Breaking Pointe Episode 3: Show Us the Bacon

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The CW’s Breaking Pointe seems to be having an identity crisis. It seems as though it wants to be a trashy reality show where the dancers will be tearing out each other’s hair by the finale, but it also seems to have a need to attempt to tackle common ballet stereotypes and educate the public about the art form, er, sport.

The biggest stereotype of them all is that ballerinas are anorexic. In this episode we saw close-ups of dancers shoveling food into their mouths, pooh-poohing salad, praising bacon, croissants, and frying some sort of mystery meat (at least to me since I’m a vegetarian I have no clue what it was). This was a lost moment where the producers could have said something meaningful about a dancer’s relationship with body image and food.

Regarding the storyline this episode belongs to Allison. She gets cast in all three ballets and is having a hard time learning everything. In a slightly touching–albeit staged–moment, Ballet West Artistic Director Adam Sklute tells Demi-Soloist Allison DeBona how much he believes in her and that he needs her on stage. Allison accepts this challenge, but struggles. This was the most compelling moment for me in the whole season so far, but it still left me feeling empty. Allison’s struggle was aligned with Beckanne Sisk who had no issue with the steps and thought it was rather easy. In comparison, Allison breaks down crying and admits she is falling apart. The most rewarding part of this episode is that not a single dancer had a single negative thing to say about Allison’s struggle. It seemed as though they had all been in her place before and were empathetic to her position. Instead of seeing Allison simply break down, I wanted to see how she really dealt with the criticism. As a ballet dancer she has been dealing with criticism she was a teenager. She has moved from apprentice, to corps member, and now demi-soloist. I am sure that this is not the first time she has struggled with something or been given criticism, and I would have liked to see how she overcomes it. If she has an emotional breakdown every time things got rough then I doubt Adam Sklute would have such confidence in her.

It’s hard for me to care much about a lot of the scenes in this episode because they were typical reality show fare. Going to clubs, going out to dinner, going to get a Mani Pedi; it was all there. The only thing missing is that the dancers don’t appear to be all that willing to rip each other apart, which is honorable. The dinner scene that was so awkward for Beckanne was clearly edited to make it seem worse than it may have been–showing her mostly in close-ups and never talked to by the other dancers. When I was nineteen if I went out to eat with a group of women who were all older than me I would have felt a little out of place as well. So, her feelings later on aren’t shocking nor do I think a catfight is on the horizon.
I would be remiss to not mention the somewhat odd visit to the tattoo parlor where Ronnie Underwood goes to get his checkered flag tattoo touched up. According to Ronnie, getting a tattoo is nothing compared to the pain of ballet. The tattoo artist is impressed because he has never worked on a ballerina before–it was odd to me that he kept calling Ronnie a ballerina. Ballerina is a term reserved for female dancers. Just having a three-year-old niece should give you that knowledge.

We were also introduced to the only gay dancer at Ballet West. I did wonder why they only chose straight dancers for the show and assumed it was because they were trying to establish that ballet is for tough guys and most tough guys are, stereotypically, heterosexual. This storyline also kind of bored me; it seemed like a set-up to get everyone to a club and it gave Allison the opportunity to be competitive over something fairly trivial. There was no explanation as to why it mattered that there was one gay company member. Again, here is another ballet stereotype that could be addressed but is not. For instance why do we care that any company member is gay? Why are there not any other gay company members? Is Salt Lake City not gay friendly?

The show brings up various stereotypes, informs us they’re not true (ballerinas eat fattening food, not everyone is gay, ballet is painful), but then moves on to something else. No explanation as to why the stereotypes exist or why we need to know they are not true. The show skims over every issue; almost as if the producers agreed to address certain topics, but are trying to deal with them quick and easily.

