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"Good Morning America" Host Apologizes for Comments About Ballet, Interviews Male Dancers on Air. It's a Start.


On this morning's edition of "Good Morning America," host Lara Spencer did what the dance community has been clamoring for since last Thursday, when her flippant comments about Prince George enjoying ballet lessons provoked widespread outrage: She apologized live on air.


"The comment I made about dance was insensitive, it was stupid, and I am deeply sorry," she said. "I have spoken with several members of the dance community over the past few days. I have listened. I have learned about the bravery it takes for a young boy to pursue a career in dance."

The show then cut to a pre-recorded segment in which Spencer sat down with former New York City Ballet principal and soon-to-be Cats star Robbie Fairchild, Emmy-winning choreographer Travis Wall, and longtime Joffrey Ballet dancer Fabrice Calmels. Fairchild spoke candidly about the bullying he faced growing up because of his dance training; Wall expressed pride at the number of boys who have begun dancing as a result of "So You Think You Can Dance"; Calmels called for more open-mindedness and empathy. "I teach young kids," Calmels said, "and boys just drop because of the social stigma around the form. Children should be entitled to experience things without being bullied."

Wall advised any young men watching the segment who wanted to dance to "avoid the noise. Use that as inspiration. Look at anybody who has been through it: It gets better." Fairchild added his thoughts on how important it is for them to have male role models, like Gene Kelly had been for him. (Kelly's widow released a public statement responding to Spencer's comments.) At the end of the segment, Spencer apologized again, and expressed gratitude that her insensitive comments had created an opportunity for learning.

The importance of this apology happening on the same national platform where her comments were originally made cannot be understated. Spencer had previously apologized in a post to her personal Instagram; while this meant that the members of the dance community who called out her remarks online might see it, it did not necessarily follow that the rest of the "GMA" audience would.

This is an issue that goes beyond the "insensitive comments" of one person. As the immediate outpouring of responses from the dance community showed, this incident struck a nerve because it spoke to an underlying attitude towards dance that is more common than we would like to believe. There are those who think, wrongly, that it is an inherently feminine art form. There are those who think that it is not an appropriate recreational activity for boys. There are those who think that it is not an acceptable career path for anyone, but especially young men.

My hope is that the same audience who heard Spencer's comments last Thursday heard her apology today. More than that, I hope that they heard what Wall, Fairchild and Calmels had to say. I hope that this moment is a teachable one, not just for Spencer, but for the people who did not think to question her "joke." I hope that maybe, just maybe, they'll stop to question the culturally ingrained assumptions they might have about dance, and hesitate before making boys who do ballet the butt of the joke—not out of fear of the backlash, but out of empathy.

The dance community rose to this occasion beautifully. This morning, Wall, Fairchild and Calmels led a ballet class outside "GMA" in Times Square. As Fairchild told Spencer on today's segment, "We are a community of love, and in order for us to move forward, we have to move forward together." When we band together and support one another, we are capable of incredible things. Let's keep going.

There's still an ongoing petition for "GMA" to produce a segment amplifying the benefits of ballet for young men. (Since Friday, it has gathered over 35,000 signatures.) There are still minds and hearts left to change. Let this be our rallying cry. We've got work to do.

Technique
Nan Melville, courtesy Genn

Not so long ago, it seemed that ballet dancers were always encouraged to pull up away from the floor. Ideas evolved, and more recently it has become common to hear teachers saying "Push down to go up," and variations on that concept.

Charla Genn, a New York City–based coach and dance rehabilitation specialist who teaches company class for Dance Theatre of Harlem, American Ballet Theatre and Ballet Hispánico, says that this causes its own problems.

"Often when we tell dancers to go down, they physically push down, or think they have to plié more," she says. These are misconceptions that keep dancers from, among other things, jumping to their full potential.

To help dancers learn to efficiently use what she calls "Mother Marley," Genn has developed these clever techniques and teaching tools.

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Teachers Trending
Alwin Courcy, courtesy Ballet des Amériques

Carole Alexis has been enduring the life-altering after-effects of COVID-19 since April 2020. For months on end, the Ballet des Amériques director struggled with fevers, tingling, dizziness and fatigue. Strange bruising showed up on her skin, along with the return of her (long dormant) asthma, plus word loss and stuttering.

