Meet SF's nonbinary ballerinas who are breaking free of ballet's rigid gender norms

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Getting to the point of inclusivity, Ballet22 is creating space for all ballerinas to perform regardless of their gender identity.

Founders Teresa Knutson, and Roberto Vega Ortiz are revolutionizing ballet by also presenting men and nonbinary dancers en pointe shoes.

As Knutson explains, in the ballet world, pointe shoes are traditionally reserved exclusively for women.

By including men and nonbinary dancers outside of drag, Ballet22 aims to chip away at that notion in a way that feels authentic to all performers.

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A group of ballerinas are sharing their plans for transforming the classical ballet image into a body-positive, diverse, and inclusive artform.



"It feels amazing to be yourself and be able to dance as you. Not as a female or male character... (dancing is) an expression, and you can do it however you feel, just to use another type of element, which is the pointe shoe," ballet master Carlos Hopuy said.

There are large communities of men and nonbinary dancers who would love to use pointe shoes as a tool of expression outside of performing femininity.

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Recognizing the necessity to include diverse bodies, Knutson and Ortiz founded Ballet22 in 2020. They started by renting out a theater, gathering dancers, and working within the pandemic to put on a live digital show. Now, they are back in person this weekend at the Great Star Theatre in San Francisco.

Ballet22's performances range from contemporary pieces written specifically for a nonbinary cast, to modified versions of classical favorites.

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"I think this is what's pretty unique from us. Yes, we are creating new ballets, yes, we are going into the contemporary world, but we're also reinventing the classical works that already exist and that we love so deeply," said Ortiz.

This weekend's setlist includes excerpts from Swan Lake, a recreation of the duet Symbiotic Twins choreographed by world-renowned choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and a brand new world premiere of Durante Verzola's piece, which was specifically created for men en pointe.

"I think people are hungry for something new. They're hungry for authentic experiences. And I would say one of the biggest, biggest pieces of feedback we get is just the dancers are free and they're full of joy. And that's something that resonates with everybody," Knutson said.

For more information about Ballet22 or the February 25-27 performances at the Great Star Theater in Chinatown, you can visit their website here.

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