Why Ballet Faux Pas Are So Insulting

August 26, 2015

There’s been a lot of outrage on my Facebook feed recently. And for once, I actually agree with it.

Last week, a video to promote a new app called “Abby Lee Dance Secrets” went up on YouTube. The clip shows Maddie Ziegler demonstrating how to perform an assemblé. The only problem? In addition to demonstrating assemblés, she also shows sissones to the front, back and side—which Abby Lee describes as “assemblés in all directions.” (The video has since been removed.)

A few days later, Virgin Active Health Clubs in the UK came out with a painfully bad ad campaign to promote its new ballet fusion Barre class. The pictures showcase an “Extreme Ballerina” with sickled feet, meager extensions and obviously very little ballet training posing around London. Soon came adoring articles written by non-dancers describing her as “super-talented” and “impressive.”

Both examples are so ridiculous, you want to laugh. But there’s something disturbing about these mistakes.

Love her or hate her, Maddie Ziegler is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable dance stars in mainstream media today. And Abby Lee is probably the only dance teacher who’s currently a household name. The fact that these two representatives of our world could get something so basic so wrong threatens the integrity of our art form. Sure, you could argue that it’s just a name of a step, which the audience will never know, so it doesn’t matter. But dance is an oral tradition, and how teachers describe movement matters. If students think of an assemblé and a sissone as the same jump, that changes the way they approach them, muddling the specificity of how the feet interact with the ground and how the body moves in space.

And although Virgin Active’s isn’t the first ad to try to pass off non-dancers as actual dancers, it seems more and more disheartening every time one of these comes out. It becomes clear that most people still don’t realize what real ballet talent looks like.

Dance is an underrepresented, misunderstood art form. We constantly have to fight to prove why dance matters and explain just how much talent and hard work it takes. So when we do get mainstream coverage but it misses the mark, it feels like such a wasted opportunity. And it underscores how little respect dance gets. Too many people think that anyone can strap on a pair of pointe shoes and dance. But would Virgin Active have run an ad with a fake football player holding the ball wrong, or calling a play by an inaccurate name?

This all makes me appreciate Misty Copeland’s new Under Armour ad that launched this week. Now those are what I call amazing lines—and thankfully, the commercial’s message is 100 percent true.