"For three days I would experience relief from the fever—then, boom—it would come back worse than before," Alexis says. "I would go into a room and not know why I was there." Despite the remission of some symptoms, the fatigue and other debilitating side effects have endured to this day. Alexis is part of a tens-of-thousands-member club nobody wants to be part of—she is a COVID-19 long-hauler.


The state of Alexis' health changes from day to day, and in true dance-teacher fashion, she works through both the good and the terrible. "I tend to be strong because dance made me that way," she says. "It creates incredibly resilient people." This summer, as New York City began to ease restrictions, she pushed through her exhaustion and took her company to the docks in Long Island City, where they could take class outdoors. "We used natural barres under the beauty of the sky," Alexis says. "Without walls there were no limits, and the dancers were filled with emotion in their sneakers."

These classes led to an outdoor show for the Ballet des Amériques company—equipped with masks and a socially distanced audience. Since Phase 4 reopening in July, her students are back in the studio in Westchester, New York, under strict COVID-19 guidelines. "We're very safe and protective of our students," she says. "We were, long before I got sick. I'm responsible for someone's child."

Alexis says this commitment to follow the rules has stemmed, in part, from the lessons she's learned from ballet. "Dance has given me the spirit of discipline," she says. "Breaking the rules is not being creative, it's being insubordinate. We can all find creativity elsewhere."

Here, Alexis shares how she's helping her students through the pandemic—physically and emotionally—and getting through it herself.

How she counteracts mask fatigue:

"Our dancers can take short breaks during class. They can go outside on the sidewalk to breathe for a moment without their mask before coming back in. I'm very proud of them for adapting."

Her go-to warm-up for teaching:

"I first use a jump rope (also mandatory for my students), and follow with a full-body workout from the 7 Minute Workout app, preceding a barre au sol [floor barre] with injury-prevention exercises and dynamic stretching."

How she helps dancers manage their emotions during this time:

"Dancers come into my office to let go of stress. We talk about their frustration with not hugging their friends, we talk about the election, whatever is on their minds. Sometimes in class we will stop and take 15 minutes to let them talk about how their families are doing and make jokes, then we go back to pliés. The young people are very worried. You can see it in their eyes. We have to give them hope, laughter and work."

Her favorite teaching attire:

"I change my training clothes in accordance with the mood of my body. That said, I love teaching in the Gaynor Minden Women's Microtech warm-up dance pants in all available colors, with long-sleeve leotards. For shoes, I wear the Adult "Boost" dance sneaker in pink or black. Because I have long days of work, I often wear the Repetto Boots d'échauffement for a few exercises to relax my feet."

How she coped during the initial difficult months of her illness:

"I live across from the Empire State Building. It was lit red with the heartbeat of New York, and it put me in the consciousness of others suffering. I saw ambulances, one after another, on their way to the hospital. I broke thinking of all the people losing someone while I looked through my window. I thought about essential workers, all those incredible people. I thought about why dance isn't essential and the work we needed to do to make it such. Then I got a puppy, to focus on another life rather than staying wrapped in my own depression. It lifted my spirit. Thinking about your own problems never gets you through them."

The foods she can't live without:

"I must have seafood and vegetables. It is in my DNA to love such things—my ancestors were always by the ocean."

Recommended viewing:

"I recommend dancers watch as many full-length ballets as possible, and avoid snippets of dance out of context. My ultimate recommendation is the film of La Bayadère by Rudolf Nureyev. The cast includes the most incredible étoiles: Isabelle Guérin, Élisabeth Platel, Laurent Hilaire, Jean-Marie Didière, who were once the students of the revolutionary Claude Bessy."

Her ideal day off:

"I have three: one is to explore a new destination, town, forest or hiking trail; another is a lazy day at home; and the third, an important one that I miss due to the pandemic, is to go to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, where my soul feels renewed by the sermons and the music."

Teachers Trending

Annika Abel Photography, courtesy Griffith

When the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last May catalyzed nationwide protests against systemic racism, the tap community resumed longstanding conversations about teaching a Black art form in the era of Black Lives Matter. As these dialogues unfolded on social media, veteran Dorrance Dance member Karida Griffith commented infrequently, finding it difficult to participate in a meaningful way.

"I had a hard time watching people have these conversations without historical context and knowledge," says Griffith, who now resides in her hometown of Portland, Oregon, after many years in New York City. "It was clear that there was so much information missing."

For example, she observed people discussing tap while demonstrating ignorance about Black culture. Or, posts that tried to impose upon tap the history or aesthetics of European dance forms.

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