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Are the images of ballet in pop culture getting better?


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#1 bart

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 01:09 PM

Generally, I think of popular culture as being rather anti-ballet. But here's a Nike commercial (courtesy of YouTube) in which allet and hip-hop interact rather charmingly. (It's from Russia, so this might not be surprising.)


And here's one from the U.S. (10 years old or so) which rather surprised me: the National Basketball Association making connections between their sport and ballet????


Neither of these examples is from the recent past. Does anyone have any thoughts about how, generally, is ballet doing in the commercialized pop culture world right now -- throughout the world? I mean -- in terms of coverage and respect. Is it holding it's own (as the Nike and NBA commercials suggest). Or is it still the the cultured face they love to throw the pies at?

#2 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 05 May 2008 - 01:55 PM

Does anyone have any thoughts about how, generally, is ballet doing in the commercialized pop culture world right now -- throughout the world? I mean -- in terms of coverage and respect. Is it holding it's own (as the Nike and NBA commercials suggest). Or is it still the the cultured face they love to throw the pies at?

Good questions, bart. As for my own experience, i absolutely HATE the fact that everytime i see a commercial on TV in which ballet is involved, 99 % of chances are that it's a "funny" -(aka silly/horrendous)- thing making fun of the art form. In other words, [size=2]pleeeeease, leave the "Dance of the Little Swans" aloooooooooooong!!![/size] Get some new ideas, for Christ sake...the joke is getting old. :bow:

#3 whetherwax

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 09:44 PM

In Australia there is a large audience for ballet considering how sports mad we are supposed to be,yet to my horror anytime a any media outlet wants to get a laugh they put some big yobbo footballer in a Tutu. I think it is changing but slowly.

#4 cubanmiamiboy

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Posted 07 May 2008 - 10:38 PM

In Australia there is a large audience for ballet considering how sports mad we are supposed to be,yet to my horror anytime a any media outlet wants to get a laugh they put some big yobbo footballer in a Tutu. I think it is changing but slowly.

Ugh, it's deppressing...and :)

#5 fadedhour

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 12:04 AM

Um, I don't know if anyone on here saw Step Up 2 (I can make no excuses).. but I was a little annoyed with how ballet dancers were presented. The idea of the movie (this is greatly simplified) is that Andie, our hero, is pretty much forced to go to this fancy arts school to keep her out of trouble. She is a hip hop dancer and her teachers try to make her learn ballet. All of these scenes seem contrived to make ballet look ridiculous, though--like when her teacher tries to move her into a position and she falls down or says it's not natural or it hurts, &c. Her teacher (played by Will Kemp, who formerly danced for Matthew Bourne--it looks like he's moved into acting now, sadly) is this sort of stereotype uptight, elitist caricature of what someone who likes ballet is like. It seemed like they made him an ex-ballet dancer so as to automatically turn the audience against him. At one part, he leapt about demonstrating moves to Andie, and and the audience burst out laughing, presumably at the idea of a guy doing ballet. I don't know. It was kind of depressing.

Oh, and they gave him lines like: "I think wed all agree that talent comes from mastering technique."

There's also a part at the beginning that was interesting. Andie is about to audition for the school, and a girl is auditioning before her. It's ballet although for some reason she's not in pointe shoes. A guy watching (a hip hop dancer) says dismissively, "Bunch of clones." As the girl walks past Andie on her way out of the building, she says "Nailed it" in a bratty tone. Throughout the movie, the ballerinas were the "mean girls" of the school, though one randomly turns nice at the end.

I think I'd managed to persuade myself the popular view of ballet was not that bad, but this movie convinced me otherwise.

I haven't seen the first Step Up but apparently it's about a female ballet dancer and a male hip hop dancer. I would love to see a teen movie about a male ballet dancer and a female hip hop dancer..

#6 Solnishka79

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 04:45 AM

I haven't seen the first Step Up but apparently it's about a female ballet dancer and a male hip hop dancer. I would love to see a teen movie about a male ballet dancer and a female hip hop dancer..



Now wouldn't that be an interesting plot? And unfortunately, I'm sure it would die a fast death at the box office.

#7 bart

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 06:50 AM

I wasn't familiar with Step Up or its sequel, so thanks for that summary, fadedhour. I checked it out on the imdb website and found this:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0462590/

Like you, I guess I thought that things were a little better as far as respect for ballet in the movies is concerned. Just imagine if this kind of prejudice were reversed: with a grand snob like the Duchess of Krakenthorp featured in a plot that demonizes hip hop aesthetics as a way of glorifying the minute or gavotte. ("Quel scandale!")

