When I started learning martial arts, it was fairly common to hear a variation of the following phrase: "if you want to learn ballet, go study at [a different dojo]." I used to let it stand, maybe give a little nervous laugh and then go on with my learning. After a time, I would maybe say something like, "you guys wouldn't last ten minutes in a ballet class." Now, I get mad.
Because ballet is primarily the realm of the female, the speaker is usually comparing the other [team, sport, etc] to girls.
Further, as it is also assumed that males in ballet are (primarily) homosexual, there is a further implied lack of masculinity. By saying people at a different dojo are studying ballet, the speaker is implying that they are lacking in the "manliness" needed for the practice of martial arts—the realm of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris.
Microaggressions like "I don't fight girls," or "we're not here to do ballet," or "maybe you should go home and play with your Barbies," are ignorant at best and harmful at worst. These statements reinforce the idea that females are weaker, and are not equal to their male counterparts. Focusing on self-defense only instead of overall skill reinforces rape-culture and the idea that a woman is responsible for attacks on her person (particularly by focusing on how you walk, how you dress, etc). Even worse, when these kinds of statements are made in front of adolescent girls, it can damage their sense of self-worth—often the very reason that they are in the classes in the first place.
The idea here is that dance is not only a "girly" pursuit, it is also not something on par with martial arts. When discussing the intersection of martial arts and dance, it is important to note that there have been many crossovers from dance into martial arts--particularly the more traditional forms like Kung Fu and Wing Chun. Think of actors like Jackie Chan (who started in the Peking Circus) or Michelle Yeoh (who studied ballet and choreography). There are even entire styles of martial arts that are built around dance, like Capoeira or parts of systems that teach through dance-like moves like the Moro Moros (mock battles) in Escrima. And yet... ballet... unmanly.
Secondarily, dance as a sport and athletic pursuit, is being discounted.
Look at pictures of male ballet dancers. Compare the physique of Carlos Acosta to Bruce Lee and tell me dancers guys don't WORK, often burning out well before they hit their 40's.
So what is the answer?If you are a student, and either another student or instructor makes a statement that makes you uncomfortable, ask to speak to your instructor in private and calmly explain why. Remember ...
- Remain calm.
- Give them the benefit of the doubt. They probably didn't realize what they said could be offensive, or they would not have said it.
- This is about the event, and not about the person. Phrase your response in such a way that they understand you are not accusing them of being [racist, sexist, homophobic], but that they made a statement that is [racist, sexist, homophobic]. Be prepared to face push-back and be told they were "just joking." Often it is difficult for people to see outside of their privilege, and calling them on it will make them uncomfortable.
- If you cannot come to a resolution, be prepared to walk away. You may not be able to do anything about it right away, and that sucks. But if someone makes repeated statements, you may need to have a hard think on whether or not that person is someone you want as a teacher.