The Unforgiving Nature of Ballet, and the Ruthlessness of Readers of The Telegraph
There was an article in the Torygraph on Monday in which the political editor was writing about his daughter's experiences of Ballet. There are several things about this article which shock me. The first is that the sensational headline about 'shaming the world of Ballet' does not correlate to the article. The piece is angry - understandably I think - but at no point does the writer suggest he has brought the world of Ballet to shame. In fact, the writing is temperate and measured bearing in mind that it concerns the wellbeing of a small child. The writer is a well connected man. The headline makes him appear smug and self-important. I see no evidence for this being the case in article which follows. He is a father who cares deeply for his daughter, and is asking an exam board to review their procedures regarding inclusivity. In my experience the ballet world is beyond being put to shame. It would be a Sisyphean task.
Here is the story in a nutshell: a small girl loves ballet. Owing to an accident involving a bus when she was a baby, this child has grown up using a prosthesis. She passed her first set of ballet exams, but unlike her friends was not awarded a distinction nor merit. The father finds it incredible that in the twenty-first century, there is no alternative assessment or mitigating circumstances which can be applied when the child is successfully handling a challenging situation. I can see his point. This is clearly a case of discrimination. There is a lack of parity in the experience of a child with a disability compared to those without. This must never be the case. The exam board concerned should be ashamed of themselves for their stubborn refusal to adapt in accordance with the sensibilities of the time.
The most shocking element to the story, however, is the message board beneath the article. The lack of compassion for the child, and the attacks on the parent are staggering. I actually suggest that you don't read the comments. You will rage, probably, and this will ruin your day. It seems especially cruel because a child is involved. The people commenting seem to think that an allowance is being sought that will allow her to become a principal at the Royal Ballet. Ridiculous 'chopped logic' is applied with examples of airline pilots and brain surgeons. This is not the case. The only compensation required is that a young child may continue to enjoy dancing on her own terms. The standards of British Ballet are not under threat by a request that a child should be allowed to succeed on her own terms. The comments show Middle England at its most bigoted and narrow-minded. I can nearly not contain my fury.
Throughout my career - now a career in suspended animation - I fought for inclusion and diversity. The environment improves for everyone when diversity matters. This for me is a fact of life. I have worked with all kinds of mixed groups, and it has been enriching for everyone.
The ballet world has a reputation for being elitist. Regrettably, this reputation is probably deserved. However, there are certain people and organisations within the Ballet world working to rectify this. I know of several schemes and projects - in 'elite' organisations - that encourage widening participation. They are bringing Ballet to a completely new audience. Very small steps (in tiny ballet shoes) are being taken.
The saddest part of the story is that the child felt so discouraged that she has now stopped dancing. I find this disappointing, perhaps even heartbreaking. I dare say that I would do the same if it were my child; I'd remove her from an environment which does not offer support and understanding. But, without pioneers nothing nothing new is explored - a big ask for a seven-year-old and her family. While diversity is still a subject under discussion, we still have some way to go in achieving inclusivity.