The Elect at Princeton University decide that ballet is racist, sexist, white supremacist, and thoroughly problematic

January 27, 2022 • 11:30 am

People might beef because the article below not only appeared in The American Conservative, but was written by arch-conservative Rod Dreher. For those who ignore reports from such sources, you might skip this and see the post from the Guardian above, but I pity such folks for refusing to engage with Right-wing sources, for those sources are almost the sole documentors of the woke shenanigans that may bring Republicans back to power.

To satisfy those who can’t stand to read Rod Dreher, I’ve quoted only his sources, with the rest of the post being the words of the censorious and ultra-Woke Elect Princeton University. It turns out that Princeton is going after ballet, having decided that that genre of dance is racist, white supremacist, and “ableist”. It also needs land acknowledgments before every performance!

Before I start, let me say that I’m not much of a ballet fan, but I do see the beauty in some virtuoso performances. And although it’s traditionally white, like much dance, that barrier is being broken down by people like Misty Copeland and the advent of black ballet companies. What concerns me more, knowing that ballet will inevitably become more diverse, is the credible claim that ballerinas are pressured to maintain a slender image, which may cause them to develop eating disorders. I’m not sure how common this is, but it’s a concern. But it’s impossible to do “traditional” ballet if you can’t jump around onstage, which requires at least an absence of obesity.

Click on the screenshot to read:

Here’s Dreher’s introduction. I’ve omitted his fulminations, which you can read at the site:

A source at Princeton University passed to me two documents sent out by the president of Princeton University Ballet (the student-run recreational ballet club), regarding the club’s diversity, equity, and inclusivity initiatives. I quote them both below, in full. The first was written by the club leaders, who in it affirm that “we are all entering this space with a mindset that what we see as perfect is a white standard” and “we aim to decolonize our practice of ballet, even as ballet remains an imperialist, colonialist, and white supremacist art form.” (Gosh, better not tell these woke dingbats about Alicia Alonso, the Cuban prima ballerina, founder of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and ardent Castroite.)

The second document is about “Action Plan Guidelines”. I am told that it was not written by the students, but by Princeton alumni who led the “EDI Circuit.” The document was given to all the clubs that participated. The source says, “I don’t think it was mandatory for all the performing arts groups. Still, it was organized by the University’s offices, namely the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and the Lewis Center for the Arts.”

I’ll quote only bits from the first document, and assume that it’s genuine.  I was going to bold parts to emphasize them, but really, the whole screed needs bolding. This is only part of that first document:

Ballet is rooted in white supremacy and perfectionism. We are all entering this space with a mindset that what we see as perfect is a white standard. Unlearning that will be difficult but rewarding. Before we begin detailing our action plan, we want to acknowledge that our leadership and those who composed this plan are all white.

Firstly we would like to add land acknowledgement to our shows, in addition to historical context in our programs. We rarely shed light on the problematic history of our art form, and want to bring it to the forefront of our performances.

We aim to decolonize our practice of ballet, even as ballet remains an imperialist, colonialist, and white supremacist art form. We realize our distinct freedoms as a college run dance group, which is that we do not report back to any sort of board or funding programs that would restrict our choices. In selecting new members and cultivating our style, we want to centralize artistry instead of technique, in the hopes of maintaining our core purpose as a ballet company but doing away with some of the stringent and exclusive standards that pervade the art form. As this is particularly important during auditions, we will be prefacing audition discussions with a frank recognition and repudiation of our own biases. . .

. . . We hope to take steps to ensure that PUB membership, not just leadership, requires a commitment to EDI work. As such, we have decided that participation in service and outreach to local communities will become a requirement of every company member. We partner with an organization that members can sign up to volunteer with, but there are numerous other opportunities for dance service on campus. Even though we cannot change some of the biases and prejudices that exist in ballet off campus, we can dedicate ourselves to combating that exclusivity in our local communities and for the next generation.

