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.

Readers’ wildlife photos

November 1, 2021 • 8:00 am

I’m constantly expanding the definition of “wildlife”; now it includes the behavior and nature of the primate Homo sapiens. Today’s contributor, Doug Hayes of Richmond, Virginia, will be familiar to you as the photographer of the “Breakfast Crew” series of birds at his feeders.  Today he has photos of dance. His narrative is indented, and you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Now for something completely different. For almost 20 years I have been shooting video and still photos for Starr Foster Dance, a Richmond-based modern dance company. Choreographer Starrene Foster and I collaborate on these photos, which are derived from specific moments in her dances and recreated in the studio by her company of talented performers. In addition to choreography, Starrene also designs and sews all the costumes and collaborates on lighting design for her company performances. She also teaches modern and ballet technique at the Richmond Ballet and the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Richmond.

Camera info: Sony A7RIV and A1 camera bodies, Sony 24-105, Sony 16-35 and Canon 55mm + Sigma FE to Sony E-mount adapter. Lighting is with multiple White Lightning and Alien Bees monolights (600 watt seconds each) triggered by a Cybersync wireless transmitter. ISO 400, f/11 – 16, flash sync shutter speed on the A7RIV is 1/250th; flash sync shutter speed on the A1 is 1/400.

Christopher Walken dances to “Come and Get Your Love”

September 8, 2020 • 2:30 pm

UPDATE: The original song that Walken was dancing to wasn’t “Come and Get your Love,” but “Weapon of Choice” by Fatboy Slim. The original video is here, and I’ve also embedded it below. Walken’s dancing is even more on the mark with the original song.

Still, I love the Redbone song, and have left it in.  I wonder how they got Walken to do the dancing.

_________________

This video absolutely freaks me out, but what do you expect with Christopher Walken? I didn’t know the man even danced, but I recall that when a reader posted the video in the comments not long ago, they added that Walken was once a dancer. Indeed, Wikipedia notes that  “Walken initially trained as a dancer at the Washington Dance Studio before moving on to dramatic stage roles and then film.”

And what a song to make the man move his bones! Yes, there are stunt doubles in there, but most of the hoofing is done by Walken himself.

I had forgotten who did that song, which really is a toe-tapper, so I looked it up, finding that it was done in 1974 by Redbone, the first Native American band to have a big hit (this song went to the top 4 on Billboard). Here’s a live performance of “Come and Get Your Love“, written by two of the band members, Pat and Lolly Vegas (Lolly is the lead singer, Pat on bass). Oddly, it starts with 45 seconds of an Indian dance.  The lyrics are strange and enigmatic, but the tune and performance are great, which of course is why Walken danced to it.

Readers’ photos

August 18, 2020 • 7:45 am

Remember that I will consider photos of nearly every subject, so long as they’re good. I count everything on the planet as “honorary wildlife.”

The wildlife in this post are specimens of Homo sapiens, again photographed by Joe Routon. His notes are indented:

When I carry my camera, I’m always looking for something that’s beautiful. There’s so much ugliness and turmoil in the world today—I need beauty to maintain my sanity. A favorite subject of mine is the dance, one of the most beautiful and inspiring art forms in the world.

Through ballet, the human body is transformed magically into a thing of great beauty.

In my travels, I look for opportunities to photograph dancers, usually folk dancers in foreign countries. This is a traditional folk dancer I photographed in Thailand.
Here are two Malaysian dancers I photographed.
Here is a folk dancer from the Ballet Folklórico whom I photographed in Mexico City.
This photo shows folk dancers I photographed in India. I was not able to ascertain the meaning or this dance, which was unlike anything I’d ever seen.
In today’s hectic world, we need to be mindful and aware of the beauty around us. It’s there—we just have to take the time to see it.

An optical illusion dance

April 8, 2013 • 12:19 pm

Matthew Cobb sent me this, demanding that I post it.  Since he’s a good contributor here, I bow to his wishes:

You have to admit that it’s quite clever—and disconcerting. According to Dr. Cobb, there are others like this on YouTube. I’ll take his word for it.

The grace of a moggie

March 13, 2013 • 4:22 am

Another awesome cat video from Japan.

In less than a second, this tabby leaps into the air and catches a toy bear.  In slow motion, the grace is revealed: the cat catches the bear with its front paws, transfers the toy to its mouth, twists around using its tail as counterbalance, and then retracts its rear feet to land on its forelegs.

