National Ballet of Canada dancers took barre in a very unusual location earlier this week: Toronto's Union Station.
Principal Heather Ogden led a group of company members through typical combinations to the delight of several surprised commuters. The event celebrated the Toronto Transit Commission's We Move You ad campaign, which features photos and videos of NBoC members dancing in various trains, buses and stations around the city.
The campaign ran into a surprising controversy last month. The group Body Confidence Canada criticized the ads for not representing ordinary commuters. An online statement complained that the images "perpetuate unrealistic and highly regimented bodies as some sort of an ideal of 'beauty' " and that "the body type of most ballet dancers do not adequately represent those of most Canadians and dare we say most TTC users."
TTC spokesman Stuart Green pointed out to The Toronto Star that no one's ever had a problem when the organization has used athletes from major sports teams in its ads. Those body types don't exactly represent most Canadians, either. Neither do the unrealistic images of actors and models that surround us every day in all sorts of advertising and media.
But it seems the stereotype of skinny dancers makes them a target. Of course, ballet has a history of not exactly being open to diverse bodies. Still, it seems odd to object to celebrating what highly-trained dancers can do simply because their bodies don't reflect the general population. Obviously, depicting what's ordinary or everyday was not the aim of this campaign. (I, for one, would be much more excited about taking the subway if this was regularly happening on my way to work.)
Although the underground barre event had already been planned before the controversy erupted, hopefully it opened a few commuters' minds. Seeing some of what goes into creating a dancer's physique by watching an up-close-and-personal barre can be an eye-opening experience for non-dancers. Maybe, rather than being offended by the dancers' shapes, Torontonians were inspired by their abilities.