. . . We would also like to open a conversation about body image and take steps to heal and deconstruct the harmful and racialized ideas about body image that many of PUB’s members enter the company with just by virtue of being a ballet dancer. Historically, PUB has been neutral on this issue, and while body neutrality is something some may strive for individually, it is not realistic or helpful for a group of ballet dancers who have internalized damaging ideas about how they should eat and what they should look like. We are hoping to bring someone in from outside the company to train the officers or the company as a whole on how to talk about body image and how to create an environment where we feel comfortable talking about our struggles with body image while also helping to deconstruct our assumptions about it.

The last paragraph does have a point, but the aesthetics of an athletic, healthy body is essential for ballet, as it is for sports. But the pressure to develop a thin and graceful body type does not seem to be “racialized” to me. All ballerinas, black or white (and there are now many of the former, including entire companies) will have to deal with the need to be athletic in a way that makes the performance aesthetically appealing.

61 thoughts on “The Elect at Princeton University decide that ballet is racist, sexist, white supremacist, and thoroughly problematic

  1. Oh my, I have so many thoughts! Caveat, I find ballet to be incredibly beautiful. I love going to the ballet. I think it’s probably still questionable whether it is a net good.

    . But it’s impossible to do “traditional” ballet if you can’t jump around onstage, which requires at least an absence of obesity.

    This is a fascinating point. I’m thinking of strength, Tonya, traditional femininity & athleticism. More muscular athletes can jump higher – but they aren’t that willowy silhouette that some prefer in ballet – and that is where I think the real fight will be. It isn’t obesity – it’s raw athleticism they’ll be contending with.

    1. My take on issues like “is competitive thing X bad because it creates incentives for various bad outcomes” is, as long as everyone involved is competent to make their own decisions in a legal sense, is uncoerced in a legal sense, and laws and regulations aren’t being broken then I’m probably fine with it.

      All those conditionals are, of course, almost always a problem to one extent or another. But rather than do away with things like ballet, gymnastics, figure skating, etc., I’d rather ‘we’ work to clean things up where necessary so that all those conditionals are reasonably well met. For one, I’m pretty sure that the majority of people doing these things like to do them. For another I myself get a lot of enjoyment out of watching people do just about anything at a high level. And ballet is beautiful.

  2. Oy. This case is interesting because it’s so self-destructive. To a certain extent, institutions such as this will be able to tolerate the new requirements pushed by the hard left. But, at some point, meeting the requirements will topple the institutions themselves; the claim that ballet is itself racist goes far down the path toward self-destruction. To avoid having to self-immolate, institutions will have to limit their wokeness, becoming only as woke as is necessary but not so woke as to destroy themselves. This reminds me of the concept of the “evolutionary stable strategy” from evolutionary biology.

    1. Lots of people seem to accept the woke demands as genuine, and that the art form or statue or word or book or scientific regimen really is causing them unreasonable distress. Importantly, that some level of appeasement will be enough.
      We can certainly talk about excess and unhealthy levels of dieting, or introducing such art forms to those not traditionally exposed to them. Those would be good steps to take regardless.
      But really, making the art form more accessible or diverse is not really the goal. Obviously, people who do not care for ballet would be advised to not participate or watch it, which is the same advice one might give for people who don’t like archery or cubism. They are pretty easy things to avoid or ignore.
      It might be more the case that the activists are focused on ballet only because the perceive it to be something that people they hate care about. There is always the one kid on the playground that does not care that he has a ball, or even that his ball is best. All he really cares about is keeping you from having a ball. He does not even want your ball.

      Maybe the Princeton Ballet people have degenerative woke disorder, or perhaps they actually think appeasement will give them peace in our time. Either way, it indicates a terrible misjudgement of the larger issue. The woke will not stop once they have regained the Sudetenland, Pomerania and East Prussia, so to speak.

    2. If they have the courage of this conviction — “… ballet remains an imperialist, colonialist, and white supremacist art form.” — it seems to me their only solution is to “dismantle” ballet entirely and never, ever perform or watch it again.

      The stupidity of this stuff is by now self-parodic.

