You should read pages 1-144 of Robert Greskovic's "Ballet 101". This will give a good introduction to the history of ballet, how it developed, etc. A very compelling read, in my opinion. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0786881550/qid=1113620629/sr=8-6/ref=pd_csp_6/104-0219124-2433524?v=glance&s=books&n=507846
Ballet has travelled around the world through many different times and cultures. But there is no one such thing as "the ballet world". Rather, ballet exists in the context of a host culture. In that incarnation, it reflects those cultural mores.
Ballet in America is only about 50 years old. More than anyone else, the efforts of George Balanchine served to give ballet a permanent place in American society. The ballet we experience in America today is filtered through the eyes of this one man to an astonishing degree. To understand the roots of ballet in America requires that one study Balanchine himself, his background, and especially his views of what ballet is and is not.
The 1970's brought about a "ballet boom" in America, largely through cold war intrigue and a couple of Russian superstars. The result was a huge surge of interest in ballet, including new companies, new schools, etc. Both those men have long since left the stage of classical dance, and the money isn't there anymore like it was in the late 1970's. But the schools endure and turn out zillions of decent dancers every year now, far more than could ever be hired.
Thus, if you take 1980 as a turning point in the progress of gay America, I think you'll also see that (unrelated to that), it was also a turning point in the development of ballet in America. So it's hard (but maybe not impossible) to answer your question; pre-1980, ballet was a more exotic art form than it is today.
Remember also that while ballet in one sense is very old, in a more realistic sense, it is rather new. Think of the things that define the ballet we know and love: pointe shoes, stretched-long legs, and classical tutus. Well, the pointe shoe in ANY form is scarcely 150 years old, and it took 100 years for people to develop good techniques to dance on them. Look at pictures from 130 years ago of women en pointe, it's nothing like we have today. Classical tutus didn't come in until the 1880's or 90's. And stretched-long legs were more of a 20th Century Balanchine phenomenon, in which the legs were ever-more toned and on display. Due in a large part to Balanchine's efforts, ballet in the latter 20th Century came to be danced more "lifted on the hips" than ever before.
Unlike music, architecutre and other arts, ballet did not reach its classical incarnation until the late 19th century. That was full 100 years or more AFTER music had reached its classical form. Ballet today is still barely developed. It just costs so much to produce, it develops slower than other art forms.
So yes, 400 years ago, what was known as "ballet" was predominantly male. Ballet was and is a theatrical art, related to comedy and tragedy and mime and acting and all the rest. Ballet did not "break away" from the opera until the late 19th century. Back in the 1600s, it's true, only men were allowed on stage, and that included the ballet as well.
Later on, women gradually came to take it over. Ballet was, is and always will be for the wealthy. And it was made to emulate and reinforce the social order that benefits the wealthy. In a patriarchal society, that means ballet is made to be viewed by the (heterosexual) male. And men like to see cute girls on stage.
Ballet took root in Paris earlier than most everywhere else (except Italy). Over the 19th century, it degenerated to the point that men were not even allowed to dance in it anymore. Because the whole point of "ballet" was to see cute girls come onstage in the second act of the opera. And there were opera patrons who would skip the entire opera, just come for the period in which it was traditional the dancers would come on. No surprise that we retain no choreography from that period of French ballet, it was called "the decadance". Ballet was not revived in Paris as a vibrant art form until Dhiagalev's Ballets Russes came in the early 20th Centuray --- and it had gone through Russia in the meantime. So in general, I'd say the 19th century French were terrible for men in ballet.
The classical Russians were a lot better. So were the Danes. Male ballet dancers were and are revered like rock stars in Russia.
But for whatever reason, Balanchine very much loved women. So the ballet he brought to America, while based in the Russian tradition, was very woman-oriented. That is the ballet we know in America, it is definitely more feminine than other ballets in other parts of the world in the past. I don't think that Balanchine did American male dancers much of a favor. But what he created is now, for better or for worse, our starting point in America. And he's barely been dead any time at all, very little truly great development of American ballet has happened since Balanchine's death.
OK, I hope you read the book and other history books. It is a fascinating topic, and you can draw your on conclusions regarding men and ballet.
<small>[ 15 April 2005, 09:31 PM: Message edited by: citibob ]</small>