In English, a male ballet dancer is typically referred to as a male ballet dancer. In French, a male ballet dancer is called a danseur, while in Italian, a male dancer who holds a principal title within a ballet company is known as a ballerino.
The term “ballerino” is sometimes used as slang in English-speaking countries to refer to male ballet dancers, but it is not as widely recognized as the French and Italian terms.
In French, a male ballet dancer is referred to as a danseur and a female as a danseuse. In the English speaking world, boys or men who dance classical ballet are usually referred to as (male) ballet dancers. Often “ballerino” is used in English-based countries as slang.
Answered from Kevin Dahlberg
In French, a male ballet dancer is referred to as a danseur and a female as a danseuse. … A regular male dancer in Italy is called a ballerino. In the English speaking world, boys or men who dance classical ballet are usually referred to as (male) ballet dancers.
Answered from Brian P
In English a male ballet dancer is called a male ballet dancer. In French, a male ballet dancer is referred to as a danseur . In Italian, a male dancer who typically holds a principal title within a ballet company is called a ballerino.
Answered from Shyan
As a ballet enthusiast, I'm often asked what the proper term is for a male ballet dancer. There are several different names used, which can cause confusion. In this FAQ, I'll go over the common terminology for men in ballet and explain the subtle differences.
Table of Contents
- What is the general term for a male ballet dancer?
- What is the term for a male ballet dancer in France?
- What is a male ballet dancer called in Italy?
- What is the name for a principal male dancer in a ballet company?
- Are there any other common terms for male ballet dancers?
- Is it acceptable to call a male ballet dancer a ballerina?
- What are some examples of famous male ballet dancers?
- What training and skills do male ballet dancers need?
- What are the physical attributes needed for a professional male dancer?
- What type of dancing do male ballet dancers perform?
- What roles do male dancers commonly play?
- How competitive is it to become a professional male ballet dancer?
What is the general term for a male ballet dancer?
The most common gender-neutral term used in English is simply “ballet dancer.” So you would say, “He is a ballet dancer.” This works for casual everyday use.
You can also say “male ballet dancer” to specify it is a man, but the word male is not always necessary. Unless you need to differentiate between men and women, “ballet dancer” works for both.
What is the term for a male ballet dancer in France?
In French, a male ballet dancer is referred to as a “danseur.” The word literally means “dancer” in French.
Female ballet dancers are called “danseuses” in French. So a danseur is specifically a male dancer.
The Paris Opera Ballet is one of the most renowned French ballet companies. Its male dancers are all referred to as danseurs.
Some well-known danseurs from the Paris Opera Ballet include Étoiles like Aurélie Dupont, Mathieu Ganio, and Mathias Heymann.
What is a male ballet dancer called in Italy?
In Italian, a male ballet dancer is called a “ballerino.” The feminine form of the word is “ballerina.”
Unlike danseur in French, ballerino can refer to any male ballet dancer, not just lead dancers. However, it is also used for principal male dancers in Italy.
The La Scala Theatre Ballet Company in Milan has some famous Italian ballerinos. Examples include principal dancers Roberto Bolle and Massimo Murru.
The term ballerino may also be used in English sometimes when referring specifically to male dancers from Italian ballet companies.
What is the name for a principal male dancer in a ballet company?
The lead male dancer in a ballet company is often referred to as the “premier danseur.” This French term means “first dancer.”
The female version is called the “première danseuse.” They perform the most prominent roles and solos in a ballet production.
The premier danseur is considered the top-ranking male dancer in the company. He carries the most responsibility and artistic expectations.
Some examples of famous premier danseurs of major ballet companies include:
- The Royal Ballet's Federico Bonelli
- American Ballet Theatre's Daniil Simkin
- New York City Ballet's Jared Angle
Are there any other common terms for male ballet dancers?
Here are a few other words you may hear used to describe male ballet dancers:
- Principal – A dancer in a leading role in a ballet production. This is a prized titled role reserved for the most talented dancers in a company.
- Soloist – A dancer who performs solo dances in a ballet. They support the principals and often understudy principal roles.
- Ballerino nobil – An honorific title for an Italian danseur of particularly high standing. It translates to “noble ballet dancer.”
- Étoile – A French title meaning “star.” It signifies an exceptional dancer at the Paris Opera Ballet. Very few dancers earn this elite distinction.
Is it acceptable to call a male ballet dancer a ballerina?
The term “ballerina” specifically refers to a female ballet dancer. It would not be accurate to use this word for men.
The word ballerina comes from the feminine Italian noun ballerina, which was first used in the 18th century. It denoted a principal female dancer in a ballet company.
