Anyone who knows me at all knows that I really love dance-based reality TV. And dance movies. Even bad ones. This is a sincere, earnest love – nothing ironic, nothing cool. I just really love dance, and I love to see the process of dance being made. I don’t mind the manufactured drama, either, and I particularly enjoy a good dance-off.
I just starting watching the ballet drama Breaking Pointe on the CW. It follows several dancers from Ballet West, the professional company in Salt Lake City (near where I live). I had watched several episodes with unquestioning delight when a strange realization came over me….why are all the featured male dancers straight? I know very well that there are lots of dancers, ballet and otherwise, who are straight. But it seemed odd to me that all but one of the dancers featured on the show were straight and featured in heterosexual story lines.
We have the guy who’s married to one of the female dancers and is featured bonding at the gym with other male dancers, gruffly exchanging tips on how best to lift free weights. There’s the terrifyingly awkward scene when the male dancers gather at a bar to drool over go-go dancers. I’m not saying ballet dancers don’t lift weights, or that they can’t be shown in a masculine light. But I do think it’s strange that an interesting world like ballet has been so forcefully jammed into the Real World Vegas model (bikinis*, hot tubs, hookups, strip clubs). This is especially confounding when they’ve dealt so thoughtfully with race. There are transparent conversations about how white ballet is, and how white Utah is. The single black dancer in the company is featured on the show, with discussion of the tensions that come with being a minority in the art form. When that dancer is not given a bigger part in the upcoming show, the artistic director openly discusses not wanting to cast the only dancer of color in the role of a Jester: “I don’t want to make our only African American dancer into a joke.” I hope at some point they choose to address sexuality as well, beyond featuring one gay dancer, who incidentally is edited to be absolutely a villain.
I’m interested to hear about what you think about the “straight-washing” of this show…thoughts?
* The female dancers rent a cabin in the mountains and run out to the hot tub to relax, wearing tiny bikinis. It’s an image straight out of the reality TV titillation handbook. Interestingly, although the female dancers are very thin, the set-up exposes the functionality and athleticism of their bodies – thin, yes, but not really conforming to standard ideals of sexualized beauty. Although I cringe when they glossed over issues of body pressure and eating disorders (“we’re just all killing ourselves to be thin” uttered with a laugh), I did find a satisfaction in seeing the hot-tub trope made more complex by the visibility of their painfully thin, muscular, ballet-shaped bodies.