Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Teeny Tiny Dancer

Two stories:

1.   Back in September, I signed Miss C up for a weekly dance class for 3 year olds.  The class is held within walking distance of our home, at a neighborhood recreation center that hosts all sorts of programs for kids.  Several parents had recommended this class, and when C asked to go, I said, "Sure." 

I read over the program description before the first class, and then we headed over to the rec center. Miss C was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.  We entered the gymnasium turned dance class and were swept into a flood of pink tutus, pink leotards, and pink tights.  C immediately took off her sneakers and socks and began running laps around the gym, barefoot.  Standard procedure.

During the 40 minute class, I sat in the hallway with a book, and intermittently talked with a few other parents.  From these sources, I learned that pink is the standard ballet color.  And that the teacher prefers all pink attire.  And no barrettes, just pink rubber bands. Because how can you head-butt your opponent ballerina if you're wearing metal hair accessories?  It just makes sense.

Since the teacher prefers pink, but does not require it, and since it was a class for 3 year olds and not auditions for the Moscow Ballet, I saw no need to run out and buy all pink gear.  I did dig into our pile of hand-me-downs and found a blue leotard and some red tights.  And old white tap shoes.  So, Miss C shows up each week looking like a 4th of July explosion.  Proudest American dancer in the U. S. of A.

On the third week of class, C and I went into the public restroom for a quick visit.  She was still in a stall, and I was washing my hands when the dance instructor came over to wash her hands.  We said hello, and then she headed out, while I leaned against the wall to wait for C.  It was loud, with toilets flushing and water running and the hand dryers blasting, so when another mother, also waiting for her child, leaned toward me and commented, it took me a few minutes to process what she said.  Or, maybe I heard her perfectly but just went into immediate denial.
She had her hand to her mouth to indicate the confidential nature of her comment (you know, the kind you make to strangers in public bathrooms) and said, "Is it just me, or is it strange that all the instructors are overweight?"

At that moment, both our girls exited their stalls and I ushered C to the sink and began doing all sorts of things for her that she can do for herself.  Like turning on the faucets, pumping the soap.  And then dance class began and I dug my nose into my book.

I didn't read because I was so distracted.  Did I hear her correctly?  Is this what dance culture is about?  I was disturbed by both her comment and my silence.  The mother sat across from me in the hallway, and as I avoided eye contact with her, I imagined going over to ask her, "Did you say it was strange that the dance teachers are overweight?  Or did you say it's strange that they are over eight?"

2.   NYT critic Alastair Macaulay reviewed a recent performance of the Nutcracker by singling out a dancer for being overweight.  He wrote:
Jennifer Wringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she'd eaten one sugar plum too many.
Macaulay has been roasted since writing this, and he's responded by pointing out that no one minded when he called a male dancer overweight: 
Fat, apparently, is not so much a feminist issue as a sexist one.
In this interview, Jennifer Ringer responds.  (The actual interview begins at 2:53):

Perhaps I don't know enough about the world of dance, but I must say that at this point, I'm feeling a little more open toward Fencing for Four Year Olds.  Or perhaps, Gladiator Preschoolers.  Something with a little heart, where all the instructors are hopefully, over eight.


  1. Wow. I like how Ringer replied (except for the ballet company featuring "all" body types, which is probably a bit of exaggeration).

    I was/am ambivalent about D doing ballet too, but was lucky enough to find a school that's very relaxed about costumes (except at the concert); there are lots of fairy costumes and tutus of various colours, although pink does dominate.

    The teachers tend to emphasise body confidence and imagination over size too. So yes, we're lucky.

  2. Did you notice that the suggested video after the clip ends is titled "Should Powerful Men Cry in Public?"

  3. Wow. Just wow.
    I pulled Tannah out of a ballet school when she was 3 *THREE* because the teacher was not going to let her do the end of year concert unless she wore a hairpiece because she told me *in front of Tannah* that she had "horrible hair". There were words said and we left.
    Sometimes we are so stunned and all "did that just happen??" to say what we think.

  4. kay, horrible and yikes. i think gladiators for three year olds sounds more fun anyway. T would much rather C take lessons in that anyway.

    And shae, can i just say, good for you for standing up like that and for being a proactive parent. for anyone to tell a 3 year old they have horrible hair...good for you for not belting that woman.

  5. The ballet "world" is a hotbed of anorexia and, because of that, I am glad I got bored and quit when I was about 14. For example I remember the buzz at the studio when one teacher told ALL the dancers who were participating in a show that they MUST lose 5 pounds each.

    I still love to dance and to do it for myself, not so that I can be a stick-figure ideal! Ya just need a bit of music!!! :-)

  6. That is appalling. Good for you for getting C out of that horrible woman's presence immediately. My SIL owns her own dance studio and she is skilled in all forms of dance. She probably weighs 80 pounds soaking wet. She talks to me in hushed tones about how they have to "watch what her middle daughter (who is the same age at C and I) eats. Her daughter appears to be at a perfectly healthy weight.

    Needless to say, my daughters won't be taking ballet with her (or probably with anyone).

  7. I've had the first laugh of the day (in fact, the first of the week) with this post of yours :) if i had faced that ridiculous situation in the restroom, I would have done exactly the same you did. Well, I'm sure I would have opened my eyes wide in shock, not able to conceal it anyway, but absolutely unable to give an intelligent answer for such a stupid thing.
    These things are those that always make me feel happy for being a mom to a baby boy... though I'm afraid 'gender issues' will come this way too sooner or later :S

  8. (I recommend fencing)