone who has food on them – like whipped cream and raspberries…or spill some champagne in the right places….

  15. I’m in my early 50s and have been a ballet fan since way back… so, FWIW, I do think Baryshinikov *was* noticed for his “skirt chasing.” (Or, to be more honest, womanizing.) Fact is, most all the “girls” my age were in love with him, but not me – I was attracted to Nureyev, as were a lot of other straight women in the 60s and 70s. He was more mysterious-looking (those Tatar cheekbones and eyes!) and his partnership with Fonteyn was…. well, i don’t have words to describe it, really, but there certainly were times when I wished I could *be* her (and I’m not a dancer). I know I’ve got plenty of company. (I also thought Erik Bruhn was sexy as hell… and I really didn’t care whether he was gay or straight; he was beautiful, onstage and off.) Edward Vilella also had his coterie of female fans… as did plenty of other male dancers, straight and gay.

    My thought is that you certainly can’t separate sexuality from dancing, since it’s an innately physical art – but also, that the sexual orientation of any given dancer has *no* bearing whatsoever on their ability as a dancer, and isn’t all that important. do I like to know if so and so is gay or straight? Well, yeah, if only because I’d like to know if they might be available (in a general sense ;)) to me.

    so I’m hardly surprised to see that some of you have crushes on dancers who happen to be gay – Marcelo Gomes is a bit young for me, but he looks like a real sweetie, kind of a Brazilian Boy Next Door. What’s not to like?

    When I go to performances, I want to see men and women who can dance with everything they’ve got.; sexual orientation isn’t uppermost in my mind, and never has been. All that said, have i ever been able to convince a straight guy to go to a dance performance with me? Nope. And i do think insecurity is one of the driving factors behind many peoples’ feelings about male dancers, and seeing male dancers in performance. it’s sad, really – look at all the beauty and joy these guys are missing out on.

  16. I guess I should add that Nureyev was not “out” until relatively late in life… And I think a lot of women chose to ignore some obvious hints about his orientation, simply because he was so masculine – and beautiful. (I could say “handsome,” but that’s really not an adequate description.) There’s no way you could watch him dance and *not* fall for him… I think, anyway.

  17. Thanks for visiting my blog, e2c, and for your thoughts! I couldn’t agree with you more about just about everything you said! I didn’t know that Nureyev was was not out until late in life though — I guess just figured he always was! But I guess it was definitely more taboo back then and there were a lot of risks. I’ve never seen either him or Baryshnikov dance live (well, Baryshnikov, but not until relatively recently; not when he was with ABT and dancing ballet), and, even just seeing them both on video, I can’t help but find Nureyev so much more fascinating for some reason. He is an amazingly beautiful man. And the brilliance of his dancing comes through on video, which is very unusual! I’m just so sad though that people of all age groups have had trouble convincing straight men to go to a ballet… They ARE missing out — tremendously — on the beauty of both genders…

  18. “I’m just so sad though that people of all age groups have had trouble convincing straight men to go to a ballet… They ARE missing out — tremendously — on the beauty of both genders…”

    Well, me too… But that’s not going to stop me from going to see dance, and enjoying it.

    Truthfully, Baryshnikov’s dancing has never engaged me – I would far rather go to watch someone like Savion Glover. OTOH, maybe all that early exposure to Nureyev did something to my brain cells. It’s my theory, and I’m sticking to it. 😉

  19. aww that was fun to read as i’m also madly crushin’ on marcelo and did the same thing as far as researching him online! was also surprised that he was gay but really couldn’t care less since i’m married and too old for him anyway. (well, we’re about the same dif as ashton and demi, actually, lol) plus i’d say he’s pretty much out of my league even if i was young and single. anyway, he does a damn good impersonation of a straight guy on stage so i’m perfectly fine with him being gay and will continue to sigh, swoon and drool over him indefinitely 😉

    also i had a huge crush on baryshnikov as a teen :) i met him briefly a few years ago because our sons are friends and he is still awful cute 😀

  20. Thanks for commenting, Robin! I’m older than Marcelo too and I will always have a huge crush on him as well :) Wow, that’s so cool that your son is friends with Baryshnikov’s!

