Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"This isn't BALLET."

This past week I was working as the assistant instructor for the teen/adult class, as is pretty normal. We had a mixed bag of teens this week, with about 1/2 as many females as males in the class. I opted to do some balancing poses for the stretching portion so we could work on their balance as well as build up some core muscle. Since we had a lot of new kids, I opted for tree pose. It's a good pose for beginners to advanced kids, because there are various levels you can take the pose. You can place your non-standing foot from just above your ankle all the way to the top of your thigh (or even move into standing lotus).  
As we were moving into the pose, I instructed the kids to find their balance on their standing leg, and use their other foot for support (which looks similar to effacé or à la seconde--see picture at left). This prompted one of the newer students to say (rather loundly),
are we doing karate, or ballet?
I don't normally answer smart-ass kids in class, that said, I wasn't going to let this go. So I turned to him and said in my most even tone, "look kid. When have the physique and endurance of a ballerina, you can question my warm-ups. In the meantime, get your leg up and stop talking back." He complied, and class went on. But it brought back some uncomfortable memories...

I once had a martial-arts instructor who, when trying to motivate the young adult class, would yell at us, "come on! this isn't ballet!" I let it go the first time. After a couple of additional times, however, I finally decided that someone had to say something. I walked up to the instructor, and said, "look, I don't know what you think you are doing by yelling, 'this isn't ballet,' or 'the dance studio is down the street,' but I have to tell you, I studied dance for the majority of my adolescent life, and these guys (motioning to the guys in the class) wouldn't last through the warm-up of a ballet class."  The instructor told me that it was a joke, and that it was meant as a motivation. To which I just shook my head and walked away.

The class—at the time—was almost exclusively male. I was one of two females in the class. So while I accepted that the instructor "didn't mean anything by it," the actual message of "this isn't ballet," was that the guys in the class were being "girly," and therefore "weak." 

Here's the thing. There are not a lot of females in martial arts, girls are pushed towards activities like dance and cheerleading. These are also highly athletic activities, and can be great for team building and bonding. There are not a lot of guys in dance and cheer-leading (at least not in the United States), so these sports are considered to be "girly." And girly means weak, or lesser. This is highly prevalent in America as evidenced in this article, and this video

In other countries (even those with a high level of "machismo" culture) male ballet dancers are considered "rockstars." Think of Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Vaslav Nijinsky (or if you want more contemporary references to power and grace, think: Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, Gregory Hines, or even Michael Jackson), and you think of power. Look at the image on the right -- does that look powerful, or weak? I know I can't do that, and I do a LOT of yoga. 

Or watch this....

But for my part, I feel that the more alienating aspect of this comment is in how it diminishes the females in the class. What if this hadn't been a young adult class? A comment like that in a class of adolescents could potentially alienate many young girls in the class. The insult is two-fold: 
  1. it makes the case that "girly" things are not as worthy and insults females in general,
  2. any females in the class that have previous dance experience are being directly insulted.
We need to keep our girls invested in our martial-arts classes. We can't expect to keep doing that if we make comments that, on the surface, seem innocuous but are actually quite damaging to a burgeoning female ego. Equating doing something "like a girl," with doing something weakly is to undo all the good we are doing by teaching them they can use their body to protect THEIR BODY.  I fight #likeagirl -- try to keep up.

Incidentally, if you want to try a barre workout (which is frighteningly close to ballet warm-ups), try this or this). Don't blame me if you get sore.

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