Dear Straight Dope:
I have recently enrolled my 3 year old fraternal twins in beginning ballet. My daughter is quite thrilled at the prospect of becoming a ballerina. My son is enjoying himself also, but we do not know the proper term to use when referrring to male ballet dancers. He certainly does not wish to become a "ballerina"! Is there an appropriate term for the male ballet dancer? Ballerino? Balleroger? The only answers that I have received from men that I have asked have had more to do with the impending sexuality of a boy that would aspire to dance with the ballet. Help!
Peanut butter and jelly chef, eh? I’m glad to see that the standard lunch fare for ankle-biters hasn’t changed much since my youth. In any case, I’m afraid that your note contains the most common answer to your question: the term you should use when referring to male ballet dancers is “male ballet dancers.” That’s not to say that that’s the *only* term you can use. But lets back up a little first, and look at the big picture.
The term “ballet” refers to a form of dance in which conventional poses and steps are combined with leaps and turns. The word comes from our friends the French, and is based on the latin word “ballare,” which means, as you might guess, “to dance.” It first appeared in 1667, several years after King Louis XIV granted a group of dancing masters permission to use a room in the Louvre to work on their new technique; apparently, they had a little trouble coming up with a name for said technique.
According to my trusty dictionary, the term “ballerina” first appeared in 1815 (apparently, it took the Italians almost 150 years to come up with a word which referred to “them gals what are ballet dancers”). Finally, in 1828, the French came up with their own terms for ballet dancers, “danseur” and “danseuse,” the masculine and feminine forms, respectively. For the lucky leads, we have “premier danseur” and “premiere danseuse” (or “premiere ballerina”).
So, Chef, you can call your 3-year-old son a “danseur” if you like, and you’ll be right. But for the sake of clarity when his little pals are running around your house on his 4th birthday, you might just want to use the English word “dancer,” without the funny accent, and leave it at that (by that age they should all have the “male” part down).
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