Why can't people just enjoy what they enjoy without having to attack alternate forms of artistic expression (and the people who devote their lives to them)? Cultural populists seem to be most guilty of this nowadays. Cultural elitists -- if such a thing exists anymore -- seem to have folded their tents and given up the war of words.

Anyway, most ballet people I know enjoy and appreciate (even admire) many forms of dancing. Many even participate in other kinds of dance. Here's a very brief video of two young Miami City Ballet Dancers -- Daniel Baker and Alex Wong -- performing a tribute to something called "power cheerleading."


#8 ami1436

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 07:15 AM

Bart, you have totally just made my day! I am a huge Alex Wong fan, after seeing him while he was with ABTII. I also remember that song from a brief foray into high school dance team (I wonder if our choreography was better?)... but that's about all I should say about my youth...!

You know, looking back, I don't think I ever thought of ballet as 'not cool' when I was young, and I think I really owe this to my parents, and to shows like Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers - I clearly remember Mr. Rogers visiting the Pittsburgh Steelers and showing Lynn Swann in ballet class. I also remember someone on Sesame Street... I don't remember who? Of course, I'm speaking as a female, and I grew up in an area where most children did some sort of artistic endeavour, from choir to band to drama to ballroom.....

Although some folks in the UK hated it, I LOVED this season's Royal Ballet promotion with Ed Watson. (There's a story about the promo here: http://www.independe...son-456166.html and I posted a topic about it here on the sister board: http://dancers.invis...?...=36374&hl=) Whatever, the statistics might not be right. What is it they say about lies, damned lies, and statistics? Moreover, my male friends thought it was 'cool' and asked questions about how hard it is to be a dancers, and my male *dancing* friends adopted a new line. I also thought last Christmas' Gap ad with Roberto Bolle and Greta Hodgkins was cool.

My biggest pet peeve, however, is the continuing 'pinkification' of ballet and, in general, of young girls (if anyone has been to Hamley's in London - ugh, that place is an epitome of the gender divide...). I love that Angelina Ballerina and the like inspire girls to dance, but must it all be in such overtly frilly manners? The Royal Ballet has a new set of dolls out (ugly, in my opinion, but hey...) - and they are all princesses and fairies. I completely admit to giving in to the trend when I took a friend's daughter to her first ballet outing - and she was adorable - but it all seemed overly gendered to me.

#9 SanderO

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 08:03 AM

This is an interesting problem. Pop culture and the classic arts do not mix like oil and water. They might, at best inhabit the same "media" at times but merge they can't. There will always be cross over efforts and the new guys will always find themselves reaching back into our cultural past for "things" to re package and re use in their own present / modernist manner.

Marketing is another matter altogether and here ballet companies are faced with getting people into the seats to stay in the black or not bleed to much red and depend on "hand outs" from gov and arts patrons. What marketers are doing is trying to find ways to package classical arts which appeal to the "unwashed masses".... ooops I mean the popular culture raised on MTV and so forth. Of course many of the "artists" in classic companies are also "interested in" and participate in popular /crossover efforts.

What we need is a media which presents classic arts, to a receptive educated and respectful public without dumbing it down foe the MTV crowd. My two cents.

#10 Dale

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 10:08 AM

There's a nice representation of ballet in a Heineken commercial. The theme is paying it forward and a ballerina in her tutu is one of the people receiving and then paying the bottles of beer forward. I'm not a big fan of the commercial itself, but it's nice to see ballet as just another part of life, rather than something to ridicule. Interesting to note: the ballerina is average sized, thus avoiding the ballerina as emaciated-and-suffering-stereotype we often get in mainstream venues.

#11 chrisk217

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 11:19 AM

From where I see it it's doing worse.

Let's consider the Simpsons as a case study. After all it's been popular for 20 years now. There were more than a few references in the show's first decade and they were largely neutral/positive. Not so lately.

{For those who don't watch the show Bart is the cool bad boy and Lisa is his studious, idealistic, hollier than thou sister. Marge and Homer are the parents}

About 15 years ago:

There was the memorable episode where Bart arrives late to a physical activity signup, to find that the only spot left is one in the girl's ballet class. The teacher is a strict but sympathetic red haired Russian (obviously modeled on Maya). Ballet is described as something that requires strength and character beneath the pink sparkly exterior. Bart is unwilling at first but soon love of dance takes over and he really starts to enjoy it. As the school recital approaches he realises the danger of getting beaten up by the school bullies and decides to dance in a mask. His dancing is a tremendous success (the bullies watch ecstatic and weep) and he, carried away, decides to unmask and declare his love for ballet. Not a minute later the bullies are on his back and he ends the episode lying injured in a ditch.
Despite the end (and some stereotypical jokes in the middle) the overall tone was positive (Bart is the cool kid after all)

There was also another episode back then, where Homer does not want to go to the ballet and Marge goes with a wild friend of hers to see some touring Russian company. The dancers are portrayed as strong, graceful, athletic and sexy. Then the episode turns into Thelma and Louise and Homer ends up in a police car that's chasing after Marge and her friend. [Homer: "Ahhhh! Marge has turned into a wild criminal just because I didn't take her to the ballet!" Police chief: "That is exactly how Dillinger got started" Homer: "Really?"]


