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The Gay Ballerina: why sometimes you have to come out twice

Photo by Kelly Rose

By Lauren Warnecke

When I told my mother I was a lesbian, she said she would have been less surprised if I told her I was becoming a nun.

That was ten years ago. I was already out of the house and none of the typical signs were there; well, not really anyway. I’m not athletic; I have a flowered shower curtain and an affinity for baking. There WERE pictures of girls on my walls growing up, but they were posters of Gelsey Kirkland and Sylvie Guillem. I know, you might need to Google them.

You see, I’m a ballet dancer.

When I first came out, I cut off my hair, bought men’s jeans and wore polo shirts all the time. I drank lots of beer and ate hot dogs (vegetarian hot dogs, naturally). I traded my Nutcracker videos for reruns of The L Word and abandoned my posters and even my shower curtain. Because that’s what it means to be a lesbian, right?

More importantly, I quit dancing. Lesbians DON’T do ballet.

Here’s the problem with that five-year-ish period of my life: that wasn’t me any more than the straight girl ballerina was. Maybe even less. When you grow up training to be a ballet dancer, you are groomed to have long hair, good posture, and a bedroom drowning in pink ribbon. Pink ribbons aside, the qualities in me that come from 20-some years of dancing don’t go just go away because I’m a lesbian.

Through high school and most of college I was really uncomfortable with myself, but what I didn’t realize until a few years ago was that not everything about me was wrong. After coming out, I changed my entire persona, and something still didn’t sit right. So after some time and serious reflection, I essentially went through another “coming out,” in which I slowly but surely reintroduced some of the qualities that make me, well, me.

Here’s my point: there might not be that many gay ballerinas out there (of the female variety), but it really doesn’t matter. I’m a lesbian. I don’t wear make-up and I like motorcycles. But I also like ballet, red wine, and baking biscuits. And fortunately, the shower curtain wasn’t tossed – just put in storage. I’m not butch, but I’m not really femme, either. I’m just me. And that’s good enough.

Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a freelance dance artist and writer based in Chicago, IL. She regularly contributes to danceadvantage.net and 4dancers.org, in addition to her own writing pursuits at artintercepts.org and craftylauren.com. She holds degrees in Dance (BA, ’03) and Kinesiology (MS, ’09) and is currently a Visiting Instructor for the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Lauren is a certified ballet teacher through the Cecchetti Counsel of America’s Midwest Counsel and a member of the American College of Sports Medicine. Also a Certified Master Composter, you can often find Lauren arm deep in worm poo, perusing her neighborhood farmer’s market, and generally speaking up for local and sustainable food culture. She has a fetish for 50′s housewives and likes to hike and bake scones.

Discussion

25 Responses to “The Gay Ballerina: why sometimes you have to come out twice”

  1. you go girl!!!

    Posted by k guz | August 31, 2012, 11:48 am
  2. Yes! Yes! Yes!

    Posted by Rachel | August 31, 2012, 12:21 pm
  3. I trained with Suzanne Farrell. & I’m a queer ex ballerina, now young professional like yourself. We are here and every bit as worthy 🙂

    Posted by Erin | August 31, 2012, 12:53 pm
  4. Thank you so much for writing this! After dating my first girlfriend I also bought the men jeans and cut my hair and threw away my dresses. This transferred into my second relationship which lasted for seven years. When it was over it was terribly sad but what a relief. I could finally stop trying to fit some stereotype and just be me! It was like coming out a second time.

    Posted by marisa | August 31, 2012, 1:01 pm
  5. Thanks, ladies, for reading! Stereotypes are just that: stereotypes. Good for you for being your authentic selves 🙂

    Posted by Lauren | August 31, 2012, 1:07 pm
  6. Thank you for sharing your story, Lauren! I am also a dancer (ex-dancer? out-of-practice dancer maybe?) I came out in college and went through a similar change in persona. I’ve since gotten over the idea that I have to look a certain queer way, but I am still finding my own style. I have taken dance classes on and off since college, but I have always felt an uncomfortableness in dance spaces since coming out. There is definitely a lack of dialogue and space for queer dancers, ballet dancers especially. I often think about how amazing it would be to have a queer (female-dominated) dance group in Chicago. Best of luck in the future.
    -Ali

    Posted by Ali | August 31, 2012, 2:42 pm
  7. Ali, What a great idea! That’s certainly a strong mission statement for a dance company… Feel free to look me up at artintercepts.org if you want to talk shop. All the best.

    Posted by Lauren | August 31, 2012, 3:03 pm
  8. wow- story of my life. literally. it wasn’t until i had a career ending knee surgery last year that i was able to come out to myself even. suddenly i was outside of that world of as you say long hair and pink ribbons- to be able to accept and embrace both my femininity and masculinity. people who knew me growing up can’t reconcile my super short butch hair with the ballerina i was (and in the most important ways, still am). i once complained to a lesbian friend how as a the “only” lesbian ballerina i was a walking contradiction. she said look at those gay guys in hollywood (i forgot who they are) who are soo buff but also really flamboyant. it just makes you you. thanks for putting this up, it makes me happy to see another les in ballet!!!

    Posted by Sarah | August 31, 2012, 9:42 pm
  9. Fellow Lauren here!

