Dancer Steven Mcrae talks defying stereotypes.
AHEAD OF HIS RETURN TO THE AUSTRALIAN STAGE IN JUNE, THE ROYAL BALLET PRINCIPAL DANCER REVEALS WHAT IT TAKES TO FORGE A CAREER AS A PROFESSIONAL MALE DANCER
It was great when Billy Elliot came out because the film put male dancers in the public spotlight. My story is a completely different one, though. When I started dancing at age seven, my family totally supported me. I grew up in Western Sydney in a motorsport family; my dad was a drag racer and an auto-electrician. I started dancing competitively at eight and my father became my biggest supporter.
Everyone at primary school knew me as “Steven the dancer”. I danced five or six days a week because I loved it. Even if someone did make a negative comment, it wasn’t enough to stop me. Ultimately, if you really want to do something, you’ll pursue it no matter what anyone says.
I moved to London after I turned 17 to train at The Royal Ballet School. It was not an easy sacrifice to make at that age. I’m not going to sugar-coat it, anyone who wants to go overseas to train should know it’s not an easy road to take. It’s isolating and it can be very difficult.
I was lucky I had a quick rise to the top of the ranks. In 2009, at age 23, I was made a principal dancer. To perform at that level you need an extreme amount of athleticism. Obviously I’m biased, but I think we have to be in better shape than most elite sportsmen. Other male athletes peak for their match and then have downtime. Once a ballet dancer starts a season, they train six days a week, up to 10 hours a day. Performing the role of Romeo in Romeo And Juliet is like a mini marathon; it’s three hours of go-go-go. And it’s not just the physical element, it’s emotionally draining, too.
I think any stigma surrounding male dancers is created by people who don’t have knowledge about the profession. Those who hold that opinion have never gone to watch a performance; they haven’t seen the work that goes on behind the scenes. I’ve invited people to watch a rehearsal and that has blown their minds because they realise how demanding it is.
I think every child, boy or girl, should try dancing because it’s great for their confidence. They don’t have to do it six days a week or pursue a professional career like me, but they should have a go. Parents who think dance isn’t a real profession need to let go of that presumption and allow children to pursue their own passion.