      1. I tried to look at the key players in this, and see if any of this is reflected in their public online personas. From that, my suspicion is that the “EDI” people are probably responsible for the bulk of it. They all seem to be woke extremists, and none of them have a ballet background.

        The one I guessed most likely to have written it is described as a Rising Leader of Color, and is pictured here-
        https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2015/06/22/who-are-the-new-welders/
        Guess which one?

  3. “. . . ballet remains an imperialist, colonialist, and white supremacist art form.” I’d like to hear that actually argued rather than merely asserted. Meritocracy is exclusionary in an activity like this or in sports. You have to be good. To be inclusive, therefore, is to eliminate quality. I imagine Princeton ballet in the future just being a lot of people in leotards running around the stage. Sort of like a quiddtich match in real life.

    1. I would also like to hear a reasoned argument that ballet is colonialist. I have never heard of prima ballerinas occupying other countries, but I might watch the movie.

          1. Fun fact, the long-haired blond terrorist in Die Hard was another one.
            Alexander Godunov, member of the Bolshoi Ballet.

  4. I drop in from time to time, my wife follows your site.

    This kind of stuff is why, despite being a ‘liberal’ most of my life, I now consider myself a redpill atheist.

  5. I don’t know much about ballet, but people of all races aspire to join it. I enjoy watching it, as I enjoy watching modern dance although that ranges from being exceptionally interesting and exciting to being completely baffling and boring, imo.

    How sad though that the Ctrl left, with its growing appetite, continues to eat the organs in its own body. A major arts program long beloved across the social and political spectrum is now coming under fire, and that’s sad.

  6. Ballet evolved from French court dancing and related to the art of fencing. It has evolved from there.

    I am so sorry to see this kind of judgement of racism turned on this art form.

    Yes, mostly white people do it but that is the same pipeline issue we see in many fields. Mostly white people take ballet lessons and move forward into a ballet company. That is changing. But ballet isn’t a racist art. Whatever that means.

    It is very hard to do ballet if one is heavy. First of all, it makes it hard for the ballet partner to life a heavy person. Also, it is supposed to look gravity less. More angelic than athletic. Although one need to strong, but still thin.

    I don’t get the terms colonialist, white supremacy or imperialist and what those terms that have to do with the art of ballet at all.

    I would like to make a plug for the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. Incredible Black dancers evolved from the art of ballet. Thrilling! Check on YouTube.

    1. +mucho for Alvin AIley Co.!!
      One of the two times I was lucky enough to see Rudi dance in person he was wearing a calf-length kilt (in La Sylphide). Not to sound sexist, but I was sooo disappointed not to be able to see those gorgeous thighs.

    2. When I started fencing lessons, the first bit we studied, and the warm up exercises before every lesson, were ballet footwork exercises. It was unexpected, but ultimately made sense.

    3. The terms “colonialist”, “white supremacy” and “imperialist” have nothing to do with anything in this context. They are adjectives in the vocabulary of a variety of disappointed persons to express their frustration with . . . well nothing much other than an irritating impression that no one appreciates their general excellence.

  7. According to a Pew Research poll from November 2021, the progressive left is composed of 6% of the public, 7% of registered voters, 8% of 2020 validated voters, and 12% of Democrats. So, we see that this group is relatively small, but holds great sway within the Democratic Party. Their foolishness could and probably will contribute to the likely Democratic debacle in the fall. This situation illustrates why the Democrats seemingly do not understand politics. They need to repudiate the type of advocacy this post discusses. If they do this, they may very well see a surge of support from the moderate segment of the electorate. The far left will moan and groan, but it is my guess that most will still voter Democratic when push comes to shove.

    https://www.pewresearch.org/politics/2021/11/09/progressive-left/

  8. I’m afraid that my repeated reaction to all these instances of Elect posturing is “Oh, f*** off!”

    One of my daughters trained to be a professional dancer – ballet, yes, but also contemporary, jazz and street. She has choreographed and taught all forms of dance in at least four countries, and has had keen and enthusiastic pupils from many ethnic backgrounds. She would regard such precious virtue-signalling with total contempt. What the dickens have these Princeton pillocks actually done with their artistic hobby that has any serious social significance at all?

