A scene from the impromptu ballet class held outside the "GMA" studios on Monday.

Chava Lansky

Fox News Mocks Lara Spencer's Apology, Says Men Wearing Tights Will Be Harassed

After days spent rallying against "Good Morning America" host Lara Spencer's flippant comments about boys doing ballet, the dance world triumphed on Monday. Not only did Spencer issue a lengthy on-air apology, complete with an interview with Robbie Fairchild, Travis Wall and Fabrice Calmels, but over 300 dancers gathered outside of the "GMA" studios for an impromptu ballet class.

The dance field seemed geared to press forward with positivity; a change.org petition urging "GMA" to cover the benefits of ballet for young men has gathered over 40,000 signatures, and many are examining the ways in which the #boysdancetoo movement can be made more inclusive. This made it all the more disheartening to open Instagram this morning and see that Fox News commentators Raymond Arroyo and Laura Ingraham took the bullying a step further last night, mocking Spencer's apology on a program called "The Ingraham Angle."


The segment starts with a "GMA" clip from Spencer's apology to Fairchild, Wall and Calmels. Arroyo jumps in, saying,

Can you believe this? This is what politicians do when they offend an ethnic group.

Arroyo and Ingraham both go on to say that they briefly took ballet; Ingraham says she took one class and got kicked out. Arroyo adds,

People harass you if you walk around in tights, they're going to harass you. It's not exactly, you know, an exemplar of a male...This ended, by the way, with 300 dancers, mostly boys, doing a class in Times Square.

Here, the show plays a clip from Alex Wong's Instagram account of the class doing port de bras. Ingraham interjects, saying,

They look like tai chi people.

Arroyo replies,

I hope she offends a mechanic next, so the boys know how to change the oil in a car.

Ingraham says that they have to move on, spurring Arroyo to turn to her in a bow with his hands in a prayer position, saying "Apologies" (an exact imitation of Calmel's movement from the initial clip). Ingraham, of course, laughs.

Spencer's initial comments struck such a deep nerve in people because they boiled down to bullying. Ingraham and Arroyo's response goes far beyond that.

First of all, Arroyo seems to condone harassment of male dancers. (Note his use of words; harass is far harsher than bully.) And while Spencer used innuendo to hint at the fact that ballet is not masculine, Arroyo says it straight out, that it's not an "exemplar of a male."

The commentators also detour into racism. In comparing Spencer's apology to a politician apologizing to an ethnic group, Arroyo is saying that he finds that practice laughable as well. But the most blatant example is Ingraham's comment that the ballet class looks like "tai chi people." While a comparison between ballet port de bras and tai chi could be an interesting topic for another time, with her phrasing, Ingraham manages to belittle Chinese culture, the ancient movement form of tai chi, ballet and the celebrated male dancers leading the class, all in one fell swoop.

While it's hard not to be wildly angry that this sort of hateful, ignorant rhetoric is appearing on national television, Fairchild's Instagram caption from earlier today is a reminder that the attention this story is getting is ultimately a win for ballet. "We riled those folks up @foxnews pretty good," he wrote. Fairchild later removed the post, writing in his Instagram story that it "felt gross and dirty after all the beauty and love from earlier this week" to repost the video clip. "Life's too short to bother with people who think apologies, forgiveness, and ballet are stupid," he writes, "Onward and upward."

And it's true; since last week, millions of people have taken to social media in response, and dozens of media outlets have provided coverage. (Even a Fox Business story says that despite the controversy, ballet has led to lucrative careers for several male dancers, going on to list Baryshnikov, Nureyev and Benjamin Millepied, a paltry attempt to delegitimize the issues at hand.) Dance Magazine's initial story on the controversy has quickly risen to our most read story of all time.

This issue is catapulting a conversation about ballet onto a national platform. We have faith that the dance world will continue to respond gracefully, and that this is only the start of much more discourse to come.

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I'm a Professional Dancer With Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Here's Why Dance Companies Need to Start Prioritizing Mental Health

My name is Abi Stafford, and I have generalized anxiety disorder.

I've had this "hook" in my mind for how I'd open an important essay my entire dance career, but I was never ready to talk about it, until now.

I might be the only dancer to say this, but the best change to result from the coronavirus shutdown is company class moving to Zoom.

As a kid, my teachers encouraged competition between students. While it undoubtedly helped push me, all these years later I still struggle with unhealthy levels of competitive feelings in class. But on Zoom, I don't have to compare myself to anyone, and it feels great. I can dance freely because no one is watching and critiquing my abilities.

When the shutdown started, I was preparing to return to New York City Ballet after a hiatus. I had taken a leave of absence since December 2019, the middle of Nutcracker season, to focus on my mental health.

As NYCB underwent leadership transitions during the last few years and the culture among the dancers shifted, I had developed new feelings of anxiety. Some dancers felt more emboldened to ask for roles they wanted, envisioning exciting career possibilities. Others quietly wished casting choices would remain the same and sensed a more uncertain path. With my brother as artistic director, workplace dynamics collided with my personal life. Casting disappointments jabbed me painfully, and it became hard to find a corner in the theater where my soul felt safe.

It was difficult to officially inform the company that I needed to take a leave because I'd been burned when I'd shown my anxiety before. Back when Peter Martins was in charge, I had an anxiety attack backstage prior to Theme and Variations. I felt too insecure, too scared, too tired, and I couldn't fathom performing. He offered me en­coura­ge­ment at the time, but, several years later, he brought up the episode unexpectedly, pointing to that painful moment to explain why I wasn't reliable. The experience solidified that I should never show emotional vulnerabilities or weaknesses.

Fast-forward to December 2019. When I finally let myself stop dancing, literally mid-rehearsal, some colleagues tried to talk me out of it. While well-intentioned, their words made me feel worse because I started to question my choice. But it was the right decision for me. I have been focusing on my mental wellness, family and pursuing my law degree to heal my spirit as quarantine carries on.

I have lived and performed with (sometimes crippling) anxiety for my entire career, and I'm nowhere near the only one who's struggled. I know of a dancer who picked up her bag and quit in the middle of a rehearsal. One time a young dancer timidly asked a group of older dancers whether ballet company life was hard for them. Upon emphatic replies of "yes," he said, "I thought it was just me. Everyone walks around like they are just fine."

Dancers feel immense pressure from management to constantly be perfect onstage. Yet, we are at the mercy of our bodies. Those two factors are an excellent recipe for anxiety. Some dancers cry a lot. Others call out sick when they're too anxious to perform. Some even choose to retire altogether—far too young.

There needs to be more mental health support within dance companies. Psychological services should be made available to all dancers and artistic staff—including ballet masters. At my company, they're under an intense amount of pressure to prepare the vast repertory, and all are former NYCB dancers who shared similar experiences, stresses and pain during their own careers.

Overall, everyone needs to listen more. Artistic management could send out anonymous surveys to assess what areas need improvement. Companies could hold talk-back sessions with dancers to open up the lines of communication about what's working and what's not. We need to make it acceptable for dancers to take care of their mental health. We need to stop training dancers (explicitly and implicitly) to hide their anxiety for fear of losing performance opportunities.

It is time to begin the conversation, because I worry about the ongoing suffering of dancers if this is not addres­sed. I worry that company leadership will continue to view my very real struggles with my mental health as a weakness. Most of all, I worry that the next generation of artists will continue to suffer as too many of their predecessors have.