When the news broke that Prince George, currently third in line for the British throne, would be continuing ballet classes as part of his school curriculum this year, we were as excited as anyone. (Okay, maybe more excited.)
This was not, it seems, a sentiment shared by "Good Morning America" host Lara Spencer.
On yesterday's episode, the conversation turned to what the 6-year-old has on the docket when he returns to school this fall. After joking about being glad that she didn't have to do homework anymore, Spencer said,
In addition to the usual first or second grade things, like math, science and history, the future King of England will be putting down the Play-Doh to take on religious studies, computer programming, poetry and ballet, among other things.
This could have been a joke about the young prince tackling subjects that seem way above grade level. (Which begs the question, why is advanced achievement considered a joke?) But things began to seriously sour when Spencer got to the word "ballet." The talk show host audibly held back a laugh as she said it, and followed it up with an expression that could kindly be called patronizing, provoking giggles and then full-on laughter from her co-hosts and the studio audience. And then it got worse.
As pictures of a smiling Prince George showed on screen, she sarcastically quipped, "I mean, he looks so happy about the ballet class!" She continued,
Prince William says Prince George absolutely loves ballet. I have news for you, Prince William: We'll see how long that lasts.
How, in the year 2019, is this considered even remotely acceptable?
I could extoll the numerous benefits that dance training has for any human being, not to mention one who is going to grow up to be a head of state. I could point to the physical upsides, the positive effects dancing has on mental and emotional health, the long-reaching benefits of the discipline and focus it requires, and, perhaps most significantly, the way dance training imparts the value of empathy.
But the thing is, I doubt that Spencer cares. What this is really about is bullying.
Because that's what we just watched: A grown woman bullying a 6-year-old child. On national television. To laughter and applause.
If that seems okay to you, I would recommend finding your nearest dance studio and enrolling in an open class, because your empathy could use a serious tune-up.
It is no secret that young boys who enroll in dance classes face bullying to an outstanding degree—according to the documentary DANSEUR, the number is 85% of male ballet students in the United States. We're all familiar with the hateful, illogical rhetoric that goes with it (ballet is effeminate, boys who do it are sissies, or worse, gasp!, gay), and one would like to think that if the adults in the room were aware of it, they would put a stop to it.
That's what makes this whole debacle so sickening. Sure, Prince George is largely going to be shielded from this, and is going to grow up with a thick skin from being the center of so much public scrutiny. But what message does this send to the young boys who enjoy dance classes, or maybe want to give it a shot, but don't want to be the subject of abuse? What does it say to the ones hurling the abuse? That the bullies, right or wrong, can get away with it, and even be praised for it. The woman on the television certainly seems to be doing well enough.
Spencer's remarks also reflect the unfortunately common attitude that dance (ballet in particular) is not something that anyone could or should take seriously, that it's something to be grown out of. It's not like public and governmental support of dance, and the arts in general, is in crisis, right?
If there's a bright spot in all of this, it's in watching the dance world's reaction. Ballet stars have flocked to social media to share their support for the young prince and their disgust at Spencer's comments—and to demand an apology. (There's even an online petition asking that "GMA" produce a segment about the benefits of ballet training for young men.) Just a handful of the many articulate responses, including from former New York City Ballet star Robbie Fairchild and The Washington Ballet, are below.
Because this isn't just about Prince George, and it isn't just about ballet classes. It's about the fact that no one should be bullied for what they enjoy doing. And we refuse to condone it.
Update: Lara Spencer took to Instagram to address the blowback, writing,
My sincere apologies for an insensitive comment I made in pop news yesterday. From ballet to anything one wants to explore in life, I say GO FOR IT. I fully believe we should all be free to pursue our passions. Go climb your mountain-and love every minute of it.
Comments on the post are calling for her to go a step further and apologize on "GMA."