Lara Spencer, a well known news anchor on Good Morning America, reported a story on August 22, 2019 about Prince George taking ballet classes. Her comment that “Prince William said Prince George absolutely loves ballet … I have news for you Prince William, we’ll see how long that lasts” was accompanied by mocking laughter.
This comment was met with backlash from major figures in the dance community such as Travis Wall, Derek Hough, Brian Friedman and Val Chmerkovskiy. Spencer later apologized by saying “My sincere apologies for an insensitive comment I made in pop news yesterday. From ballet to anything one wants to explore in life, I say GO FOR IT. I fully believe we should all be free to pursue our passions. Go climb your mountain—and love every minute of it.” In addition, Spencer reached out to multiple dancers such as Travis Wall to apologize and correct her mistake.
The hashtag #BoysDanceToo came about after Spencer’s comment and exploded on dancers’ social media pages. The hashtag served as a way to show support towards male ballet dancers who felt laughed at and to show unity in the art form. Former Franklin dancer Ramone Gumina showed his support of the hashtag by saying,“many people reacted to it in a positive way. The hashtag was created to support boys that love to dance.”
In response to both Spencer’s comment and in support of #BoysDanceToo, Travis Wall and the rest of the Broadway community hosted a “Good Morning Ballet” class in Times Square outside the Good Morning America building. The ballet class began at 6:30 in the morning and consisted of more than 300 students.
Spencer’s mockery of male ballet dancers is not an isolated instance. Male dancers often experience various misconceptions of their identity due to their craft. Franklin dancer Jacob North (12) stated that though ballet is considered to be feminine, “if you actually watch a male doing ballet, [you can see that] it takes a lot of strength.”
North highlights the notion that, despite societal views, ballet takes weeks of rigorous training to properly execute any sequence with the required precision and strength. Society often overlooks this experience by giving male dancers the stereotype of being “theater geeks” or “gay.” Comments made by influential public figures, such as Lara Spencer, do not encourage young men to become dancers. Instead, they instill misconceptions and stereotypes into young minds.
“I feel like a lot of boys don’t feel comfortable [dancing] because of judgement towards ballet,” says North. That isn’t to say that male dancers aren’t subject to more privilege in the dance community. Due to the nature of ballet, there are nearly always more females than males dancing. Therefore, men are given a larger spotlight. In the upcoming 2019-2020 dance season, of the 467 pieces in the top 50 companies, 80 percent of the pieces are choreographed by men, a selection process that is done primarily by word of mouth, according the Data Dance Project. DDP also reported that 72 percent of ballet companies are run by a male artistic director, making a dollar to every 68 cents a female artistic director makes.
In response to the problem of gender equality in the dance community, Gumina says “I believe that [the dance world] values boys more than girls, but I believe it is because you don’t see that many boys in companies.” His beliefs are supported not only by the evidence of the pay gap but also the number of male dancers seen on stage, often disproportionately lower than females.
Despite the gender inequality in upper level positions, males should not feel ridiculed for doing ballet. Any art form is the most successful when celebrating diversity. Ballet is no exception. “I feel if you want to do ballet, do ballet. It’s a show of strength and precision” says North, encouraging any males dreaming of doing ballet.
“I felt inspired when I saw this hashtag because I am a male dancer and to see people support this hashtag nationwide is important because bullying is a nationwide crisis and to see people reacting to this and supporting the issue is gonna help young boys who are afraid to dance to stand up for themselves. Ignore the people that tell you that you can’t. Use those people as motivation to prove them wrong which will give you the confidence.” Gumina encourages all male dancers to go for what brings them passion, regardless of judgement.