Over time, ballerina became the ubiquitous term for any female ballet performer. So while historically it was reserved for lead dancers, it now applies to women in the corps de ballet as well.
Male performers should always be referred to using the male terminology such as danseur or ballerino. Calling a male dancer a ballerina would be inappropriate and inaccurate.
What are some examples of famous male ballet dancers?
Here are a few of the most acclaimed male dancers from ballet history:
- Mikhail Baryshnikov – Latvian-born American dancer, considered one of the greatest ever. Danced with the Kirov Ballet and New York City Ballet. Known for athleticism and charisma.
- Rudolf Nureyev – Soviet danseur who defected to the West in 1961. Danced with The Royal Ballet. One of the most celebrated performers of the 20th century.
- Vaslav Nijinsky – Legendary early 20th century Russian dancer. Lead dancer of Ballets Russes and known for gravity-defying leaps.
- Benjamin Millepied – French danseur and choreographer. Danced with NYCB, later directed the Paris Opera Ballet. Known for contemporary works and the film Black Swan.
- Marcelo Gomes – Brazilian principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre. Renowned for partnering skills and dramatic flair.
What training and skills do male ballet dancers need?
To succeed professionally, male ballet dancers require many years of dedicated training:
- Ballet technique – Learning precise body positions, timing, coordination, and dance sequences. Years of daily technique classes are essential.
- Partnering skills – The ability to gracefully partner with a ballerina is crucial. Dancers must expertly perform lifts, promenades and supported turns.
- Strength and stamina – Leg and upper body strength are needed to achieve the athletic leaps and turns required of male dancers. Endurance for full length ballets is vital.
- Artistry – Dancers must learn to interpret and emote different characters and moods through their movement and expression.
- Musicality – The ability to move precisely in time with the music and melody is necessary.
- Stage presence – Dancers must have charisma and acting skills to captivate audiences.
What are the physical attributes needed for a professional male dancer?
Male ballet dancers need the right combination of physical attributes to meet the athletic demands of ballet:
- Height – Most professional male dancers range from 5′ 9″ to 6′ 2″. Longer limbs create beautiful extended lines.
- Lean muscle – Strength is essential but bulk muscle is detrimental. Dancers have defined lean muscles to lift/partner ballerinas.
- Flexibility – Excellent flexibility in the back, hips and hamstrings allows for high leg extensions and arching.
- Proportions – An ideal ballet body has long legs, a short torso and slim hips. Arm-to-leg length and shoulder width are also factors.
- Foot arches – High insteps and supple feet are ideal for pointework and jumping.
- Coordination – Precise control and coordination of the entire body is required.
- Stamina – Dancing for hours demands incredible strength and endurance.
What type of dancing do male ballet dancers perform?
Though most recognized for classical story ballets, male dancers also perform these styles:
- Classical ballet – Performing pointe technique is reserved for females, but males excel at leaps, turns, lifts, and partnering ballerinas.
- Contemporary ballet – Male dancers are increasingly prominent in new neoclassical and contemporary works. These showcase more flexibility and expressiveness in men.
- Pas de deux – These duets highlight a male lead dancing with a ballerina. The danseur displays strength and artistry.
- Demi-caractère – Character dances that derive from national folk styles. Males often portray passionate or energetic roles.
- Grand pas – Showcase pieces with technically challenging variations performed by the principal male and female dancers.
What roles do male dancers commonly play?
Traditionally in classical story ballets, male dancers portray these archetypes:
- Romantic hero – The protagonist and love interest, like Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake. Dances with finesse and conveys emotion.
- Rival – Characters competing for the heart of the heroine, calling for bravado. Think Von Rothbart from Swan Lake.
- Villain – Sinister characters like Von Rothbart. Perform darker and more dramatic dancing.
- Comedic character – Foolish roles that dance in a funny or clumsy style for comic relief. Like the Ugly Stepsisters in Cinderella.
Male dancers may also portray swans, snowflakes, cavaliers and other ensemble roles in a ballet. Contemporary works have expanded strong male lead roles.
How competitive is it to become a professional male ballet dancer?
The path is extremely competitive for male dancers aspiring to join professional ballet companies. Consider these stats:
- There are fewer than 100 dancers in the top tier companies like New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.
- More than 80% of ballet students are female. The ratio is skewed.
- Most professional dancers begin intensive training by age 10 or younger.
- Only an estimated 10% of ballet students go on to dance professionally.
- There are more girls than boys at most youth ballet academies.
- Audition only 1% of dancers gets hired into a major company.
With far fewer boys in training, male dancers have an advantage over the glut of female hopefuls. But make no mistake, the competition is fierce on all sides. Only the most gifted and persistent young men can succeed.