by: Rohan Lewis
In these Summer Olympics in London, history was made when Darcy Bussell, ballet legend who also serves as a judge on the Brit TV show Strictly Come Dancing, came out of retirement and appeared on international television to extinguish the Olympic Cauldron. Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, the first Englishman to set choreographic work for the famous Russian Bolshoi Ballet, it was powerful, aggressive and enticing.
Despite this beautiful and momentous moment for the U.K., NBC cut this section. Rather than show the U.S. significance of the dance to British pop culture, NBC’s “liberal” editors must have concluded that ballet is not marketable, the point that common people here need not learn about a different culture.
Unfortunately, this is true in the U.S. pop culture eye. Big T.V. shows, such as the U.S. version of So You Think You Can Dance or America’s Best Dance Crew ignore the dance form entirely, despite its significance to U.S. history. The premiere U.S. ballet company, the Joffrey Ballet, has contributed greatly to worldwide progress in the dance, recognised as one of the world’s leading ballet companies with its egalitarian notion of ignoring the traditional ballet tier system of principal, soloist, and ballet de corps; it was also the first ballet company to grace the White House. The Houston Ballet is a great contributor to history, hiring Cuban star Carlos Acosta and Chinese wonder Li Cunxin. Of course, one must not forget one of the strongest companies in the world, the American Ballet Theatre. When one looks at these companies, one might be shocked to realise that the power of these companies relies heavily on imported dancers. Look through the dancer profiles on any of these and one will find an army of Brazilians, Argentines, Turks, Venezuelans, Georgians, Filipinos, Canadians, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, French, Italians, Russians, Vietnamese, Cubans, English….
It’s beautiful to see such a wide variety of dance experiences and perspectives. Isn’t that the point of the U.S., to encourage people of all kinds to come here to follow their dreams? Unfortunately, we are an immigrant society but not an immigrant culture. Mainstream media pays little heed to the people that grind the gears of the great American machine. Even presidential candidate Mitt Romney praised Poland for its economic success. If that is the case, then why are there so many working class Polish immigrants here, many members of unions that Romney would like to dismiss?
It is a clear sign that we as a general whole have forgotten the values of the United States of the America. Ballet is only an example. Have we diminished the beauty of ballet? When the only show in pop culture contributes to us, it is only to reinforce the stereotypes of catty, cutthroat ballerinas and dancers obsessed with only themselves? Well, as a ballet dancer, I have to obsess to a degree, but when it comes to the stage, the character role is more crucial to me than the technique. One can do three tours en l’aire or hope to make a twenty-four fouettes onstage, but ultimately that is pointless if at the end one cannot be Romeo’s, who cares for nothing but Juliet, or Prince Albrecht, who runs from high-brow life only to find true love in a simple peasant girl, Giselle, who loves him after death.
The way that I see it, the United States, due to its hetero-normative ideology, has mixed the stereotype of the effeminate male ballet dancer with its own phallic complexes. In our hopes to seek to be the most powerful country, with the biggest military, the biggest bombs, the biggest dollar, these hyper-masculine tendencies have effectively stifled any other perspective on the idea of masculinity. When Marcelo Gomes or Desmond Richardson danced Othello, how could one not have goose bumps? The power in such a male figure easily suggests control, which many U.S. people have a problem with, for example spending beyond their means. After experiencing the world of dance, there is nothing more “masculine” to me than a male dancer. He is powerful, composed, in control, sympathetic towards the needs of his dance partner. What’s more attractive than that?
This point, however brings me to another criticism of U.S. culture and how we treat ballet: people perceive us a stupid and highly sexual beings. How many times have I been to meetings and when people consider intelligence, all they talk about are engineers, doctors, or what internship they had recently done? What about artists? The philosophical power of Siegfried who fell in love with a princess-turned swan transcended his societal limitations. I’m glad that I can learn about courage from Sleeping Beauty’s Prince who braves the evil fairy Carabosse’s lair to kiss her, or Spartacus who leads a revolution against the Crassus and the Romans. We are far from stupid when he have envision and embody such ideologies. We are just as intelligent as the engineer who spends hours in the lab, and the doctor who pays the greatest attention to the tiniest details of the patient.
Also, I have heard the dumbest lines from non-dancing men when they discover my passion. “Oh, so you’re really flexible?” No shit Sherlock I have to be if I want a job. “You must be really good in bed.” Yeah, like you’re going to find out. “You have a great body.” Thanks, maybe you should try it to so you can get a body up to your own standards. In the mean time, fuck off. “So you must get a lot of guys.” Perhaps, like that’s any of your business/ like you’ll ever get on my list. I cannot begin to vent as to how idiotic some men outside the ballet world can be. I came across an old article about Marcelo Gomes from Out Magazine, and the interviewer asks him about how he works out his butt . Only non-artists ask such stupid questions. Dancer butts in studio are for stability and power, not pounding and ploughing (unless that is a character role for us.)
Such shameless attempts to get in a male dancer’s pants are easily routed in so many other flaws in U.S. culture. Since ballet is considered feminine, and feminine stereotypes include the physical and emotional, rather than the intellectual, male dancers are therefore cast in that mould. Heterosexual Carlos Acosta, a ballet icon, contributed greatly to U.S. history, in a race-driven society when he danced at the Houston. So, when the U.S. clearly has a strong history of heterosexual and homosexual men contributing to its powerful place in the world of ballet, why do people in this country remain so ignorant? Is it because we are not taught properly about what it means to be different, and how to respect that difference, and ballet-lovers are one of the many people who suffer?
It can be argued that the U.S. psyche dismisses ballet, despite the U.S.’s trailblazing efforts in the field and that it can proudly boast of dance leadership. Regardless the U.S. dogma that is to consider many perspectives and many different kinds of people, we ballet dancers are banished from the American dream because country has yet to welcome difference. Why else have people died for rights? Sometimes I wonder if it’s traditional for many U.S. people to forget their history.
Rohan Lewis is soldiering their way through their third year at Northwestern University. An ethnomusicology major with a minor in dance, Rohan invests time in performance and creation. A choreographer, dancer, trumpeter, playwright, composer, poet and fantasy writer, Rohan loves all things “fairytale.” Zie is inspired by Yo-Yo Ma, Lin Hwai Min, J. K. Rowling, Isabelle Allende, J. R. R. Tolkien, Tamora Pierce and Shakespeare. Rohan, born in Florida but raised in Atlanta, also carries a Jamaican dual citizenship.