CriticalDance Forum

Perceptions of the Ballet
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Author:  Basheva [ Wed Nov 22, 2000 6:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Perceptions of the Ballet

Over the years, I have found that when people have asked me "what I do" and I reply I am a ballet dancer/teacher, I get several interesting responses. In general they register some level of interest but also perceptions I have difficulty understanding.<P>Some perceive the ballet as elitist.<P>Some perceive the ballet as only the interest of the wealthy.<P>Some say the ballet is only for "cultured" people.<P>Some say they wouldn't consider going to the ballet because they "don't understand it".<P>So, I ask myself - what does "cultured" mean? <P>Why is the ballet thought of as elitist?<P>Pop concerts and football tickets are as expensive, so why is the ballet considered as a province of the wealthy?<P>Why do people think they have to "understand" the ballet - and don't necessarily feel that way about other forms of dance?

Author:  Priscilla [ Wed Nov 22, 2000 7:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Perceptions of the Ballet

One can enjoy music without ever going to a performance by just turning on the radio. Sports games are shown on tv which people have made into enough of an event anyway - like Superbowl parties and the Monday night football ritual so many (in the U.S.) take part in. There aren't always that many convenient and inexpensive ways to view dance live (the best way) or on broadcast television (a direct way to building or serving an audience).<P>Ballet's perceived pink veneer of prissiness alienates those for whom ballet is entertainment and not life's sustaining force. Sometimes when I think of dance audiences I just think of people who have dance interest other than watching - are dancers, or were, or wish to be, or are a friend of a dancer. Silly me, I forget about people who simply enjoy viewing dance but aren't otherwise connected - sorry, All! Image<P>These viewers don't always see a lot of diversity (ethnic, size) in ballet companies, though I know there are many people dancing who do not conform to the "skinny and caucasian" model. Because changes in ballet don't have the bullhorn of tv or frequently accessible concerts, the public may not know about what ballet is about NOW - including any advancements in broadening the ballet community. This doesn't just impact who participates in dance - it affects who wants to see it.

Author:  Basheva [ Thu Nov 23, 2000 6:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Perceptions of the Ballet

I still have to ask the question - What does cultured mean? Why is the ballet thought of as "cultured"? When people say that to me - I usually laugh and say - "well, there is also a lot of sweating in the ballet - doesn't feel very cultured when I am doing it".<P>But, I wonder where this idea of the ballet being "cultured" comes from - and what does that word mean?

Author:  Marie [ Thu Nov 23, 2000 12:14 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Perceptions of the Ballet

I assume that people think of the ballet as cultured because of its origins, the French court, Louis XIV, etc. Post-Revolution sentiments that the theatre was a place for the wealthy and well-connected. Also, the idea that the arts required wealthy patrons to sustain themselves, furthering their alliance with the elite. The concept of ballet dancers as prositutes, beautiful women entertaining wealthy men on and off the stage. This holds well into my grandmother's generation (she's 89). <BR>Many countries have state run theatres, when you see huge ERII's embroidered on the curtains it's hard not to associate what's on stage with that and who's going to say that the Queen of England doesn't represent culture?

Author:  Priscilla [ Thu Nov 23, 2000 12:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Perceptions of the Ballet

It's interesting to see how a country who hasn't had Royals - the U.S. - still holds some of these "ballet for rich and fancy people" ideas. Certainly we celebretize those we admire, and elevate them to a sort of secular royalty, but they don't hold the same continuous line of influence as I imagine having actual royalty does.<P>I wonder if some people in the U.S. tend to try holding on to these "ballet for the rarefied" concepts just to be exclusive so they can feel special. As long as the great unwashed are seen as not interested in ballet, there's a place for people to go and dress up and get that elusive "cultured" feeling Basheva's asking about.

Author:  Basheva [ Thu Nov 23, 2000 3:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Perceptions of the Ballet

While I would agree that the ballet is certainly the child of the royal courts from France onward..........I wonder how many people who think of the ballet as "elite" actually know that the ballet came from the French court? <P>I would guess that most people probably think that the ballet came from Russia - because of the prominence of Russian dancers. And, these are precisely the people who have no idea that others, like Americans, British, Australians (please don't be upset that I am not mentioning EVERYBODY), can and do have major companies and marvelous dancers.<P>Yet, without any of this background information - of history - of where dancers actually come from - they almost intuitively think of the ballet as "cultured". Opera seems to be consigned to this special heaven too - but maybe not quite as rarified.<P>Modern dance, on the other hand, is not considered inaccessible. I have never heard anyone say "I don't go to see modern dance because I don't understand it". And, yet modern dance often is at least as abstract as the ballet and, to my knowledge, does not have the full length story lines like the story ballets. <P>Does anyone have a working definition of what is meant by being "cultured"? (would be fun to think about while standing in a soaking wet leotard)<P><p>[This message has been edited by Basheva (edited November 23, 2000).]

