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Is Ballet Child Abuse?

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The Independent published this on 28 January 2003, and it certainly has potential for being discussed:


This article is obviously an editorial, not "reporting," yet I found the ignorance very disturbing, and, in some ways, baffling. For starters, I was under the impression that to go on pointe, a girl needs separate shoes, not little boxes inside the "regular" shoes. Secondly, I am perturbed by the fact that the author is taking his daughter's Dolly Dinkle studio to be the typical methodology of ballet training. Thirdly, although to the non-dancer moving around on the tips of your toes sounds very painful indeed, one could make that reaction to just about any art or vocation. I play the guitar; my fingers have huge, hard calluses from pressing on the strings, and doing so doesn't hurt because of it, yet everyone who touches the tips of my fingers, goes "EEEEWWW!" Not a dancer, so can't speak to that, but I absolutely love the guitar, I love music, and although it might seem like torture to have these calluses on my fingertips, and having to have extremely short nails on my left hand, and longer nails on my right, it's all worth it to me, because ultimately I'm not in it for having pretty hands, I'm in it for the music. I imagine that for a dancer who really loves dancing, going on pointe, walking like a duck, is not torturous or abusive at all, but part and parcel of learning the art.

The real reason for the above rant, though, is that it isn't unusual at all to hear these things, albeit not so often in print. Stateside at least, the Dolly Dinkle stereotype of the article in question, and all the seemingly torturous aspects of the art, does seem to be the prevailing picture of ballet in popular discourse. Now, to be fair, I'm sure that the editorial and its author have some merits. If only I knew what they were...

Unless, of course, this is some kind of joke.

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I'd say that it's not my impression that ballet is under constant attack, and there's no need to respond intemperately or contemptuously (I do not suggest you're doing that, BalletNut) to naïve observers, or even some less naïve observers, who may view some aspects of the ballet world in a negative light. Like everything else, it's not perfect.

I don't see anything wrong with what he's written. They're his impressions, you can take them or leave them, and it's not as if he's calling for government investigation. He's expressing his concerns as a loving and responsible parent.

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If my daughter went to that studio, I'd be concerned too, for safety...isn't 8 awfully young to be on pointe? It's just sad to me, not just in this case, but in general, when a single bad impression of something can taint a person's whole image of something that is not necessarily that way, in this case, seeing a teacher promote something that definitely could be quite harmful to the students, and assuming that this is in fact the way of things in ballet. It's also sad that there are so many Dolly Dinkle schools that can be harmful like this, that they are indeed considered typical ballet training by dint of their proliferation. And I am sorry that this man had that kind of experience with one, and understandably got turned off of all ballet.

And, if I was contemptuous, I did not mean it; only that I had a strong visceral reaction to the article, perhaps because I myself have had to deal with many people who not only feel that way--not in and of itself a problem, mind you--but feel the need to express it in--you guessed it!--a contemptuous and insulting manner. Something this editorial edged a little close to in places.

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I feel that it's important to realize that this is the Independent, and not the Times, and that there is a significant portion of its readership, John Percival as dance critic notwithstanding, that will answer the title question, "Of course it is...in France." I would hate to survey the ballet knowledge index of the average New York Post reader, Clive Barnes or no.

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I agree, BalletNut, it's unfortunate that he's drawn large conclusions from one instance. Again, I never meant to imply that YOU were contemptuous, only that this issue seems to draw, as you note, extreme responses from both sides. Someone will say, All ballet is awful/sexist/torture, and someone else will respond with No, it's wonderfully perfect and you don't know what you're talking about. There is a middle ground!

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While the practices mentioned are indeed abusive and definitely problematic, I wouldn't necessarily say that ALL ballet training is; those issues need to be dealt with, of course, but dealing with them would entail changing attitudes and practices with those schools and teachers. I got the impression that he was saying that ballet as a whole is essentially derived from the abuse and torture of the human body. True, these things happen, and they are unfortunate. But there are other sides to ballet besides abuse, torture, and disfigurement.

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Reading that article, the only thing I can think is that it should be criminal for parents to know that little about their children's pastimes. I could understand the lack of knowledge if the kid was, say fifteen, but she's eight, for gods sake! A proper punishment could be to make him read up on the subject and take a test, or something. :)

"Put boxes in their shoes", indeed. I find it amazing that people put their children in ballet classes and do not know what a pointe shoe is!

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Clear me up on this, somebody? My French is sketchy, but I don't recall see anything about age to pointe in the Socialconseil report about the POB school. It's clear that the reporter for the Independent's daughter is in this situation, but I don't remember seeing the Opéra's school specifically called on putting children on pointe too early. The main thrust of the report seemed to be about "psychological terror" and "demoralization".

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Mel, I haven't read anything either about the age to pointe (neither in what was written of the Socialconseil report, nor in the comments of the journalists). The complaints were indeed about the "psychological terror", and also about the lack of medical care sometimes (and some children still dancing in spite of stress factures).

I had already reacted about the article in "The independent" in the "links" section- and, as Jaana, think that the journalist really is sending his own daughter to a "Dolly dinkle" school and should seek more information about ballet, he doesn't seem to be someone really qualified to write about it!