    I wish there was a queer voice for female dancers. And also I wish for the queering of dancer roles within gender/sex confines and “traditional” dancer body types. The conflation of sex/gender/sexuality is daunting in the world of dance.

    I had been dancing since the age of 3 and dancing ALOT through the end of high school. By college I didn’t feel at home within the dance world: a. because my bone and muscular stature was not a suited for a female dancer (better suited for the male dancing roles, but heaven forbid a female crossing those lines) and b. female dancers are feminine straight submissive girls. I didn’t know it then but I was gay. And for gay female dancers, this isn’t something that was talked about, even 10 years ago.

    I feel like, if I was born with a male (which I do not want to be, but follow my thoughts)… I would have been a prefessional dancer.

    I don’t follow the mold of heterosexual, waif-ish femminine female. I like to be bold and my body is muscular and moves boldly. I love dance and I had abandoned it for years.

    Regular “excercise” and other artistic endeavors don’t do it for me. I rediscovered dance this last month and I hope I follow through. I also hope to aid queer dance companies in the future through academic endeavors or practical, artistic endeavors.

    I think it is great that Lauren is bringing up this important ballet-lesbian divide and others like Ali are bringing up options for the Chicago area. I wish I knew about the all female (with partnering) troupe in Colorado when I was in High School, I might have considered dance outside of what I was told, that my body was not a “dancer’s” body. I wish this model was happening else where and would be proud if someone created this in the Chi-area.

    Great post.
    Lauren
    -Fellow ex/currently rediscovering dance dancer.

    Posted by Lauren | September 2, 2012, 11:56 pm
  10. It’s so reassuring to hear from other queer women who are or have been dancers. Having merged into the modern world, I encounter plenty of companies who feature women of different body types and in strong roles or partnering. Where I always felt like I didn’t fit in was in the dressing rooms, out to social gatherings, and at company galas. If we’re all in Chicago I’d love to arrange a meet-up of sorts and hear more about your experiences. I may be writing a couple more posts for the L Stop and would be interested in learning your stories!

    Posted by Lauren | September 3, 2012, 8:23 pm
  11. Lauren,

    I would love to have a meeting of queer Chicago-area dancers! Let’s do this!

    -Ali

    Posted by Ali | September 7, 2012, 7:32 pm
  12. Sounds great, Ali! How best to go about it? A trip to a dance performance and cocktails after? A coffee meet up? I’d love to hear your ideas about how to put something together. Feel free to get in touch with me on Facebook or Twitter (@artintercepts).

    Posted by Lauren | September 8, 2012, 8:14 am
  13. I think it’s so important for those who have gone through their coming out process to share their journey with others…I’m sure it’s so hard to do and it is so important to know that there is no “right” way to be as a gay man or woman. You are the same person, you are just learning something about yourself. We all do this in one way or another as we grow through life! 🙂

    Posted by 4dancers | November 27, 2012, 10:09 pm
  14. Thanks Catherine! You’re so amazing….

    Posted by Lauren | November 28, 2012, 6:38 pm
  15. Thank you for posting this, Lauren!

    For years, I thought I was the “only” one in my ballet classes who felt the way I did. When I had a crush on my ballet teacher when I was 12, I thought I was quietly going crazy as the other girls were talking about boys. I repressed my sexuality with distractions of dance, school, work, etc. Everything BUT my heart.

    I still struggle with my feelings but not my love of dance in general and ballet in particular.

    I do know that I love the smell of new pointe shoes, ribbons and being on stage in magical costumes. I am learning to accept my desires and feelings but know that being true to me is not adopting a stereotype.

    Sorry to ramble. Just amazing to read from so many other women with similar stories!

    Christine
    chris_ballerina@hotmail.com

    Posted by Christine | February 16, 2013, 9:25 am
  16. There are more of us than you might realise. I knew I was a lesbian at 13 when I felt attracted to a girl in my ballet class

    Posted by caroline baker | April 28, 2013, 8:22 am
  17. I’m not a professional dancer and I haven’t been conditioned the way you ballerina’s might have been, but… It’s nice to see that there are other lesbians out there with a passion for dance.

    I actually have been doing folk dance for over 15 years before I took up ballet (which has been bubbling inside of me for most of that time); and it has always bothered me how strictly straight the roles in those dances are. I would love to see a romantic dance with same-gender lead roles, or just same-gender pairs in a performance, without it being frowned upon.

    Posted by Scatach | September 19, 2013, 3:45 pm
  18. I am grateful for gays and lesbians in the fine arts. Ballet is a beautiful art form, and gay/lesbian dancers enhance its beauty.

    Posted by Stephanie | March 18, 2014, 3:34 pm
  19. So heartening to find your post. If ever in NYC . . .

    Posted by jane | December 20, 2015, 7:30 pm
  20. SO much truth in this post! I can’t believe I’m just coming across it now, five years after it was written. I went to a very intense, pre-professional ballet boarding school and, as a lesbian, felt that it was very hard to come out in that environment. We need more visibility for and appreciation of lesbian (and bisexual) female dancers! It is so comforting to read all of these posts from so many others who share my experiences. Thank you.

    Posted by Victoria | March 26, 2017, 1:10 pm

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