Benjamin Millepied has achieved three things that very few men have ever managed. 1: the world-renowned ballet dancer choreographed all the dances in the Oscar-winning movie Black Swan. 2: He got engaged to (and recently had a baby with) the movie’s star, one Ms. Natalie Portman. 3: The dude looks suave doing moves that would get the rest of us laughed out of town. Currently the face of YSL’s new fragrance for men, Libre, he found the time to talk us through the painful, wince-inducing realities of ballet – from groin injuries to dislocated knees, that shit is not for wimps – as well as revealing exactly how he managed to woo #8 on this year’s Hot 100 list. Pay attention, men, you just may learn something.
Physically speaking, just how tough is ballet?
It’s extremely tough - it’s relentless discipline. With all the performances that you have, you’re constantly working with pain and dancing on injuries.
Have you had any bad injuries yourself?
Yeah. In my career I have torn the plantar fascia - the tissue at the bottom of your foot - on both my right foot and left foot. That’s an injury that lasts a year and a half - an injury that I danced on. I’ve also torn my calves, probably both, at least once. I also tore my abs, but that was because first, I tore my groin.
When you hurt your groin muscle, you compensate, so then I ended up tearing my abs. Oh, and I had fractured metatarsals. For all the time I was performing I would put my foot on ice while coming off stage, coming out of rehearsals, massage my calf, it was like constant, constant, constant therapy.
What’s the worst injury that you’ve seen?
I think the most disgusting thing that I’ve seen is somebody dislocate their knee.
In a studio. That’s shocking, especially if they can’t put it back in place right away. People really, really scream and then somebody comes and has to put it back. That was pretty bad. I was a kid when I saw that happen.
And you still carried on?
Yeah. I still carried on. I saw a torn Achilles tendon on stage, which wasn’t pretty, either. That’s pretty bad. You don’t want to tear your Achilles when you’re dancing - even when you repair that, you never come back the same.
Is ballet tougher for a man or a woman?
Women are en pointe, which is yet a whole other aspect of the physical pain. Some women go through three pairs of pointe shoes a day because they break: Some don’t have a lot of them, so you have to deal with the sheer pain all the time. In the last part of Black Swan, there’s a lot running, as I really wanted a lot of movement on the camera. So we’re shooting in late afternoon and we’re finished at four in the morning - I had no idea that running en pointe was the most painful thing for girls. By the time it was two or three, I had girls who would start to cry out of sheer pain. So it’s really tough, I think, for women.
Who would you say is more fit – a pro basketball player or a male ballet dancer?
Well, I don’t think that basketball players are necessarily the most fit. I mean, I think they’re fit, but I think boxing is tougher. With boxing, the conditioning is incredibly intense: You’re doing hardcore cardio, endurance, upper body but legs as well. You can really get in this crazy shape when you’re boxing. That’s probably the hardest workout, I would say.
Are steroids ever an issue in ballet?
No, unless I’m just oblivious to it and some people are doing it. (laughs)
What’s the biggest mistake most men make when trying to dance?
I think there’s two things. To be comfortable dancing, there is a certain kind of comfort you have to have with your body. You have to be in touch with it [laughs]. And then there’s a sense of music and enjoying music. I think the thing is to not be afraid of moving how you feel to the music and not being shy, you know? We all respond to things differently.
You’re engaged to Natalie Portman – which of your moves do you think impressed her the most?
[laughs] I think it was lifting her over my head. I didn’t know at the time, but Dirty Dancing is one of her favorite films. So I think that was a good move.
That’s probably not a good one for guys to try with a stranger.
No, no, no! [laughs] I wouldn’t recommend the Patrick Swayze lift over the head, no. You need to have done that a few times.
Is there a special technique for male ballet dancers when it comes to hiding the bulge in their tights?
You wear the “dance belt” – that’s the underwear you wear underneath your tights. You’re told to wear the dance belt when you’re a kid and you start ballet because it’s a protective element. It’s basically, you know, a good underwear that holds you up well and keeps everything where it should be. [laughs]