Queer Ballet 9/2 Wow Cafe Theater 7-9 pm

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Teaching this class at Wow tomorrow (Monday)- Queer Ballet. With our bodies and minds we’re gonna untangle what draws us to ballet and what makes us cringe with a thousand creased foreheads and turned in feet. (come.) https://www.facebook.com/events/672229376138382/

So I reached out to some awesome people asking what needs to be queered about ballet? How is ballet oppressive? folks have a shit ton to say about this subject and I asked some of them if they would share. This is how some friends (of varying levels of exposure to ballet and experience dancing) wanna queer ballet…

Mikell:I think the place to start is in the pas de deux, or sure- maybe switch up who-lifts-who? I feel women are always the pas de deux focus as objects of desire w/ men doing all the heavy lifting. Switch it up? Or remove the whole dynamic with same-gender partners or non-binary partners? 

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Hazel:
oppression:

– turn out.

– pointe shoes.

– weightism

– the concept that if it’s not uncomfortable, you’re doing it wrong

– not being allowed to show that it’s hard

– alignment/being upright

Julia: to be honest with you, i can’t think of a part of ballet class that can’t be in some way construed as oppressive–the entire posture and conceit of ballet contorts and controls the human form. which is not to say that i don’t deeply love moving my body in these specific, unnatural ways, or watching others do so, but–nothing about turnout, “soft” arms, tucking in your belly and your ass, lifting your ribcage off your diaphragm, and generally acting like that is not crazy, but in fact, easy and painless, seems normal to me. 

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Lynne: ballet class. well size of body, but the first ballet class i ever took was with an awesome plus sized ballet diva who played the velvet underground during class, so i haven’t really experienced that in a negative way. But why even be plus sized, why not just do your thing?  uh language. i respect having a vocabulary for something but all that french scared me. mirrors, is that the only way? no. wow doesn’t have mirrors, so obviously not. going across the floor always felt like bad death to me. why did we spend all this time doing super simple and satisfying movements in our own space and suddenly I’m expected to leap and spin across the floor in a bundle of 2-everyone else in the class? AND not throw up?! Well, I just did. And no teacher ever said, hey, looks like you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, let’s chat you spin like this. It seemed like there was a taboo perhaps on explain how to do anything in the go across the floor section. But this is all coming from my limited experience.

Jen: Wow… Everything! Starting with the relationship to the mirror, standing in rows, the clothing…the abuse of knees….

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Cora: It’s total subjugation of the body to aesthetics. I mean, I guess you could say that it is a celebration of the beauty of the body, but I think the kind of manipulation of the body it requires is very oppressive. Even with ballerinas who are healthy, the kind of physical exertion it requires is, I think, unnatural to the human body. Even in terms of something like costumes–pointe shoes!–the denial or warping of what is naturally physical is the goal. This seems judgmental, but I don’t mean it that way–people make all sorts of sacrifices for their art, because it is joyful and necessary for them to do, and whatever the requirements on the body may be, they are acceptable for a kind of deeper self-expression that the dancer determines is more important than the physical. 

Ballet also seems very gendered, in terms of having boy and girl dancers–lifts, etc. Romeo and Juliet-type pieces in which each gender has their distinct, typical role. There was an interesting piece in the New Yorker about Benjamin Millepied taking over the Paris Opera Ballet. The reporter sat in on some of his choreographing sessions, and wrote about the gender roles of these pieces. Millepied had a great line to one of his male dancers: “You never grab a woman by the neck.” He was aware of gender implications of certain movements, and their potential to be dark or unqueer. But maybe a larger, and even more unqueer aspect of this, is that the relationships Millepied was portraying were all heterosexual (or, heterosexual in meaning or not, they were rendered in a male-female coupling). 

The article also mentioned Millepied’s trouble with the traditional, or the traditional’s trouble with Millepied. Many people thought he was too young to be director of the Paris Opera Ballet, and he would bring in all sorts of experimental choreography. He was very clear that that wasn’t his intention, and he wanted to keep the spirit of French ballet very much as it has been for centuries. But I think this is another reason why ballet can seem oppressive or unqueer. A lot of what my friends and I enjoyed about ballet class were the very feminine aspects of it–we had our pink leotards and tights and tutus and pointe shoes, and we would go to class and try to be very delicate and quiet and beautiful. And I reveled in all of those stereotypes, and a ballerina is a beautiful thing. But it is, classically, a very specific idea of what a woman should be. And, by extension, what a man should be. It would be odd for someone to come into my ballet class and not want to wear a leotard, or not want to wear a skirt.  but I think this is mostly a style choice, because I would bet one could dance very classically in leggings. And I’m sure there are companies where you could do this. But the traditional “ballerina” image persists, and it is very associated with femininity.

 

how would you queer ballet? lez do it. monday 7 pm.

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