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The importance of this apology happening on the same national platform where her comments were originally made cannot be understated.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.