Live bigger
+ succeed harder!
Enter your email to get Queer Money™ podcast episodes emailed weekly.

Robert Carter Talks Men in Tights – and Pointe Shoes

Robert Carter is a Ballerina with a Package

You can dance if you want to. And wear a tutu, too! Just like Robert Carter who has the full package of humor, dance, entertainment, and wisdom. 

Queer Money™ by Mass Mutual

Robert Carter is a dancer with Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, an all-male drag ballet company that pays tribute to – and pokes fun at – the classical Russian stars of dance. The male dancers portray ballerinas (with great names like Ida Nevaseyneva), using their incredible athleticism to dance on pointe and exaggerate traditional choreography for comic effect. Robert was one of four dancers in the company featured in the documentary Rebels on Pointe, a Bobbi Jo Hart film revealing the history of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.

Listen:

Robert Carter’s story runs parallel to that of the fictional Billy Elliot. He grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, in a working-class family. His mother made sure that he and his sisters were exposed to the arts, and Robert was involved in community theatre at a very early age. The man who would become his dance teacher noticed him singing a solo at the Spoleto Festival and approached Robert’s mother to offer the opportunity for ballet lessons. Robert attended his first class when he was seven, and he has been dancing ever since.

After high school, Robert received a scholarship to take a summer course in New York with the Joffrey Ballet School. His impressive resume also includes roles with the Bay Ballet Theatre, the Florence Civic Ballet, and the Dance Theatre of Harlem Ensemble. Robert joined Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in 1995, and in his 23 years with the company, he has performed at some of the grandest venues in the world, including the Bolshoi Theatre and the Opéra de Monte-Carlo. Today he shares his journey from Charleston to New York and beyond, explaining the challenges of being gay in the South, the message of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, and his experience being featured in the documentary film about the company.

Topics Covered with Robert Carter

The origin of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

  • Founded in 1974
  • Made fun of classical Russian characters of dance
  • Men perform all roles (all-male comic ballet company)
  • Robert joined in 1995

How Robert got into ballet as a boy in South Carolina

  • Robert Carter’s mother grew up with limited options
  • She married at 18 and moved to Charleston
  • Gained exposure to arts community
  • Wanted children to have opportunities she didn’t
  • Dance teacher noticed Robert singing at Spoleto Festival performance
  • Approached his mother to offer dance training

How Robert’s father reacted to his desire to dance

  • Offended by prospect
  • Wanted to be father to only son
  • Dance teacher functioned as father figure

How Robert coped with being a gay man in the South

  • Dance teacher’s example, influence gave confidence
  • Mother’s support kept from bending under peer pressure

Robert Carter’s journey to NYC

  • Visited for first time to see Tap Dance Kid as eight-year-old
  • Told mom would live there one day
  • Auditioned for summer course with Joffrey Ballet School
  • Returned as ensemble dancer with Dance Theatre of Harlem
  • Worked midnight to 8am shift at hotel, class/auditions during the day
  • Ran into friend who was auditioning for Ballet Trockadero
  • Called to express interest in auditioning
  • Received contract after two days

The bias that pointe work is only for women

  • In traditional ballet, only women dance on pointe
  • Trockadero parodies old Russian style, men play ballerinas
  • Robert’s dance teacher allowed him to explore pointe as child
  • Hyper-masculine society breeds fear, ignorance

The message of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo

  • Not political in any way
  • Shows that diversity is possible, necessary
  • Bridges communication gap through humor
  • Connects people through love of the arts

The Trockadero documentary, Rebels on Pointe

  • Filmmaker Bobbi Jo Hart saw live performance
  • Approached Trockadero director, he was reluctant
  • Film features four dancers as individuals
  • Gives insight into their lives, experience

The physical demands of dancing with the Trocks

  • First and foremost a dance company
  • Must know technique in order to exaggerate for comic effect
  • Exaggeration requires more strength, stamina
  • Men perform choreography general set on women
  • Challenging to recreate, look delicate and emphasize power as man

The benefits of pointe work for male dancers

  • Strengthens feet
  • Flexibility
  • Ability to shift core of balance (over smaller base)
  • Helps with partnering girls
  • Steps are same, implementation different

Where the Trocks get their pointe shoes

Robert’s favorite ballerinas

The importance of acting ability in ballet

  • As repertory company, Trocks cycle 12 ballets in and out (familiar stories)
  • Must have physical perfection and ability to tell story
  • Different dancers using same template of steps have different takes on character

How to encourage more boys to do ballet

  • Exposure (desensitize through saturation)
  • Outreach

Why it’s acceptable to start ballet as an adult

  • No rule says you can’t
  • Offers benefits of exercise, sense of body

Robert’s plans for the future

  • Continue dancing with the Trocks
  • Teaching via exchange programs in fall
  • Will continue with company in some capacity once retires from stage

Connect with Robert Carter

Resources

Listen

Leave a Comment