The Prince of Cambridge takes ballet, and he enjoys it. When Good Morning America’s co-anchor Lara Spencer covered the Prince Geroge’s school curriculum in a pop news segment on August 23, she disclosed his ballet training. Immediately bursting into a fit of laughter, Spencer uttered, “we’ll see how long that lasts,” while encouraging her audience and colleagues to laugh with her.
Why is it problematic to poke fun at Prince George’s love of ballet? Perhaps because it is problematic to scrutinize a child for enjoying anything at all, particularly a field in which there are so few male participants almost exclusively because of perpetuated gender stereotypes that have become a hot spot for bullying. This is already such a sensitive spot for the male ballet community, and becoming a national laughing stock hardly signifies any progress towards resolution. When Spencer absentmindedly made this comment, surely she didn’t realize what an enormously aware, vigorous, arabesque-wielding bear she was poking.
Spencer’s thirty second tangent prompted an influx of responses from enraged artists nationwide, with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry criticizing Spencer for her outright ignorance. Artistic directors of nearly every major dance company in America proudly displayed their hardworking male students and performers on social media. Indignant celebrities like Derek Hough, George Takei, and Rosie O’Donnell even took to the internet to express their sadness.
Debbie Allen’s reaction was particularly robust because of the weight that she carries in the dance world. Having been the lead from the Broadway revival of ‘West Side Story,’ a lead in ‘Fame,’ owner of Debbie Allen’s Dance Academy in LA, and most recently playing Catherine Fox on ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ Allen is deeply immersed in the arts and invested in its accessibility. Allen’s post went viral for its poignant eloquence, acknowledging that Spencer surely never intended her comments to “set off the firestorm that it did,” but Allen sternly reminds Spencer that she is a woman in a position of power, and it is her duty to be an informed and respectful artistic consumer.
One of the most widespread posts came from two-time Emmy Award-winning choreographer Travis Wall. Best known for his work on the televised dance competition ‘So You Think You Can Dance,’ Wall shared a video to Instagram calling out Spencer for, “adding fuel to the fire,” concerning the bullying problem in America. Sharing his own negative experiences during his career as a male dancer and noting that individuals like Lara are part of the problem, Wall ends the video by asking Spencer (and others) to pause before criticizing someone for pursuing their passions. He asks her to, “look in the mirror and ask yourself, do you want to be a bully today?”
With this post, Wall introduced the hashtag #boysdancetoo, and truly became the face of the movement when he — alongside professional dancers Robbie Fairchild and Alex Wong — led a public ballet class in front of the Good Morning America studios in New York City. Over 300 dancers- most of whom were male- gathered in the streets to dance on August 26, and the movement gained enough traction to prompt GMA to publicly respond to the situation.
Technically, Spencer had already offered an acknowledgement to the controversy on Instagram a few days after her story had aired, extending her, “sincere apologies for an insensitive comment.” She concluded by encouraging her followers to, “go climb [their] mountain, and love every minute of it.” The dance community felt that this was a far cry from an appropriate apology, given that her post had failed to address the root of the problem. She had undeniably marginalized an entire demographic of aspiring artists while simultaneously discrediting those already in the field.
The immense backlash from the public prompted a Good Morning America segment in which Spencer sits down with three dance icons- Travis Wall, Robbie Fairchild, and Fabrice Calmels- to reiterate her apology and shed light on the bravery and necessity of male influences in the dance community.
“I screwed up,” admits Spencer. She notes that she has, “listened and learned,” about the dance community through the controversy. Fairchild — soon to star in the upcoming ‘Cats’ movie — illuminates the severity of the topic and finds a silver lining. He shares that he believes that they were able to “steer this painful moment into a great conversation celebrating dance and defending boys who are being bullied for doing it.”
To conclude the interview, Spencer asks what the three men would like to say to young boys afraid to dive into dance. Wall encourages beginning dancers to, “avoid the noise and use it as inspiration.” Spencer wraps up the interview by thanking the leaders of the very community that she had so openly belittled just days before for allowing her the opportunity to apologize and to learn.
Ballet dancers are some of the most teachable and self-aware individuals in the world. They are trained to perform and immediately self-critique. Individuals are constantly searching for things to improve in themselves, taking outside corrections, and making immediate revisions to enhance the final product. The result is an ever-evolving artist who is constantly looking to better themselves and can apply constructive criticism like no other. If this mentality can be used to perfect a pirouette, imagine the wonders that it can work in a child’s academic performance, in an adolescent’s first job, and in the wider workplace. It is worth noting that none of these traits are exclusively beneficial for girls.
In 2019, how can there still be such a prominent stigma surrounding boys in ballet? For an art that teaches such refined strength, discipline, courtesy, endurance, courage and dedication, the unenlightened stereotypes are sadly still alive and well. What an opportunity this has been to educate the Lara Spencers’ of the world- as Debbie Allen so brilliantly put, “We’d get a lot more Steve Jobs if we had more ballet and less bullying.”
Categories: Arts & Entertainment