All of the reviews I read seem to think the issues in Breaking Pointe are not that bad and believe it is more important that Ballet is being shown in prime time. I’ve considered this, but I don’t think ballet is unfamiliar territory for the world. People know what it is; they may not appreciate it or know any details about it, but if I gathered up one hundred people I believe they would all have an opinion on it. I feel as though the producers of Breaking Pointe are trying to convince Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor that ballet really isn’t that bad. Dancers get tattoos, ride bikes, they are uber-competitive, eat bacon, they sweat, they bleed, not all the men are gay. Ballet is cool, really.

I don’t like having to buy into the idea that there is something inherently shameful in the art of ballet. People that watch this show may realize you have to be tough to be a ballerina. It’s not all pink tutus and sparkles, but they are not learning to appreciate the art form. Is this a sacrifice we should allow?

I think mainstream media has the ability to do this. Since film is my area of expertise I am going to use some examples from that particular medium. The Opera is another art form that has been the butte of many jokes. Yet, when it is presented in some mainstream films such as: Pretty Woman and Moonstruck, it is shown to be extremely powerful and intoxicating. I have to admit I don’t know very much about the Opera and I’ve never been. Yet, if someone brings it up my point of reference (beyond infantile jokes) is Julia Roberts overtaken with tears in the balcony as she watches a language she doesn’t understand. I think of Nicolas Cage lifting his wooden hand to the heavens while he is overcome by the music, Cher kicking a can down the street. Why are there no images like this related to ballet? I would argue the most accomplished film about ballet is the Red Shoes, which is about a dancer forsaking everything, including her life, for ballet. One of the most referenced ballet films is the Turning Point and it is remembered for it’s momentous catfight. This is why I am disappointed with Breaking Pointe; I believe ballet is more than this and this television show had the opportunity to do something about it.

They still have three episodes left. We’ll have to see how it goes.

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  • stephanie

    This episode was a definite improvement from the first two, but I couldn’t agree with you more on the balletic stereotypes addressed in episode 3. The producers flirt with providing real insight, but never really delve into the issues. I appreciate the need to disprove the assumption that dancers don’t eat. However, I highly doubt these ballerinas shy away from nutritional foods such as veggies and lean protiens and gobble foods full of saturated fats right before a performance. A dancer would crash on a diet of greasy croissants and bacon.

    Yet, I really related to a lot of what Allison went through in this episode. I appreciated seeing this type of struggle and showing how hard dancers are on themselves; our high expectations. Again, I agree with you; it would have been nice to see how she rises to the challenge. Maybe this will be in episodes to come.

    I might recommend another ballet movie to any and all interested. Mao’s Last Dancer is based on a the true story of Li Cunxin, a Chinese dancer who is invited to train at the Houston Ballet Academy and, after falling in love with the country, the company, and another aspiring ballet dancer, wants to defect to the U.S. It’s a beautiful story with wonderful dance footage and is well done all around.

  • Heather

    Still haven’t watched any of Breaking Pointe yet, but great post! I would agree that The Red Shoes is the best ballet movie made…Though I haven’t seen Mao’s Last Dancer and it’s been in my Netflix queue for ages…I guess I need to get watching!

  • candice

    Your perspective on this is so interesting Chelsea! I had not noticed til you mentioned it that the show might really be trying to dispel stereotypes (in the most superficial way possible). But I see it now, that they are trying to sell ballet as ‘cool’. But the thing is, ballet is a lot of things–beautiful, gripping, tough, sexy, dramatic, intellectually and physically and emotionally demanding and gratifying–but it is not cool. It takes way too much commitment to do it, and so if you are doing it right, coming off as ‘cool’, which really is an aloofness, is just insincere.

    However, I thought the episode successfully captured how poorly dancers often take criticism. Sure Allison was tired and overworked, but the job is to absorb notes and in a way, relish the attention to detail and nuance that a rehearsal director is trying to get out of you, to not take it as personal. I think all dancers want to get ‘better’ but it is an interesting paradox that the thing we should be so used to, having received incessantly since childhood, seems to still be the hardest pill to swallow for many.

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