Pas de Deux

Coming up is the Battle of Ideas Festival at the Royal College of Art in the UK. The festival thrives on the outrageous, out-of-fashion, and outlandish arguments to spur debate — along with a healthy dose of press coverage — and often tries to ring a death knell to political correctness.

In preparation for the Festival, organizers have been running an online series of “taster” interviews. Attention getting stories include Bob Geldof, you are not our messiah, and Darfur: Damned by Pity.

What caught me most off-guard was the interview with the former dancer turned critic Jeffrey Taylor. Taylor’s un-pc beef? British dance is in decline because it is no longer appropriate to touch children.

Huh? When was it appropriate for adults to be all over a child’s body? Back in the good old days of ballet class, apparently.

Taylor laments that ballet classes are now “observed” to ensure that the children are safe from the wandering hands of a ballet master. Note that Taylor is not referring to sessions with professional dancers, or young adults. He’s talking about children.

Touching the student is “a very natural part of the human process.” Why is it so necessary to have your hands on the child’s body? Taylor explains, “Classical ballet technique is one of the most unnatural physical regimes ever invented by man.”

Maybe I’m missing something, but let me see if I get this right. Ballet was invented by man to put bodies into unnatural positions so difficult to accomplish that children’s bodies — yes, we have to get them while they’re young and fresh — need to be pushed, prodded, and man-handled to attain the man’s fantasy of beauty.

Hey kids, where do we sign up?

Doesn’t this come across as”¦ well”¦ a bit sick? Is Taylor just upset because he’s spending all his time these days touching his pencil? Or, is he just nostalgic for those fun-filled and fancy-free days pursuing “art” with kids?

Moreover, is it true British ballet is in decline? If so, is it from the change in approach to training?

Honestly, I am not sure. We all understand the physical freedom demanded by any art that uses the human body as the center of expression: art models, physical theatre, modern dance, performance art, etc. Surely, though, there is a difference if the process involves someone who is twenty years old as opposed to a nine year old kid.

Or, am I just too politically-correct? Am I, too, part of the conspiracy to ruin British classical ballet?

- Bill Reichblum

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