    1. I think your repeated reaction is by far the most appropriate one for most of such nonsense. If more people just said it and went on about their business, much of this, I expect, would fade to irrelevance.

  9. [I hope I am forgiven the long post; this is my field and passion.]

    In opera, the visual has long been secondary to the music. Quite obese singers could play Mimi, a frail creature dying from consumption, and the opera world did not care, as long as she could make goose bumps arise during “Sì. Mi chiamano Mimì.” [this is changing, as eye-popping staging evolves]

    Classical ballet is a visible art form. The form and movement of the dancers coveys — with the music — the narrative and emotional landscape. Every last gesture and detail of appearance must be perfectly expressed.

    There are only about 10 top ballet works in the classic repertoire, five comic and five tragic. In my opinion, they ought to continue consistency in skin color and body type. It is jarring to me to even see an Asian face in the lead role or corps de ballet of, say, a European production of Giselle. It breaks the suspension of disbelief. On the other hand, an all-Asian casting, or all black, works. One of my two favorite Coppelia performances comes from a mono-ethic ballet company in Japan. It is hilarious and effective.

    When 32 ballerina’s make their way down a ramp in the The Kingdom of the Shades scene of La Bayadère, if one or two of them are other-colored or outsized, the illusion is destroyed. Frankly, I would be very excited to see a performance of this scene with all black dancers — that would be f’n dramatic. Misty Copland could dance Nikiya. I’d set it in another time and location, because that ballet is a religious power struggle between Islam and Hindu.

    I realize my opinion might be criticized as a vile form of ‘separate but equal.’ I stand by it. A visual performance art form, with incredibly critical examination of every visual detail, cannot conjure up a narrative with visual inconsistencies. In a production of Shakespeare’s Othello, would you be okay with James Earl Jones playing Iago to Olivier (no blackface) as Othello?

    Outside of this 10-work classical ballet core, dance successfully drops this issue for modern productions. The suspension of disbelief does not require all same-race dancers. The story-ballet is not in their repertoire, but the powerful abstract modern works need not be mono-toned. The same non-bigoted ballet/dance audience that does not so much as blink over mixing in modern, knows that doing it to the 10 classic ballets is just not right. It does not look right.

    I hope the ballet establishment resists Woking Classical story ballet. Let it be a museum piece. A beloved museum piece. Like the sculpture of the Greeks.

    P.S. the powerhouse of Classical Ballet is Russia. They are fanatical. They are Russian. There is little sign of woke at the Bolshoi or Mariinsky Ballet.

    1. Thank you. Well expressed; and your point about the importance of uniformity in the corps de ballet is well made.

      But I don’t think that classical ballet is (yet) a museum piece. My daughter’s professional experience has shown how it can speak to people across nations and generations.

      1. Thank you.

        To clarify, I didn’t mean a stultified museum piece or that it did not appeal to world-wide audience. I mean it ought not be ‘changed’ as you would not change a sculpture by Rodin.

  10. I don’t think you need to be so diffident about quoting someone like Dreher, Jerry. I mean, I’m ardently opposed to almost everything the guy stands for. But it’s a damn poor mind won’t even entertain an idea merely because it’s voiced by someone on the other side of the political spectrum.

    1. Yes, but all too often I get comments (or emails) that say, “I’m not going to read this thing because it’s by person X or on website Y.” You’re right–I really have to stop apologizing for quoting right-wing stuff so long as there’s some ideas or meat for discussion there. Blame my timorousness on some of the readers!

      1. I would second your seconding of this Jerry. And I’m one of the idiots who did this recently. It does take a slight adjustment to remove the ‘person from the piece’, so to speak, but it gives one access to a much broader range of sensible thought.

  11. Messing racism into this is crazy.

    I admit, however, that I want reformation of traditional ballet. My best friend at high school was training for it, and it sounded abusive. She told me how, when she first enrolled at age 10-11, the teacher held her waste and pressed her to the floor with one leg spread forward and the other one backward so that to widen her hip joints to allow performance of certain figures; the pain, she said, was severe. Also, she was pressured to keep her weight in kilograms not to exceed her height in centimeters minus 120. This was not only because she had to be slim for aesthetic reasons but also because male dancers often had to lift females.