Can any d-g (or Nureyev, for that matter) produce such a lovely leap? (That’s a rhetorical question.)

h/t:Gattina

Astaire Week: A coda—Fred’s favorite

September 6, 2012 • 11:47 am

The Nicholas Brothers (Fayard and Harold) were a pair of fantastically talented tap dancers who were underappreciated because, being black, they appeared only in minor films of the 1930s and 1940s starring other black actors.  But they were stupendous, highly acrobatic, and, as you’ll see in this performance from the film “Stormy Weather” (1943), could do something that even Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly couldn’t (from Wikipedia):

One of their signature moves was a “no-hands” splits, where they went into the splits and returned to their feet without using their hands. Gregory Hines declared that if their biography was ever filmed, their dance numbers would have to be computer generated because no one could duplicate them. Ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov once called them the most amazing dancers he had ever seen in his life.

Fred Astaire once called this performance, a dance to the song Jumpin’ Jive, “the greatest dance number ever filmed.”

If you know the music of this era, you’ll recognize bandleader Cab Calloway talking jive at the beginning.

h/t: Amy

Astaire Week Grand Finale: Four easy pieces with Ginger Rogers

August 30, 2012 • 4:02 pm

Ginger Rogers (1911-1995) appeared in 11 films with Fred Astaire and was paired with him in more than 35 numbers. She is, by far, the partner most often associated with Astaire.  She wasn’t as adept a dancer as, say, Rita Hayworth, but compensated for it with her charm and acting ability. As one commenter said on an Astaire/Rogers video, Ginger wasn’t the best dancer with Fred, but she was Fred’s best partner.

To learn a lot more about the duo, read the “Astaire and Rogers: 1933-1939” section of the Wikipedia entry on Ginger Rogers, along with the first paragraph of the “after 1939” section.  There’s really too many good YouTube clips to present, and it took me a long time to choose (click here if you want to see them all). I wanted to concentrate on their dancing, so I’ve excluded the wonderful singing videos like “The Way You Look Tonight” (1936; watch it!) from my choices below.  The four clips do, however, show the range of their dancing skills, from tap to waltz (and roller-skating!), and their onscreen chemistry that made “Astaire and Rogers” a household phrase.

I’d like to thank my friend (and editor) Latha Menon for reactivating my interest in Astaire and his partners, and for drawing my attention to some of their best work onscreen. I hope you’ve enjoyed the past x days, where x represents a number I can’t recall.

First, we have “Hard to handle”, (1935; sometimes called “Too hot to handle”), from the movie Roberta. Latha describes it as “a relaxed fun dance, with pleasant banter between the two first, showing their onscreen charm as a couple”:

“Let’s call the whole thing off” (also know as “You say tomato, and I say tomahto”) was written by George and Ira Gershwin especially for this movie: Shall we Dance (1937).  A lover’s quarrel turns into a duet on rollerskates (remember when they had two fore-and-aft pairs of wheels?)

“Waltz in Swing Time” (from Swing Time; 1936, music by Jerome Kern) demonstrates the full range of their dancing skills; it’s a lovely piece. As Wikipedia notes:

“Waltz in Swing Time”: Described by one critic as “the finest piece of pure dance music ever written for Astaire”, this is the most virtuosic partnered romantic duet Astaire ever committed to film. Kern—always reluctant to compose in the Swing style—provided some themes to Robert Russell Bennett who, with the assistance of Astaire’s rehearsal pianist Hal Borne, produced the final score. The dance is a nostalgic celebration of love, in the form of a syncopated waltz with tap overlays—a concept Astaire later reworked in the similarly impressive “Belle of New York” segment of the “Currier and Ives” routine from The Belle of New York (1952). In the midst of this most complex of routines, Astaire and Rogers find time to gently poke fun at notions of elegance, in a delicate reminder of a similar episode in “Pick Yourself Up”.

“Isn’t this a lovely day?” is from Top Hat (1935), with music written by Irving Berlin (the movie also introduced the famous song “Cheek to Cheek”).  Again, Wikipedia gives some good notes on this dance:

In “Isn’t This a Lovely Day (to be Caught in the Rain)”, while Rogers is out riding, a thunderstorm breaks and she takes shelter in a bandstand. Astaire follows her and a conversation about clouds and rainfall soon gives way to Astaire’s rendering of this, one of Berlin’s most prized creations. Astaire sings to Rogers’ back, but the audience can see that Rogers’ attitude towards him softens during the song, and the purpose of the ensuing dance is for her to communicate this change to her partner.The dance is one of flirtation and, according to Mueller, deploys two choreographic devices common to the classical minuet: sequential imitation (one dancer performs a step and the other responds) and touching. Initially, the imitation is mocking in character, then becomes more of a casual exchange, and ends in a spirit of true cooperation. Until the last thirty seconds of this two and a half minute dance the pair appear to pull back from touching, then with a crook of her elbow Rogers invites Astaire in The routine, at once comic and romantic, incorporates hopping steps, tap spins with barrages, loping and dragging steps among its many innovative devices. The spirit of equality which pervades the dance is reflected in the masculinity of Rogers’ clothes and in the friendly handshake they exchange at the end.