More recently:

Only last month there was an episode all about ballet. Marge reveals that ballet is yet one more in her long series of unfulfilled dreams and urged by Lisa she takes up class again. The teacher is portrayed as a vain, abusive, cruel man, who makes people cry and dismisses Marge as soon as she makes a mistake. Then he notices Lisa's feet in first position and signs her on. Unsurprisingly she finds ballet hard at first. But soon her classmates let her into their dirty secret for remaining focused and thin: "for every ballerina in the world it's cigarettes!" they declare. They are all indeed smoking like chimneys. Lisa quickly becomes addicted to second hand smoke. At the performance night (Sleeping Beauty) Homer removes all cigarettes from their dressing room and the dancers go beserk ("oh no! my appetite is coming back!") and attack the crowd looking for a smoke. At this point Lisa addresses everyone.
This is what she says word for word: "I wanna talk about a horrible practice affecting millions of Americans. For years we've known how dangerous it is. It stunts your growth and it's marketed to children! I'm talking about BALLET!! Ballet is unnatural and unfair to women. I shall now cast off these shoes of oppression!" (takes off pointes and throws them to teacher)

I don't know what was worse, this incredible anti-ballet manifesto or the fact that smoking was actually shown to positively affect their performance (they were falling over without it) But 15 years ago ballet got respect (and gentle humor) from this show.

#12 Solnishka79

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 03:51 PM

[ "I wanna talk about a horrible practice affecting millions of Americans. For years we've known how dangerous it is. It stunts your growth and it's marketed to children!


Shouldn't this apply more to gymnastics than ballet?

#13 Hans

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 04:06 PM

Ballet certainly doesn't stunt your growth.

#14 Ray

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 05:20 PM

Only last month there was an episode all about ballet. Marge reveals that ballet is yet one more in her long series of unfulfilled dreams and urged by Lisa she takes up class again. The teacher is portrayed as a vain, abusive, cruel man, who makes people cry and dismisses Marge as soon as she makes a mistake. Then he notices Lisa's feet in first position and signs her on. Unsurprisingly she finds ballet hard at first. But soon her classmates let her into their dirty secret for remaining focused and thin: "for every ballerina in the world it's cigarettes!" they declare. They are all indeed smoking like chimneys. Lisa quickly becomes addicted to second hand smoke. At the performance night (Sleeping Beauty) Homer removes all cigarettes from their dressing room and the dancers go beserk ("oh no! my appetite is coming back!") and attack the crowd looking for a smoke. At this point Lisa addresses everyone.
This is what she says word for word: "I wanna talk about a horrible practice affecting millions of Americans. For years we've known how dangerous it is. It stunts your growth and it's marketed to children! I'm talking about BALLET!! Ballet is unnatural and unfair to women. I shall now cast off these shoes of oppression!" (takes off pointes and throws them to teacher)


As a former dancer who is at an age where I'm watching some of my perfectly capable female ex-colleagues turn into crazy, controlling/self-deprecating ballet ladies right before my very eyes, I found this pretty funny. It is satire, after all. Do we think this is really representative of a larger trend?

#15 KarenD

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Posted 08 May 2008 - 07:28 PM

Ballet certainly doesn't stunt your growth.


I have a friend at work. His son is way into football, and he shows me all his newspaper grid iron clippings, and of course, I show him all my proud mama ballet pictures. As disparate as the two activities may seem, through our conversations we have found common issues and common concerns. ( one of our better ones was about "muscle memory" which is a very interesting concept.) Anyhoo, when he understood the nature of my daughter's schedule (not just Sept thru Jan, but throughout most of the year!) he was very impressed, and commented about how all that activity was beneficial to her growth.

I think, tho I can't be sure, he was specifically speaking to bone growth. And although many friends and family look at us and call her my "clone", her leg bones are definitely longer than mine. ( I was never a dancer.) Sorry for deviating from the topic, just wanted to emphasize that Hans comment has real merit!


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