Author:  Marie [ Thu Nov 23, 2000 7:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Perceptions of the Ballet

I don't agree that people think ballet comes from Russia. I don't think many people have any idea at all, especially in North America. Maybe dancers think ballet came from Russia because they've learned about Pavlova and so on. <P>Almost everyone I have ever spoken to about modern dance who is not involved in it says they don't understand it! Ballet is much easier for people to imagine. OK, they tend to envision the Nutcracker, but at least they get the general idea Image<P>I guess "cultured" tends to apply to any of the arts that generally support the status quo in subject matter and execution. It also seems to require credentialism, you can't just show up and do it, you need to have studied with "experts". <P>Our opinions of what is cultured change with time. What appears radical upon inception may become a part of the cultured milieu after it is assimilated into public consciousness. Artists like Motzart were considered radical in their time.<P>At its core, ballet *is* elitist. Dancers need money to study. They also need the right physique to find work professionally. Companies need money from benefactors (Government or private) to survive. People who have access to dance as children, either as students or spectators, are generally not from the lower classes. <P>The problem is not whether dance demands particular skills or financing, it's that people's lack of exposure on a recreational level, as they may have had with sports, limits their interest in the art form. <P>The issue of accessibility is a big one. If the public's perception doesn't change is dance doomed? Or can it continue to exist in the same way, on the periphery?

Author:  trog [ Fri Nov 24, 2000 5:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Perceptions of the Ballet

In PommieLand I have seen ballet in a lot of very unornate venues like town halls and school theatres in the smaller towns. Generally this has been by regional ballet companies like Adonais Ballet Co, Cwmni Ballet, etc. These have been very low priced performances too, and I have seen some excellent shows. There are a lot of Russian companies (eg St Petersburg Theatre Ballet) that seem to be on a perpetual tour of Britain, and they play theatres in the regional cities. Unfortunately we aren't likely to see the BRB or RB perform at somewhere like Stourbridge Town Hall; these venues don't have the space to mount a huge production and the seating capacity isn't enough for a major company.<BR>As far as being "elitist", I think the cost of seeing a major company puts a lot of people off. Here in Birmingham, we've had a free weekend arts festival for the last three years, and (probably) the event with the highest audience is the BRB. I will never forget the first year; I was there in Centenary Square with about 200 others watching a comedian. Next came the BRB. After their excellent performance, I turned around to see that the crowd had swelled to 10,000+. <BR>As to doing ballet, well that tends to happen in places that one can hardly describe as being swish. Just look at the gym used in Billy Elliot. That is a very accurate representation of most of the places I have done my lessons (sans boxers).

Author:  Basheva [ Fri Nov 24, 2000 6:15 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Perceptions of the Ballet

I am going to throw another stone into the stew - <P>As stated above many people when they hear of my involvement with the ballet assume I am somehow "cultured". However, sometimes the same people - and many others besides - have also assumed that if I dance therefore somehow I am, how shall I say this? - not entirely moral. That my dancing on stage made me "available". This was not so much an impression I got from men - but mostly from other women.<P>There have been several groups of women I have met in my life - middle class housewives/working women - who were astonished that I am happily married, to the same man for many years, a mother, had a home, and did all the things a wife and mother does. They were sure that somehow I couldn't possibly be on stage and still have this middle class lifestyle with an underpinning of conventional morality.<P>So that is another perception of the ballet. While the first perception of being "cultured" has puzzled me, the second perception "questioning my morality" has made me laugh. In one case, however, it did interfere with my being accepted into the group - which was irritating. <P>I think the point you made, Grace, about Pavarotti and pop singers was well stated. Perhaps it is the distance from which the art form is removed from ordinary life and experience that increases the perception of elitism.<P>I don't think it is money - pop concerts are quite expensive. As discussed in another thread you really don't have to "dress up" anymore to attend a ballet/opera performance. While it does help to have parents who can afford to give one lessons in dance - there are also many very low cost programs available at Y's and community colleges, park and recreation programs. <P>So, perhaps, it comes down to the art forms removal from the contact with daily experience. Anyone can hum and sing along with a pop star - but humming along with Pavarotti is quite a different matter......<P> <P>

