By Cristina Michaels L.Ac.
The industrial complex of classical ballet has remained exclusive to particular body shapes, sizes, weight, and gender for decades, if not a century. This classical art form is riddled with a binary thought process that rivals racism, denying so many into its folds. Despite its welcoming of the “gay” community, it has done little in welcoming of the transgender community inside its bolted doors. The obvious refusal and confusion toward gender demonstrates exclusion elegantly.
This “artistic” industrial complex needs to change their diagonal of intolerance toward gender nonconforming folks. As a ballet teacher of twenty years and former professional ballet dancer of twelve. Now proudly out as a transgender female I know first hand the discrimination of artistic liberty the ballet machine imposes on the classical art community.
Serious questions need to be asked. Are Classical Ballet Studio’s of North America and globally ready and willing to welcome trangender students? Are we as a culture of artists, teachers and dancers willing to include transgender individuals into this classical art form? Or shall we continue to shurk our humane duty?
The obvious sickle of exclusion and lack of education by many ballet organizations suggest it isn’t ready to change, yet. The ingrained culture of a binary thought process is its weakness. Up to a point in North America ballet training is identical in its gender teaching. Techniques will vary but the binary shackle stays the same. When you get into larger schools the “Profession” steps in, dictating their size, shape, weight and gender demands. This deficiency of flexibility and limited education are the lead characters in this production. These protocols has been handed down through the ages unchanged and exclusive. The binary of classical ballet should begin to stretch past its understanding of what gender should be and begin to see what it can become.
What if we could as artists, dancers and teachers offer a more expansive idea of what classical ballet should include and not exclude? What could that look like and how do we begin?
I believe it begins with the small and large “classical ballet school” welcoming gender nonconforming individuals into their schools. These individuals are often pushed out of classical ballet studio’s and into modern and contemporary dance. They are often more welcoming community to gender non-conforming students. And the dancer often feels appreciated. But what if that person only wants to dance ballet? Classical ballet does a splendid job of forcing turn-out and forcing people out of its spaces.
If we can not welcome transgender individuals into our studio’s, we are not creative artists or dancers, we are institutions of angst. Hollywood increasingly welcomes transgender folks onto television and movie sets. Can old man ballet do the same?
Conversations needs to be held with school director’s, studio owner’s and teaching staff. This is often where the point gathers rosen. Some individuals might be opposed to how a dancer expresses their gender, what they wear or have their own personal misunderstanding. Following the chain of command it falls on the owner’s and or school director’s to educate its staff and faculty. Education of teaching staff is the beginning level of inclusion. Looking past personal opposing beliefs and ideas to see the empowerment in acceptance.
A sickle, a lack of flexibility, an inability to adapt and or be creative, will be their audition cut. But those of us who have danced inside that studio already knew that.