Matthew Lawrence Blog – The Brand: Ballet. What Does This Invoke?

Matthew Lawrence. © Roy Smiljanic.

© Roy Smiljanic.

Take a test group of regular ‘Brits’ and show them a card with an apple computer emblem  and, like a psychologist delving deep into their subconscious, ask them what comes to mind; Steve Jobs, iphone, ipad, creative, successful – they’d probably say.  Now flash a card with ‘Ballet’ written on it.

Agreed this a tenuous, dissimilar parallel between a corporation and an art form. But humour me for moment, and look into the word association of the brand: Ballet – what does this invoke? For the unacquainted public relying on popular media, ballet is represented by the clichéd stereotypes: anorexic ballerinas, male dancers who are gay, wearing tutus, pointe shoes – and as one male patron put it after watching Romeo & Juliet, “What did Romeo have stuffed down his tights?”

How do we address these misconceptions, so that the average ‘Brit’ will feel comfortable associating with ballet? Some ballet companies try to emphasize the athletic nature of dance and align its dancers with masculine sports teams, accepted by the general populace. I’ve been there before. Awkwardly posing in-between 2 Aussie cricketers (Brad Hodge and Brad Haddin) who were fish-diving accompanying ballerinas, while I stood randomly in the middle, imitating a spare wheel holding a cricket bat with the optimistic expression: “I hope this looks better than it feels.” It didn’t. I’m a massive cricket fan as well, which made this doubly disappointing.

Then there’s the ‘ballerinas are fit and sexy’ attempt. Which brings to mind a previous ballet company I frequented who decided an FHM, half-naked, sexed-up photoshoot may be the way forward. Of course I bought a copy for research purposes and found it very distasteful; so I kept it.

Jokes aside, I think ballet of the 21st Century has an identity issue.  Why not try something novel and just tell the public the truth. Yes, there are many gay men who dance – as well as many straight men. Men have been known to wear pointe shoes on stage in comic roles  – ‘Ugly sisters’ in Ashton’s Cinderella, and ‘Bottom’, the donkey in The Dream, for example – yet it’s highly unusual. And male dancers wearing tutus is mainly confined to ballet parody shows like ‘The Trocks’.

That leaves us with that most damaging of stereotypes: eating disorders (EDs). ‘Black Swan’ the movie has certainly highlighted a lack of consensus in the ballet world over this issue. For every dancer claiming an epidemic, there are three others claiming no problem at all. This prompted my decision to write an article on EDs. Trying to investigate the facts, and uncovering the complicated truth. The article is currently on The Dancing Times’ website, (I’m sure Bruce won’t mind as long as you come back to DanceTabs straight away!)

In summation, away from trying to align ballet with sports or being sexy, I would hope, one-day, through honest reflection, ballet could feel comfortable dressed as itself. I think some companies have it just right in selling ballet as an art form, which is complex, visceral, challenging and sometimes just light entertainment; not for everyone, just the enlightened few.

<sup>P.S. I’m sure you’ll forgive my blog break, with the 12-week-old news, that my wife (Gaylene Cummerfield) and I have a beautiful, sleep-depriving, addition to our family.

P.P.S.  6/8 Kafe on Temple Row is a great new café in Birmingham. Sandwiches with 24 month aged cheddar, exotic chutneys, and cured meats. There’s also toasted banana bread (an Aussie favourite) and great coffee in appropriately – sized cups. Not to mention the homemade cakes… yum!</sup>

About author
Work for DanceTabs

Blogger Matthew Lawrence is a principal with Birmingham Royal Ballet... and writer of a diary for Ballet.co and now DanceTabs. Link to earlier blogs.
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  1. Eighteen months ago I took up ballet, five a side football and aerobics.

    As a man, my excursion into football is accepted without question. An eyebrow is slightly raised at my involvement in aerobics. That I take ballet classes is greeted by disbelief and questioning of my sexuality.

    For me, ballet is the most masculine of pursuits, full of dignity and strength. Only when this is the view generally held by men will the barrier come down.

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