    Until the lifting and the tearing of joints is abandoned, and the weight standard is made more humane, I will not accept ballet. I think we should not encourage people to mutilate their bodies for the sake of art; the castrated singers come to mind.

    1. I had an abusive ballet teacher and I have injuries to this day because of it and I was just a regular kid not someone aiming to be a professional. They also select you based on how you look – short legged girls are out. But such is the deal with a visual art form. It’s sad but it’s how it goes….they are looking for a certain body type.

      What I find disturbing is typically the people who progress in ballet to do leadership roles (choreographers or those who lead in schools) are predominantly male despite the fact that so much of ballet is made up of females. This is a more interesting issue to pursue.

      It’s a brutal lifestyle and those who succeed are really at the top of their game. I watched the streamed En Point (missing an E which drives me crazy) which follows kids in the NY Ballet. It really is gruelling and the level of athleticism impressive but I always worry that so many will put in so much of their lives to not even be able to dance in the Corps or they will be injured and sidelined forever like some of the young kids in that series.

      1. It’s not much different in many respects from a sport. First, you gotta have been lucky to be born with the appropriate physical form (appropriate height, muscle, whatever). Of course, nobody is really sure about that until a few years after puberty. So the first potential ‘life is unfair’ moment will come when you’ve been busting your butt for this activity for years, you hit puberty, and nature informs you that you didn’t get that form. Sorry.

        If you pass that one, you then go through more grueling years and exercise if you want to *even compete* for a top spot. Now for the next “life is unfair” moment: even with this winnowing process of the grueling practices and borderline physical abuse, there will still end up being hundreds of could-bes for every top spot. Hundreds of people who are frankly good enough to make the cut. Also, the selection process is human-imperfect. So even if you’re good enough, there’s a high chance that you – along with many other good enough people – won’t get the top spot. Because there are less spots than qualified candidates. Sorry again.

        Now for the good news: perseverance often works. You don’t typically get *just* one chance. So if you pass that first hurdle, and you get rejected in the second hurdle, well you can keep at it, and you might get that top spot the second, third, umpeenth time you try it. If you can live that lifestyle for that long… Or, maybe you just become a used car salesman after several years of never being picked…

        1. And I think this is why I so admire and really like ballet. It’s a combination of athleticism and art. You need to be strong and look elegant and move to the music and act. It’s truly cross discipline.

  12. Good god that’s verbose.
    If you want to rage against the ballet machine, couldn’t you just say your club welcomes more minorities and plans to create more inclusive casts for it’s performances?

    I guess a plan of future action that actually makes a difference is not as good as a nice long mea culpa.

  13. I am a huge ballet fan and have been so most of my life.

    American Ballet Theatre has from its very start in the 1940s had huge number of Hispanic dancers as its principal dancers.

    And in terms of the New York City Ballet, its great choreographer, George Balanchine also had principal dancers who were not white. In fact, he set what may be his greatest ballet, Agon, on Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell back in the late 1957….Take a look at the pas de deux from Agon and remember, this is late 1950s, although this particular performance is from 1960:

  14. In a galaxy far away, it was said that troupes from the Bolshoi and Mariinsky companies often appeared to entertain the Red Army—illustrating the maxim that the army travels on its ballet. [Back then, of course, voices of the bien pensant Left would never, ever have suggested that those particular ballet companies were imperialist or colonialist.]

    1. … illustrating the maxim that the army travels on its ballet.

      Gotta admit, Gen. Napoleon, I didn’t see that one comin’. 🙂

      Made me laugh out loud.

  15. There is no male athlete who can compete with a top male ballet dancer such as Baryshnikov for an athletic use of the body (except another such dancer). I’ll let the females speak themselves, but wouldn’t disagree were they to say the same.