  21. Hi first of all I’m so sorry that I’m not making smart comment, I just found your blog (so late) when I searched about pasha.
    ….. Seriously he’s your former dance instructor???? If I were you I would be dead by now.
    I saw him on season 7 first (because sytycd isn’t on air in my country so we watched it through downloaded stuffs) and me and my mom are like dead crazy about him …. And you’re right, while I don’t care about his sexuality (believe it or not I,ll be a little bit happier if he’s gay *cough* I can’t have him anyway, at least no girl can have him now mwahahahahaha) my mom who’s more average in mind, keep wondering his orientation, while commenting how macho and manly and sexy he is and repeating his part for 15236 times like an obsessed middle aged lady. I guess the stereotype about dancer is always there… Here it is worse than in america, not just ballet, man choose to be a dancer might be considered strange and almost shameful for the family (unless its b-boy or hiphop.., or the family are dancers.) Its like… Only girl can dance

    Again I can’t imagine being taught by pasha. Omg ure so luckyyyy
    So you’ve danced with him?? …. O-okay I’m afraid I’ll start to annoy you with my fangirl spazz so I better leave now, smoochhh byeeeee xD

    Omg pasha. Aarrggh. *slap self*

  22. As with previous poster, apologies for a very belated comment. It’s been very uplifting to read the intelligent and insightful comments posted here. I’m a sofa dance fan, and I google the dancers I’m most interested in. Pasha is attractive on so many levels – he’s charming, an incredible dancer, and – particularly important for SCD – very gifted at choreographing for non-pro celebs. I was curious about what team he bats for, but this is secondary to my admiration for his talent. One of the interesting things about SCD I think has been the way in which it has allowed people to appreciate both gay and straight male dancers. I think the straight dancers are still possibly a little anxious about their masculinity (yes, James and Brendan, I mean you) but what is also clear is their professional and collegial cameraderie. As another poster remarked, dancing is physical and as such inseperable from sexuality, but it also allows us – even us sofa people – to appreciate the fluidity of our minds and our bodies.

  23. Tonya, great post from the past! Of course I have to comment on THIS subject!

    I actually have a funny story. When I was at S.A.B., both Misha and Nureyev took Stanley William’s advanced class. One day my best friend Peter observed class, and Nureyev was there, along with Misha, as usual. Later, in the hallway, who do we bump into but Rudi himself. In full splendor, leather outfit and full length fur coat, he asks Peter “Vould you like to watch me in rehearsal? You would inspire me”. He was hitting on Peter, hard.

    I took a deep breath. Peter was totally straight, and I thought after Rudi left, he would be grossed out, and say something phobic.

    Instead, he turns to me with this loopy smile, giggling: “Can you believe that? Nuryev just hit on me!”

    No, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe what a fame-ho my friend was. That was the last time I took seriously anything a straight male had to say about sexuality and their so-called “comfort level”. It all depends on who’s hitting on you, evidently!

    I also agree with the writer that said part of Misha’s fame in the mainstream had to do with his being straight. As I remember it, his heterosexuality was promoted like nobody’s business back in the day. That whole Jessica Lang episode being a prime example.

    He was actually pretty boring as a lothario figure. Unlike Nureyev, who blazed an impressive swath of conquests from continent to continent. He lived life as if there was no tomorrow, and frankly was pretty scary to watch. His life was not for the faint of heart, and I will always respect him for that.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  24. Another interesting point. During my dance career, people always used to come up to me and make some comment like”wow, you must be getting all kinds of action”, assuming I was hitting it with every man in sight.

    No. They were the competition, not my friends, or lovers. Simple as that. I think that’s why you see a lot more of straight couples getting together. They are not in direct competition with each other. Although, being a “dance couple” comes with it’s own set of challenges.

    And yes, Bob, great comment at the end of your post. Most of the women I knew in the dance world made it a point to marry, or have boyfriends outside of the industry. Ambitious men, usually, in some type of profession. No scrubs need apply.

  25. So, I’m still confused. Is this sexy, talented Pasha straight or gay? Wondering how my crush will go.

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