“Ballet is the most important style to train in.”
“Ballet gives you the foundation to do all dance styles.”
“Ballet is the foundation of dance.”
For the past month and a half I have been living in a country where ballet and ballet-based genre classes barely exist. I don’t see pointed feet. Teachers don’t communicate in French terminology. Not in recreational dance classes, not in rehearsals for the National Company, not in the Dance Department’s studies at the University of Ghana. Here taking a technique class means training in Traditional Ghanaian dance. Here claiming to be a dancer means you are skilled at both Adowa and Azonto. Here Traditional Ghanaian dances are the foundation of dance exploration and studies.
Here an Afrocentric approach is enough. Is valid. Is complete.
Yet in the States I can’t escape hearing, “Ballet is the most important style to train in. Ballet gives you the foundation to do all dance styles. Ballet is the foundation of dance.”
Our genres of dance reflect a specific group’s story. So what are we really saying when we reinforce this false hierarchy of genres? We’re saying that one story, one experience, one group is more valid than the rest. Do we, as a community of artists, really think it valid to perpetuate the divisions we see in our country in our art, a place we have the power to cross and break through the boundaries of racism, sexism, and classism?
Please understand that when you buy into the myth that ballet is the foundation of dance, what you are truly saying is that a Eurocentric approach is more valid than other approaches. And the further you are from that approach, the more primitive the viewpoint.
Isn’t that what we really mean when we say stuff like, “I’ve trained in hip hop for 2 years and am ready to audition” while knowing not to walk into a professional level ballet class after training for the same amount of time? Isn’t it what we’re saying when we say that ballet is the only solution to “having clean lines”, to having “proper” posture, to having “full” body awareness? Isn’t it what we’re saying when we use the term “trained dancer” as synonymous with training in ballet and antonymous with Afrocentric styles?
Ballet is not the root of dance. People’s lives, experiences, beliefs, hardships and triumphs are. And for as long as we buy into the myth that one group of people’s story is more valid than the rest, we will never experience the art form of dance in all of its freedom, purity and glory.