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Are the images of ballet in pop culture getting better?

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Bart,

Thanks for bringing up the continuum of art. I actually had written a similar paragraph but fortunately cut it from my post because you expressed it much better. The one thing I might add is that the range of our ability to understand and appreciate art forms all along the continuum is limited only by our own individual vision. There are no true dividing lines, only those we chose to create and allow. I believe that if we expect others to have a broader vision, we must be prepared to demonstrate that possibility ourselves.

SanderO, I like the point you make about the difficulty sometimes in distinguishing exactly what is high culture and what is pop culture and the issue of the quality of the art. Just because something is presented as art and gains a great deal of attention (popular or unpopular), does that necessarily make it culture, pop or otherwise? Can pop art done well be "better" than high art done poorly? I just finished reading the biography of Louis Moreau Gottschalk and it ends with a discussion of the debate, both during his lifetime and ever since, regarding whether he represented high culture (classically trained in Paris, respected by other classical composers of the time) or popular culture (he primarily performed popular romantic music that appealed to audiences of the Victorian mid-1800’s). On one hand, his music introduced syncopated rhythms that would later inspire ragtime and on the other, it provided us Pasquinade and Tarantella.

Paul, I agree with you that there is a very real economic component to popular culture, but I’m not sure that it is based on any conspiracy of advertisers to trick us out of our money. Achieving economic security and continuing revenue is important for all art, pop or classical, the same as it is for us as individuals. While there are certainly people looking for a quick buck, its been proven many times over that in the long run, the most successful way to secure and maintain revenue is by genuinely understanding and consistently meeting the expectations of the people willing to pay, be that ballet audiences, art patrons, or consumers of popular culture.

I do believe ballet has the potential, and I stress potential, of finding broader acceptance and a resulting improved image in contemporary culture. Again, my hopes are based on the success of increasing local, accessible ballet experiences and productions allowing broader exposure. While not a great analogy, I would wish for ballet to achieve something similar to what has happened in the US with soccer. During the last World Cup, I was surprised at how many people, through their children and participation as children, have become very knowledgeable and appreciate the sport. Along with that, certainly in my lifetime, the image and attitude toward soccer has changed from some strange game foreigners play with their feet to one of the most played sports in the US. This popularity has all developed at the local level because, interestingly enough, most of the population has yet to ever attend a major professional soccer event! The real future of ballet in our culture probably lies much less with what happens at the NYCB or ABT, but much more likely to what happens at your local studios and companies.

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edited Sat AM to say, well, I guess I went a little off the deep end here. Still, it's the advertising that strikes me as burning with a hard, gem-like flame.
Paul, I think many of us go "off the deep end" on this issue, from time to time at least. All art, I suppose, involves the manipulation of a person's emotional responses. Some kinds of manipulation just seem to be more insidious and soul-less) than others. Advertising certainly lies at the far end of the deep end, as far as I'm concerned.

Dancesmith, I'm really intrigued by your soccer analogy. This does seem to be an example of the movement of an activity from something perceived as elitist and and somehow foreign into something rather classy and suitable for the upwardly mobile Americans. (The increased size and visibility of Latino communities in the US also help.)

This popularity has all developed at the local level because, interestingly enough, most of the population has yet to ever attend a major professional soccer event! The real future of ballet in our culture probably lies much less with what happens at the NYCB or ABT, but much more likely to what happens at your local studios and companies.
This is an extremely interesting point. Localism or devolution might indeed be a way to fight the power of the mass commercial media. The part of me that is a populist and kind of anti-Federalist would love it if things really worked this way. But somehow I fear that things don't usually work this way. I suspect that one Nureyev or one Baryshnikov -- buzzed, plugged and sold to the limit in the national media -- will have a bigger influence than numerous local schools and companies. A decision by Bart Simpson to enroll in the School of American Ballet might be even better. :unsure::wub:

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This may be a little off topic, but to show that culture is always geography:

Dancesmith, I'm really intrigued by your soccer analogy. This does seem to be an example of the movement of an activity from something perceived as elitist and and somehow foreign into something rather classy and suitable for the upwardly mobile Americans.

In the rest of the world, soccer has not traditionally been an elitist sport. Quite the opposite. It is a game that can be played anywhere, any time with minimal investment in equipment.