Author:  Priscilla [ Fri Nov 24, 2000 3:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Perceptions of the Ballet

Although I have been trying to sing parts of La Boheme...<P>In another fine Criticaldance Ballet thread, Houston Ballet Gossip - there's a link to an article from the Houston Chronicle. From this article I learned that Lauren Anderson of the Houston Ballet loves football and "every Friday morning, Lauren appears on Sunny 99.1 (KODA-FM) giving her NFL football picks for the weekend" and that there's a photo of her wearing her Sugar Plum Fairy costume on a well-known football field.<P>That's really cool. Not so much because I'm a fan of football but because I'm a fan of dance. While the art form itself may not be more involved in daily life - it's not a ballet about football - a practicioner of the art form is part of the lives of people in Houston. Even those who don't go to the ballet. <P>

Author:  Priscilla [ Sat Nov 25, 2000 3:32 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Perceptions of the Ballet

Since we've held up opera as having some of the same public perception issues as ballet, I thought this article would be appropriate to link to - even though it's about opera and not ballet.<P>I'm sure other places have interesting outreach/education programs, but I like this one - the kids get to be in little operas.<P>From the Anchorage Daily News: <A HREF=",2649,215640,00.html" TARGET=_blank>,2649,215640,00.html</A>

Author:  trina [ Sun Nov 26, 2000 3:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Perceptions of the Ballet

As a teacher/professor, after having read hundreds of student papers/critiques (non-dance majors, by and large)of dance shows they had seen (either live or on video), let me say, that in my humble opinion, modern dance is just as obscure as ballet, at least in the minds of the "average joe" (or "josie".) I've had students write papers on "Beige-Art" (instead of Bejart!-they obviously have a serious spelling problem), others write papers on Isadora "Dunkin" (as in Dunkin Donuts)!!! and still others expound on their approval or "Alvin Alien". Obviously, these figures were not part of mainstream culture, lest hopefully these students would have at least taken the time to check their references on spelling, if nothing more! Anyway, I digress...!<BR> The main stumbling block for most dance newcomers,at least their problem with modern dance in general, is that many simply CANNOT grasp the concept of the abstract dance. They cannot understand that a dance can simply be about design, shapes, colors, whatever. They constantly had to put a story onto whatever came in front of their eyes. They got really nervous when I would tell them that sometimes there was nothing to "get" --like in Merce Cunningham, it's just about movement.This made them very anxious, mystified and baffled. For these reasons, I found newcomers to dance often preferred ballet, especially story ballets, becasue the narrative, if nothing else, gave them something to cling onto, even if the movements were strange and unfamiliar.<p>[This message has been edited by trina (edited November 26, 2000).]

Author:  Basheva [ Sun Nov 26, 2000 6:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Perceptions of the Ballet

LOLOL Trina - I loved that spelling!! Beige art!! <P>I think that Balanchine said it very well when he said "See the music, hear the dance". Perhaps what people may mean when they say to me that they don't understand the ballet - and that's why they have never gone - is they think there is a body of knowledge that they need to know. Rather than just understanding a story. <P>For instance, unless you know the rules of the game of golf, even though you know that the little ball is supposed to go into the little hole, well, you do lose some of the enjoyment that others seem to experience in watching the game. And, you might not feel inclined to study these rules - so you don't bother with the game.<P>Sort of like trying to enjoy baseball (which I love) you need to know some of the rules, not just that the runner runs around the bases. And people may think that without knowing those rules, they wouldn't understand/enjoy the ballet. <P>My response usually is, you don't need to know anything - you just go and see dancing to music. And then I relate it to a more familiar type of dance and say that you don't really need to know the technical aspects of tap dancing in order to enjoy it. And, sometimes I have been successful in getting someone to try it.<P>Have we in the field been guilty of mystifying the ballet?

Author:  Basheva [ Mon Nov 27, 2000 6:51 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Perceptions of the Ballet

I ask the question again - do you think, we in the field - mystify the ballet?

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