Feminist Dance Mom Speaks…

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Parents for better or for worse are often an integral part of a young dancer’s career.  The emotions that a potential dance career for your child garners swings from “this a lot like advocating for an arranged marriage” to “thank god endorphins surge through my teenager’s body on a daily basis otherwise I would be in jail.” So when TV executives pack their programing with dance shows left and right this summer, the righteous Feminist Dance Mom is there to observe.

Madeline Crawford. Photo by Margot Zuckerman.

Why Allison makes me mad.

The frenzy over the reality construct Breaking Pointe has died down, so why am I still trying to explain to my daughter why Allison should not be her role model?  I understand that most of Breaking Pointe is fiction so I will treat the Allisons and the Beckannes as characters. I do not mean to attack them personally.   The CW network should take note that having a character say “I will not be defined by the men in my life” yet most air time is spent with said man is a mixed message. The contradiction of Allison’s stated focus on her career yet her lack of control of her image, makes Feminist Dance Mom crazy! In addition, women who treat women badly (that fat foot comment did not slip past me) are women who do not feel good about themselves and women I would advise my daughter to stay away from. A woman who manipulates the community that she is in with her emotions will be poison for the creative lives around her. As a parent and an artist, I respect the rhetoric of everyone working towards perfection, but how about being kind as step number one.  On the other hand CW has portrayed some of the other women as sweet and generous; if their stoic grace is accurate, these women are better suited for friendship and therefore role models. The CW’s greatest success is the Katie + Beckanne’s relationship; one friend can be successful and the other not quite yet and they are STILL friends. This is an example of a well lived life.

Now on the subject of intellectual life in dance, yeah I know, it is not  to be found in Breaking Pointe. This demands work, CW.  Dancers are smart, not just crafty. Dancers are required to think through technique and problem solve in their roles. Dancers need to read and develop their intellect (hmm, Ronnie). It would be a pleasant surprise if just one dancer been shown READING a book! Even a conversation about the amazing roles they are working on–Emeralds and Petit Mort–in their dream job. This would have brought us more fully into their lives as artists rather than the blather about mean girlfriends and boyfriends.  I hope that Jiri Kylian and Ballet West demand more from dancers intellectually than is exhibited on the show.   As a classic example, my daughter has been sent by her ballet teacher this weekend to go see impressionist paintings to understand croisse and efface. These are the seeds of an artist’s career.

Why Bunheads works

Though there is not much dancing and Sutton Foster might have a drinking problem,  the spirited lives of strong, independent women exist in this storyline. The Boo character AND her mom are wonderful. Boo will probably not ever get to Joffrey (but maybe SUNY Purchase and I can’t wait to see what Mom will say about the Failure Cake-believe me, Feminist Dance Mom has been there…) but she is part of a close knit community which make her she healthier and happier and way more disciplined. Damn, even Sasha is not that bad of a kid.  The nice kids and sufficiently crazy but warm adults make this a likable show that is closer to my child’s and my own reality.

SYTYCD-still healthy after all these years

While the competition pyro technics that are fostered in the SYTYCD forum are getting to be a bit boring, the big message that dancing makes you feel good and is a positive rewarding community, is still very much there (thanks to Nigel.) I do wonder who cares about celebs as judges–Zooey Deschanel-really?  I would also like to see more about the creative life of the choreographers and costume designers. But professionalism and dedication is paramount on the show and can’t argue with Debbie Allen’s aspirational dogma.

So in short (or via a long rant), popular media you are on notice. The dance world is opening itself up to you. Please portray it in a healthy qualitative manner. Please inspire children to want to just dance not be embroiled in drama and false reality. Otherwise I will do my Billy Elliot Tap number on you…..


-Feminist Dance Mom is an artist and designer and proprietor of Chairs and Buildings blog. She can be seen sitting on the benches this summer at Alvin Ailey and Peridance.


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Showing 3 comments
  • kristin

    This is a wonderful post, Feminist Dance Mom 🙂 I agree with you that the development of character and intellect in dancers is hugely important and must be done intentionally. When I was 15 I was asked to stay the year in Boston to train at their program after the summer intensive wrapped up. I begged my parents to let me stay, but they refused. At the time I was so mad at them, but now I appreciate the wisdom of my mother who understood that the academy would only care to develop my technique, while no one would be there care for and develop my character. The studio I did train at impressed upon me the importance of good technique, professionalism, and belonging to a community, but I do wish my training had been more intellectual as well. There are just so many good books, and resources to interact with, but I was unaware of them for my entire training and career. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and insight!

    • Annie Coggan

      Kristen, please tell your mom! She thought so carefully about that decision! thanks for your insight!

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