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A decision by Bart Simpson to enroll in the School of American Ballet might be even better. :unsure::unsure:

Personally, I'm pulling for both Miley Cyrus and Oprah to take up ballet :wub: .

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Shoot me if you will, but I watched a (very short portion, truly, only while folding laundry) of an episode of the reality show, Kimora - Life in the Fab Lane, aout the life of Kimora Lee Simmons, who is a 'fashion mogul' :blushing: i.e. a former model, married or divorced, perhaps, from a very rich man. This episode focussed on the work/life balance of a fashion mogul who is also a mother, and Kimora said that while she isn't ever going to be a 'soccer mom' she can see herself being a 'ballet mom' in a few years when her daughters are old enough.

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The mother of a ballet student. Instead of carpooling soccer kids, they carpool young dancers.

I don't know whether, when soccer kids become soccer pros, the moms still consider themselves soccer moms, but ballet moms generally do.

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Regarding the images of ballet in popular culture, I've noticed how the theme of the "boy taking ballet classes" appears over and over again in television sitcoms. I can think of four examples, spanning several decades: "Different Strokes," "Mr. Belvedere," "The Simpsons," and most recently "Two and half men." In the first two cases ballet seems to be used principally as a veiled way of talking about taboo themes of sexuality. The Simpsons deserves credit, I guess, for appropriating this "sitcom trope" in order to explode this association. (I was wondering whether there were other examples from American sitcoms) Another repeating ballet theme is where the wife and the husband come to a compromise in which the one agrees to view a sports event if the other will go the ballet. So in "Home Improvement." Or where the man, begrudgingly, attends a ballet event. ("According to Jim" --- where it is daughter's ballet recital).

The ballet theme in Mr. Belvedere seems particularly suggestive, since --- another TV sitcom cliche --- the father, in this case, is a sports journalist (so in Webster, Everyone Loves Raymond), and his son's obsession with ballet is attributed to the pernicious influence of a British butler. The sports journalist seems to represent almost the perfect antipode of the male ballet dancer, and, in the way, suggests, if not without critical reflection, the post-war American suburban ideal of maleness. The sportscaster must have wished, of course, to be an athlete, but he has resigned himself to the role of "fan," "spectator," and "critic": upholding his masculinity not through his own actions, but through vicarious participation in an activity which is itself the symbolic reenactment of a "warrior ideal" that no longer really has any place in our world. The ballet dancer, in contrast, is active and strong, but because his activity and strength serve to produce beauty and grace, it is held to be "feminine." The message is: if you are a man, you should accept a life of passivity, inactivity, weakness, but you still hold on to your masculinity as long as you associate yourself with "masculine" things like sports and do not do anything that might allow you to become the object of another's gaze. A perfect message for someone sitting on the couch watching television!

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Thanks, keguri, for expanding the cultural references in this topic. I was intrigued by your point that there are examples of pop culture in which

... seems to be used principally as a veiled way of talking about taboo themes of sexuality.

Now that I live far from NYC, I've been made more aware of the American suburban culture of obsessive sports consumerism, often divorced from any real willingness to participate at a serious level. I especially appreciated your comment about the television series Mr. Belvedere:

The sports journalist seems to represent almost the perfect antipode of the male ballet dancer, and, in the way, suggests, if not without critical reflection, the post-war American suburban ideal of maleness. The sportscaster must have wished, of course, to be an athlete, but he has resigned himself to the role of "fan," "spectator," and "critic": upholding his masculinity not through his own actions, but through vicarious participation in an activity which is itself the symbolic reenactment of a "warrior ideal" that no longer really has any place in our world.

The ballet dancer, in contrast, is active and strong, but because his activity and strength serve to produce beauty and grace, it is held to be "feminine."

The message is: if you are a man, you should accept a life of passivity, inactivity, weakness, but you still hold on to your masculinity as long as you associate yourself with "masculine" things like sports and do not do anything that might allow you to become the object of another's gaze. A perfect message for someone sitting on the couch watching television!

I haven't seen this series, though I recall the old Clifton Webb film on which it was based. I'd be interested to know how the son relates to his father's criticism. Is this a "Father Knows Best" or a "Father is Clueless" situation? Also: what side do you think that the writers/producers/etc. are taking in this matter?

