"Good Morning America" Host Apologizes for Comments About Ballet, Interviews Male Dancers on Air. It's a Start.
On this morning's edition of "Good Morning America," host Lara Spencer did what the dance community has been clamoring for since last Thursday, when her flippant comments about Prince George enjoying ballet lessons provoked widespread outrage: She apologized live on air.
"The comment I made about dance was insensitive, it was stupid, and I am deeply sorry," she said. "I have spoken with several members of the dance community over the past few days. I have listened. I have learned about the bravery it takes for a young boy to pursue a career in dance."
The show then cut to a pre-recorded segment in which Spencer sat down with former New York City Ballet principal and soon-to-be Cats star Robbie Fairchild, Emmy-winning choreographer Travis Wall, and longtime Joffrey Ballet dancer Fabrice Calmels. Fairchild spoke candidly about the bullying he faced growing up because of his dance training; Wall expressed pride at the number of boys who have begun dancing as a result of "So You Think You Can Dance"; Calmels called for more open-mindedness and empathy. "I teach young kids," Calmels said, "and boys just drop because of the social stigma around the form. Children should be entitled to experience things without being bullied."
Wall advised any young men watching the segment who wanted to dance to "avoid the noise. Use that as inspiration. Look at anybody who has been through it: It gets better." Fairchild added his thoughts on how important it is for them to have male role models, like Gene Kelly had been for him. (Kelly's widow released a public statement responding to Spencer's comments.) At the end of the segment, Spencer apologized again, and expressed gratitude that her insensitive comments had created an opportunity for learning.
The importance of this apology happening on the same national platform where her comments were originally made cannot be understated. Spencer had previously apologized in a post to her personal Instagram; while this meant that the members of the dance community who called out her remarks online might see it, it did not necessarily follow that the rest of the "GMA" audience would.
This is an issue that goes beyond the "insensitive comments" of one person. As the immediate outpouring of responses from the dance community showed, this incident struck a nerve because it spoke to an underlying attitude towards dance that is more common than we would like to believe. There are those who think, wrongly, that it is an inherently feminine art form. There are those who think that it is not an appropriate recreational activity for boys. There are those who think that it is not an acceptable career path for anyone, but especially young men.
My hope is that the same audience who heard Spencer's comments last Thursday heard her apology today. More than that, I hope that they heard what Wall, Fairchild and Calmels had to say. I hope that this moment is a teachable one, not just for Spencer, but for the people who did not think to question her "joke." I hope that maybe, just maybe, they'll stop to question the culturally ingrained assumptions they might have about dance, and hesitate before making boys who do ballet the butt of the joke—not out of fear of the backlash, but out of empathy.
The dance community rose to this occasion beautifully. This morning, Wall, Fairchild and Calmels led a ballet class outside "GMA" in Times Square. As Fairchild told Spencer on today's segment, "We are a community of love, and in order for us to move forward, we have to move forward together." When we band together and support one another, we are capable of incredible things. Let's keep going.
There's still an ongoing petition for "GMA" to produce a segment amplifying the benefits of ballet for young men. (Since Friday, it has gathered over 35,000 signatures.) There are still minds and hearts left to change. Let this be our rallying cry. We've got work to do.
In the middle of one of New York City Center's cavernous studios, Misty Copeland takes a measured step backwards. The suggestion of a swan arm ripples before she turns downstage, chest and shoulders unfurling as her legs stretch into an open lunge. She piqués onto pointe, arms echoing the sinuous curve of her back attitude, then walks out of it, pausing to warily look over her shoulder. As the droning of Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto's mysterious "Attack/Transition" grows more insistent, her feet start to fly with a rapidity that seems to almost startle her.
And then she stops mid-phrase. Copeland's hands fall to her hips as she apologizes. Choreographer Kyle Abraham slides to the sound system to pause the music, giving Copeland a moment to remind herself of a recent change to the sequence.
"It's different when the sound's on!" he reassures her. "And it's a lot of changes."
The day before was the first time Abraham had seen Copeland dance the solo in its entirety, and the first moment they were in the studio together in a month. This is their last rehearsal, save for tech, before the premiere of Ash exactly one week later, as part of the opening night of City Center's Fall for Dance festival.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
Dancers are understandably obsessed with food. In both an aesthetic and athletic profession, you know you're judged on your body shape, but you need proper fuel to perform your best. Meanwhile, you're inundated with questionable diet advice.
"My 'favorite' was the ABC diet," says registered dietitian nutritionist Kristin Koskinen, who trained in dance seriously but was convinced her body type wouldn't allow her to pursue it professionally. "On the first day you eat only foods starting with the letter A, on the second day only B, and so on."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.