Will the White Stripes help to de-feminize ballet?
Chroma, described by choreographer Wayne McGregor as the “freedom from white”, is the much anticipated ballet that uses music from the White Stripes in orchestral form. Reaching out for a more contemporary demographic, the show features such fan favorites as ‘The Hardest Button to Button’ and ‘Blue Orchid’ (it looks like we’ll have to wait a bit longer for that orchestral version of ‘Icky Thump’). The ballet had its premiere in London’s Royal Opera House back in 2006 but now it has finally been added to the 2010/2011 season in the land where the deer and the antelope play.
Firstly, I offer my apologies. In thinking about the title of this post, I’m not even sure if ‘de-feminize’ is the right word. I definitely don’t mean to label ballet as something that’s girly or sissy—outside of Lindy Hop, I’m not much of a dancer myself, but I do have enough siblings to be aware of the dedication and sheer strength required to do ballet—and by society’s definition of girly, this is anything but.
But why does ballet have this feminine attachment? Or is this simply a misnomer for those outside of the dancing sphere looking in? And am I merely helping to perpetuate the stereotype simply by discussing it? Well… we must start somewhere.
Cue the electric guitar!
Maybe, it’s a weight thing. Unlike modeling, ballet dancers aren’t required to be thin or a certain size for appearance alone; it’s more for practicality and grace. The dancers need to be agile and if that mandate is fulfilled, then the performance has a higher potential for improvement. Unfortunately, familiar issues arise:
“Surveys indicate that professional female dancers are considerably thinner than the general population of women, whereas male dancers approach the norm for men.”- Dance Magazine
Few institutions other than modeling, for example, lead to a pervasive culture of eating disorders (the New York Times cited the incidence of eating disorders in dancers as one in five.)- the F-Bomb
…if I wanted to be ballet dancer in Russia, I should weigh 39kg (6 stone, 1lb). I am 5ft 5in. This would give me a clinically emaciated body mass index of 14.1 – a weight that would probably land me in hospital in the UK. – The Guardian on Russian ballet culture
Perhaps grace is the problem. Ballerinas have that association to fragility, vulnerability, and weakness. This could be due to the delicate frame they must maintain but the sweet music behind it all is probably just as great a contributor.
And what about the gender roles in ballet? Nevermind the tutus, shoes with ribbons, and myriad arrays of white and pink that have been pounded into our heads by typical mainstream projections; when you see the male dancer toss up, drop, and generally act as the centre pivot for the female dancer, then it’s easy to guess where the power lies. And that’s probably why ballet isn’t feminism’s favorite sport.
Again, those are just stereotypes. Popular stereotypes, but misleading nonetheless.
The ballet and dance shows that don’t have size or subject restrictions are out there,people just aren’t aware of them. And there are even some types of ballet that fall so far out of the normal conventions of ballet that you probably wouldn’t even recognize them as ballet (Re: last 15 seconds of below video).
This is why I think the White Stripes lending a hand to ballet is a great step forward. I don’t think for a second that it’s just a cheap hook or publicity stunt either—I’ve listened to Joby Talbot’s Aluminium album (which is a good indication of the music that will be heard in the ballet) and it’s the real deal. Medium crossovers have always played a fundamental role in hammering certain walls of exclusivity or stereotypes to broader audiences. If Obama can hire will.i.am and half of Hollywood to get more people interested in voting and politics in general, then certainly raising theatre’s curtain for garage rock’s favorite duo is more than in the realm of possibility.
And maybe that’s how we can fight stereotypes. Not by running down one track, preaching our cause, mission, and aspirations to or for a specific group but by bringing things together—in a way that allows us to appreciate different perspectives, ideologies, struggles, success stories, movements and liberations.
Now doesn’t that sound like a fab idea?
Some more links worth reading: