The pain and prestige of performing en pointe is usually reserved for female ballet dancers, but all-male dance troupe Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (known as The Trocks, for short) have braved the bruises and blisters of pointe shoes for more than 40 years. Dancing on their toes since 1974, The Trocks perform playful, entertaining parodies of classical ballet en travesti, a theatrical term for dressing as the opposite sex.
“We’re a male comedy ballet, so we do classical ballet, but drag is part of the schtick, or the joke. It is drag, but foremost we are a ballet company, and then a ballet company that performs in drag,” dancer Duane Gosa tells The Creators Project.
Unlike girls, who train in classical ballet from an early age, The Trocks hail from vastly different dance backgrounds. But each has worked extensively to prove that men can, indeed, dance en pointe without falling flat on their faces.
“It’s a lot more work. Oh my god, it’s so much harder literally dancing on the tips of your toes,” Gosa says. “Once you get en pointe, you have to find your position and it has to be strong, because that tiny little ankle and foot has to balance 160 lbs. If you’re not doing it right, it’s not going to work out well.”
Many company members, including Gosa, are drawn to The Trocks for the opportunity to transcend ballet’s limited gender roles. “I took pointe class back in school, because I struggled with the male part of partnering,” he says. “I did not understand what was happening with the girls in those shoes, so I wanted to try it out for myself.”
Inside every ballet dancer is a hardcore athlete, but while men are strength-trained for leaps and lifts, women are prized for flexibility and precision. Dancing as the opposite sex offers the chance to experience the art form from a different perspective. “The ballerina usually has a lot more character, more style, so it’s fun to take on that role and almost have a diva moment. It’s kind of a fantasy and feels like a dream. We’re really lucky, because we’re the 17 dancers in the world who get to experience this.”
Though they got their start doing late-late shows in off-off-Broadway lofts, The Trocks now tour the world, dismantling preconceived notions of ballet as prim and proper, or rigid and unimaginative. They balance technical skill with silliness; their priority is safely performing the steps, but according to Gosa, infusing ballet with comedy is a way of asking audiences to buy into their gender-bending interpretation of centuries-old dances. Humor also invites more investment in The Trocks’ stories, rather than what’s going on with their feet.
“Female ballerinas who come to the show [...] really admire and applaud us for the amount of work it takes to not have the discipline and training that girls get from such a young age, yet really go out there and sell it. That’s where the performance comes in — the drag aspect of it all,” Gosa says.