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Are the images of ballet in pop culture getting better?


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#31 SanderO

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 11:24 AM

What's a ballet mom?

#32 carbro

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Posted 14 May 2008 - 12:03 PM

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.

#33 keguri

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Posted 08 June 2010 - 04:46 AM

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!

#34 bart

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Posted 08 June 2010 - 08:53 AM

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?

#35 4mrdncr

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Posted 08 June 2010 - 06:23 PM

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?)

#36 keguri

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Posted 09 June 2010 - 12:16 AM

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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