The Dance Community Has Come Together Over Lara Spencer's Comments. But Who Is Being Left Out?
Last Friday, Dance Magazine published what has already become our most-read story of all time. At 2.8 million views and counting, our take on Lara Spencer's cruel comments about Prince George taking ballet prompted an enormous response from both the dance community and those who were simply bothered by what amounted to the bullying of a 6-year-old on national television.
But Spencer's comments struck a nerve for dancers especially. Rarely have we seen our field so united, or so passionate.
Most everyone agrees that Spencer's comments were unacceptable and reflect broader ignorance about both dance and gender. But some more nuanced takes have been left out of the hundreds of new stories about the controversy.
We found some perspectives from the dance world you might not have seen yet—and broke down why they're important:
Where Is the Outrage About Other Issues in Our Field?
Ballet Hispánico artistic director Eduardo Vilaro and choreographer and teacher Michael Foley bring up questions about the source of our outrage on this topic, and why it hasn't surfaced for other issues in the dance field.
Yes, it was a rare moment that dance was featured on a mainstream platform. But it also demonstrated how much collective power we have as dancers—and how we aren't necessarily using that power to fight for equity in our field.
Both Foley and Dance Magazine editor at large Wendy Perron point out the gender dynamics at work. Considering how complicated gender is in the dance field (85 percent of boys who dance in the U.S. are bullied or harassed, for example, and yet men ride a glass escalator to positions of power) it's worth taking note of.
Why Aren't We Talking About the History of Ballet?
Former New York Times chief dance critic Alastair Macaulay makes a valid point: Lara Spencer wasn't just making fun of any boy doing ballet. She was making fun of a Prince and future King. But most conversations around Spencer's comments have ignored the fact that ballet originated in the French courts and was primarily danced by men.
We can debate how relevant this context is, especially in light of the fact that, as many have pointed out, boys who want to dance who have less privilege than Prince George are the real victims here. But the omission speaks to how ignorant many in our country are about ballet and its history.
Who Is Left Out of #boysdancetoo?
We know that Spencer's comments—and how willing the other GMA hosts and audience members were to laugh at them—demonstrate a narrow, fragile view of masculinity.
But when we respond by arguing that ballet is actually macho, we don't help much to push back against this mentality. In fact, sometimes when we try to make the case for ballet's masculinity, we slip into trying to define who or what counts as manly (as evidenced by the popular t-shirts with slogans like "real men lift women") which only does more harm. (Not to mention the sexism inherent in implying that it would be bad for a boy to like something feminine.)
Take the now-popular hashtag #boysdancetoo. As dancer and choreographer Ashley R.T. Yergens notes, it's unclear if this rallying cry includes trans boys. (Since we're talking about bullying, we should note that 83 percent of trans kids are bullied—and that's before they even step into a dance studio.) Plus, young dancers outside the gender binary are being entirely left out of this conversation.
Have another take on Lara Spencer's comments and the dance community's response? Let us know by emailing email@example.com.
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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:
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"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."
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