By now, everyone in Toronto has heard about the TTC “We Move You” ad, featuring the National Ballet of Canada, which has caused controversy among many body image activists. The latter are saying the dancers project a negative body image, causing many people to feel badly about their shape. Say what? It takes years and years of training to be able to perform even as an apprentice with the company. So all those years of hard work didn’t matter? What’s the deal here? We definitely DON’T say that about athletes – and they go through the same amount of training for their sports. When was the last time one said that a hockey player’s physique was considered negative? The only things I hear about hockey (or football) are the long term risks of concussions.
The “controversial” video. Via the TTC YouTube page.
Let’s face it. Our society isn’t too keen on the arts. We focus on STEM and we focus on athletics. Not everyone is good in math or science. Not everyone is an athlete. However, if someone is good in the arts – especially if it requires someone to be a certain shape, then it’s automatically bad. You can argue that anyone can be a dancer, but to be in certain professional companies, your physique has to be a certain way. We don’t say much about gymnasts, do we? Or figure skaters. How many 6′ tall gymnasts – especially female gymnasts – do you see? Not many! Yet, we love our athletes. We worship them. Medalists get endorsements and magazine covers. Dancers? Classical musicians? Nope, nada (okay, Lang Lang was a Mont Blanc spokesperson at one point, but how many people buy Mont Blanc?). Why is that?
This starts very early on. When schools need to cut their budget, what’s eliminated first? Music classes. Why? Because it’s ingrained in us that it isn’t all that “important.” Society makes fun of kids who attend music camp (think of all the “band camp” jokes). Basically, if you’re in the band and you don’t play, say, the drums or anything that can turn you into a top 40 type musician, you suck. Kids – especially boys – who take ballet are teased. Some of it is due to the lack of exposure, but the lack of exposure is also because these things aren’t taught in school. Why? Because we don’t fund them properly. Why don’t we fund them properly? It isn’t only because the government doesn’t have the money, but we don’t WANT to. We think athletics are more important when it comes to the so-called “frills.” We talk about healthy lifestyles and exercise being part of it, but why do we only focus on sports? I was never great at physical education and I went to a school which extended its high school phys. ed. requirements beyond the single course the province required (in the 90s, anyway). I’m glad the school did so, as it encouraged components of a healthier lifestyle, but I HATED IT. It was very team-sports oriented (which I was horrible at) with some track and field in the spring (which I was even WORSE at). If they offered a dance course that one could pick as an alternative to traditional physical education classes, then I would have gladly picked that, despite being horribly coordinated (hey, it would have improved my coordination!!). At least I would have, you know, LIKED IT. But they didn’t offer dance until I graduated.
You might say that it’s the parents’ jobs to expose their kids to the arts. That is, however, a very city dwelling, middle class-centric perspective. Not all parents have the money to be able to send their children to dance or music class, nor are a wide range of choices available to everyone. Sure, streaming makes things available to more people in 2016, but it might not occur to some parents to stream or download recordings or videos by certain composers if they aren’t familiar with such genres themselves. You could say that there was classical radio back in the 80s and 90s when we were kids, but how many of us actually LISTENED to classical radio? I had semi-tiger parents who sent me to piano and Kumon and I STILL didn’t listen really listen to classical radio, save for the few minutes of music during the 20 minute drive to school when my mom listened to CJRT-FM. Most of it was for news anyway. However, it certainly did not make me ignorant. In addition to music lessons – which they didn’t really force me-force me into like a stereotypical Tiger Parent – I went to kid-oriented classical concerts. As I got older, I became interested in musical theatre, and thanks to living Toronto where major shows tend to play (either as long-run productions or by major tours), we went to a show a year throughout the 90s and into the early 2000s. I have to admit that I wasn’t exposed to as much dance as I could have been, but I knew about it and took lessons on and off. But again, this is because my parents exposed me first.
So yes, it comes back to the home and home first. Many of these kids, especially those whose parents did not expose them to will never do so with their kids. Because it wasn’t how they were raised nor their peers. My parents weren’t exposed to skating when they were growing up in Hong Kong, but because all their friends – work and social – had children in skating programs, they sent me as well. It’s a “Canadian” thing to do, after all! Thus, the second best thing to do is to create more exposure to the arts – whether it is western classical arts or arts from other parts of the world – is to do so at school. This is where kids so much of their time. We can’t JUST focus on sports and diet if we want to encourage a healthy lifestyle. Dance is equally as important. And requirements of certain body types for certain genres of sport or arts is a reality and we must face that reality – even if we don’t like it. And maybe then would we not have issues with ballet dancers.