Also, one point which isn't clear in the article is that, so far, the debate in France has been specifically about the POB school, and not about "ballet schools" in general: I haven't read any complaint about the other top ballet schools, like the Conservatoires de Paris and Lyon or the Rosella Hightower school in Cannes. Actually, there are people on both sides (I mean, in the French press or audience) who try to transform it into some debate about ballet training in general:

the people who defend the POB school training saying that "ballet always cause some suffering, it's always been like that and will never change" (while in my opinion it's not really the issue- for example Aurélie Dupont, who can't be accused of being a bitter failed dancer, pointed out that, while she's fully conscious of the hard work required by ballet training, a little bit ot humanity and understanding wouldn't make the students dance badly), and the people who are prejudiced against ballet in general and use the same argument to show that, according to them, ballet is inherently bad. That doesn't lead to a very sensible debate...

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Originally posted by Mel Johnson

I feel that it's important to realize that this is the Independent, and not the Times, and that there is a significant portion of its readership, John Percival as dance critic notwithstanding, that will answer the title question, "Of course it is...in France."  I would hate to survey the ballet knowledge index of the average New York Post reader, Clive Barnes or no.

Mel, though I'm not entirely sure of the point you're making here, I wouldn't think the Independent has much in common with the New York Post - it was set up as an alternative to the existing broadsheets, for people who found The Times too 'establishment' and the Guardian and Telegraph too left- and right-wing respectively. So far as knowledge of ballet is concerned, I wouldn't expect its readership to be much different from The Times, except that more of them probably prefer modern dance!

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My point to the above was rather more that I find the Independent editorial slant to be somewhat Francophobe. It rather reminded me of the old sitcom "Yes, Prime Minister" when the PM consulted his Security Advisor on Defence:

Advisor: We've put in seventeen new defensive systems in the last two years alone, and do you know why?

PM: To scare away the Russians?

Advisor: No! To scare away the French!

Now, The New York Post has a clear ideological slant. It's a scandal sheet only a little better than the Sun and barely removed from the Know-Nothing faction of the Whigs of the 1850s, so blazingly portrayed in the recent Martin Scorcese film Gangs of New York.

I suppose my best comment would be you can have the best dance critic in the world writing for your newspaper, and s/he won't necessarily reflect either the regular readership of the paper, or the editorial policy of same.

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Mel, while agreeing with you on the editorial slant of the Independent, I wonder if this article was necessarily reflective of that?. The English are always eager for bad news about the French, but it's not as if ballet school is a major foreign policy issue.

It's off topic, but I'd also suggest that, while the Post is basically a Crazed-Gunman-Slays-Straphanging-Six type of operation, it also aspires to another kind of readership, for which it is more of a guilty pleasure than a primary supplier of news. Parts of the Business section, for example, are clearly aimed at higher tax brackets, and I think that's why Barnes has a perch there in the first place. The slant of the paper is definitely reactionary – it's a RupertRag, after all………

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At least the NYPost keeps their opinions to the Editorial page, the NYTimes under Mr. Raines has taken Journalism to new depths. Too many cleverly written articles that make no room for Conservative views. Conserative books never get reviewed in their book review, even best sellers. I could go on all night.

USD .02


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Guest Dance Fish

I always thought about 11 or older was a good time to start pointe. 8 is pretty young, isn't it? And the teacher just picks people each week for the "boxes"? At my studio, you have to have an evaluation before you get on pointe.

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In terms of child abuse charges, what about the reports in the Parenting thread of hard-working, aspiring young students being told harshly and abruptly that there is no hope of their ever becoming a professional?

The psychological scars of this mishandling must be considerable.

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At the POB school, girls aren't allowed to be on pointe until they're on the "5th division", and they have to be at least 11 years old. Theoriticaly, you are eligible to be on that class at 10, if you had your tryout at 8. But they have as a policy to keep these girls two years in the "6th division", so they won't be on pointe until they're 11 !

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Guest Solballets Mom

Having read the article in question I can't come to any conclusions, because I have far too many questions associated with clarification.

The author writes "Each week one or two of her classmates have been selected for the honour of having "boxes" in the end of their ballet shoes in order to allow them to be trained to walk and pirouette on their toes, "like real ballerinas do".".

Boxes could be refering to deshanked point shoes. I've seen RAD training in which young dancers wear deshanked and box softened shoes in class for a variety of training purposes. To aid the dancer toward the feel of the different shoe and working in it as they would a slipper. Not actually working over and on the box. Could this be the case? As far as references to methods (associated with recent press) in France I think the authors comments and links to his own daughters training are a stretch and ill informed.

No doubt there is poor training out there that perhaps could/can be classified as abuse. The author would have been better served by sighting actual case examples and to further document those cases with coopererative commentary by a qualified medical professional.

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BalletNut you have a very good point. Too often these days do people overlook all of the positive experiences just because of one negative experience. Of course, there are studios that are damaging to children. Having an eight year old girl on Pointe is absurd; they don't even have the muscle development or bone structure to deal with the harsh effects of being on the tips of your toes. I on the other hand moved on to Pointe at the age of 12. I was well prepared, and I improved greatly within a matter of months proving that I was absolutely ready. I could see where people would be turned off to ballet because of an incidence like this, but it is the parent's responsibility to observe and make sure their child is in a professional and safe dance school. Ballet is about practicing at least five days a week and rehearsing hours on end. If someone has the passion to excel in such a meticulous art, the practices, rehearsals, blisters, muscle knots, and tendonitis will all pay off to achieve the aesthetic goal and will prove to be well worth the hard work. To make it in the ballet world you need perseverance, determination, and passion to continue in your studies. Without a little bit of pain, the end results wouldn't be nearly as satisfying as if you were to sacrifice your body to the art.

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