    My sport for a long time (about 45 years) has been Nordic (AKA cross-country) skiing and racing against others of similar age. I’m mediocre at best. I also still follow the World Cup in that and similar (e.g. Nordic Combined and Biathlon).

    These top athletes rank within aerobic racing sports with the best runners, rowers, cyclists, etc. The latter for example don’t exactly have strong upper bodies, nor do the runners. But I have little doubt the dancer above is at that same high level as skiers (for which upper body strength is a huge part) and rowers (where again lower body has a bigger role than most appreciate). As for baseball, football (AKA soccer), hockey, USian football, again there is nothing any of these have, except some very specialized pitchers e.g., that the top ballet dancers do not require. Physical contact is different, hardly athleticism.

    But of course it is the artistry which is the important thing and others have said so here.

  16. ‘They’ will come for the opera next. Then musicals (not just the problematic ones). Rib tickling comedy is already dead.

    Some people are never happy if someone else is happy elsewhere.

    1. If I never hear the word “problematic” again it will be way too soon🤮
      The Met opened its season this year with a wonderful opera by black jazz musician and composer, Terrence Blanchard, with black choreographer and mostly black singers. The opera just needs more youthful attendees.

      1. Blanchard has scored most of Spike Lee’s movies, at least since the early ones scored by Spike’s dad, Bill.

  17. It seems ballet dancers have a strong stereotype: a gracile woman, bun or braided hair, pale and French, but more stereotypically of East European or Russian descent. Much like classic music, it’s a “high art”, which belongs to a specific subculture with a tradition going back to monarchy and wealth. However, it was also shared across Europe, and as many art overcame religious and national barriers. It’s a bit idiocracy to lambast older European traditions as “white” when the continent was set ablaze over tribal, religious and national conflict, as if the world is just as the urban centre where the spoiled Ivy kids live. Further, for quite a while now there’s modern ballet or indeed many kinds of dance, formal and freeform, which count as high art. This looks more and more desperate, like a spoiled kid that tries to rebel against her already-hippie-and-punk parents, but with nowhere to go just makes stuff up to sound edgy.

    This brings me to — recurring — observations. (1) what exactly is colonialist about ballet itself? Is association to classic times through the Victorian Era in itself colonial, is anything old European deemed colonial? As usual it’s just asserted as if it was apparent, but it isn’t. (2) It’s fine to change a troupés approach to dance. There is nothing particularily novel here. But as usual it’s presented as if these kids are being brave and bold. In reality, all sorts of dance variants are out there. There’s performance art where they can do practically anything. This is also part of universities since forever. They aren’t pioneers in breaking free from some rules. The usual woke thing is to pretend they live in 1822 where they go against everyone, risking their lives, but are just histrionic virtue signallers. By all means switch from some ballet tradition to some freeform type of dance.

  18. I found the comments following the story from working-class Marxists thoughtful and illuminating. The American Conservative may have a larger following among the non-Elect Left than meets the eye.

  19. Of course ballet is imperialist, colonialist, and white supremacist—in the same manner as symphonic music, string quartet, notated music in general, bird-watching, the names of innumerable bird species,
    Linnean taxonomy, knitting, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the “white empiricism” we call, uhhh, “science”.

    The ubiquity of this sort of funny-business in expensive Ivy League and liberal arts colleges, and in
    expensive private schools, makes one wonder whether the U.S. ruling class (or rather its progeny) is undergoing a neurotic mental collapse. History is littered with examples of what happens when a ruling
    class goes bananas. My favorite example is Poland, where the peccadillos of the noble szlachta class were such that the country disappeared entirely in the late 18th century.

  20. Don’t think it’s possible for a dance to be racist, sexist or colonial. People make often this mistake to think that their feelings about their thoughts contain truth or represent facts about the universe. In reality, people just get upset about their own opinions about ballet. Ballets don’t have minds.

    And we don’t see many right wing nuts create ballets, because its very ineffective to communicate right-wing messages with a gay art-form.

    Its also ironic how it seems that in order to fight intolerance you need to become intolerant, and to fight racism you have to become a racist, etc ….

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