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Recently saw a program of WGBH's (PBS) "...Ruff Ruffman" children's educational series. (Kind of like a modern day "Zoom" or maybe "Electric Co." for all those old enough to remember such programs.) The animated "host" Ruff explores a theme/question/scientific theory by giving task(s) to the 4 live child-hosts of the program, who then do the actual investigations and receive points which are totalled at the home studio by Ruff. A prize is awarded to the winning child or team with the most points.

The program I saw explored people's "fears" or "reluctance to do something". I came into the program a little late, so at first only saw the first segment where an arachnophobic girl went to the Tufts entomology lab, spoke to a scientist, saw some spiders in cages, and by the end of the program--rather surprisingly--helped the field team actually capture some wild ones in a grassy meadow.

The other segment was a boy who was sent to the Jose Mateo (Classical--actually more neoclassical) Ballet Co. in Cambridge, MA. He did not have the shape for ballet, and I wasn't sure what his original 'problem' was that required him to attend, but he was attentive in class, asked pertinent questions--more technical than historical, learned additional choreography, and enthusiasticly performed in a short program at the end. Two JMCB company dancers demonstrated lifts during the class, (impressing everyone of course) and later performed with the 'corps' of amateurs including the game host.

At the end of the program, the awarding of points between the spider and ballet teams was very close. (Points were also given for overcoming the original "fear") I think our ballet-boy won, but his prize was a stuffed spider toy which he thought was so cool--it looked like he had forgotten everything he'd learned at the ballet. But when Ruff requested, he danced the cast out of the studio. (I think to a waltz from SL)

This wasn't a PBS Great Performance, or ABT principal dancer on Sesame St., but at least the effort was made to teach a young(er) (and male?) audience to explore/appreciate ballet.

Interesting too that the program wasn't filmed at BB's studios, but instead at the very much smaller Jose Mateo studio--which is, architecturally, quite interesting (former church or 19th c. hall?)

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Thanks, keguri, for expanding the cultural references in this topic. I was intrigued by your point that there are examples of pop culture in which
... seems to be used principally as a veiled way of talking about taboo themes of sexuality.

Now that I live far from NYC, I've been made more aware of the American suburban culture of obsessive sports consumerism, often divorced from any real willingness to participate at a serious level. I especially appreciated your comment about the television series Mr. Belvedere:

The sports journalist seems to represent almost the perfect antipode of the male ballet dancer, and, in the way, suggests, if not without critical reflection, the post-war American suburban ideal of maleness. The sportscaster must have wished, of course, to be an athlete, but he has resigned himself to the role of "fan," "spectator," and "critic": upholding his masculinity not through his own actions, but through vicarious participation in an activity which is itself the symbolic reenactment of a "warrior ideal" that no longer really has any place in our world.

The ballet dancer, in contrast, is active and strong, but because his activity and strength serve to produce beauty and grace, it is held to be "feminine."

The message is: if you are a man, you should accept a life of passivity, inactivity, weakness, but you still hold on to your masculinity as long as you associate yourself with "masculine" things like sports and do not do anything that might allow you to become the object of another's gaze. A perfect message for someone sitting on the couch watching television!

I haven't seen this series, though I recall the old Clifton Webb film on which it was based. I'd be interested to know how the son relates to his father's criticism. Is this a "Father Knows Best" or a "Father is Clueless" situation? Also: what side do you think that the writers/producers/etc. are taking in this matter?

My memory of old episodes of Mr. Belvedere is hazy --- I'd be disturbed if it wasn't, since I hope I've managed to fill up my head with better things during the last 20 or so years. But I did find a description of the episode on the internet, which I wanted to cite directly, but somehow haven't been able to get to come up again on my search engine. It seems, anyway, that the Mr. Belvedere episode offers the sort of redemptive message typical of 80s sitcoms, which were wont to treat heavy social issues with a heavy hand. The father begins very upset --- he thought his son was going to try out for the football team --- but when, at the dance recital, he hears another father, whose daughter is dancing, make a snide remark about the boy on stage, he comes to his son's defense...So, in the end, the father knows best, or at least his heart is in the right place.

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