Beyond the Ballerina: The Free People Ad Controversy

3 years ago

If you haven’t seen this ad for Free People's Movement line, you should watch it.  And if you aren’t deeply offended by it, let me tell you why you should be: It makes a mockery of ballet and those who have dedicated their lives to the art.

 If the dancer in the ad has indeed been dancing since she was three, she has very poor training.  If I heard just the audio without the visual, I would be moved because her words are true, that is how I feel about dancing and I know many of my dancer friends feel the same.  But by choosing a dancer who is obsolete to represent their movement clothing line, Free People has done nothing but piss off the dance community and in this instance, their customer base.

 Ballet is hard.  It is no joke. Ballet dancers spend hours upon hours practicing just like other athletes.  And those hours are filled with blood, sweat and tears, just like other sports.  And just like any other sport, you can’t fake being good at it. 

 I’m a (former?) dancer and now ballet teacher.  I started dancing when I was 5.  One 45-minute ballet class is all that it took to get me hooked.  By the time I was in middle school I was taking three hour and a half classes a week and by the time I graduated high school I was dancing six days a week, sometimes as much as 20 hours a week in the studio (on top of school). 

 I lived for ballet and though I was never even CLOSE to being a fantastic dancer, I was certainly better than this and I can think of a hundred dancers that would have been a better choice for this ad.  Dancers who not only have the passion, but the technical ability and DESERVE the opportunity to share their talents with the world.  Dancers who would give anything for the opportunity.

 The ad doesn’t just upset me because of the opportunity taken away from a great, deserving dancer but because I’m also a teacher.  I spend many of my nights and weekends in the studio giving everything I have (time, energy, knowledge) to my young and aspiring students so someday THEY can be great dancers.  As a teacher, my only goal is to make my dancers the best they can be.  I tell them often: I don’t care how high you jump, how many times you turn or how long you balance as long as everything you do is done RIGHT.

 I’ve seen and taught many dancers who think they are great, who have been told that they are great, who think they had great teachers but who realistically, aren’t great.  Dancers who have major technical flaws and have been trained by teachers who probably shouldn’t be teaching.  And truthfully, I feel sad for the dancer in the ad. 

 This poor dancer is now being bashed all over the internet.  This poor dancer is being called out for her poor technique.  But is it really her fault?  Maybe, but realistically, I blame her teachers.  I blame the teachers who taught her to dance and did a terrible job at it.  I blame the teachers who didn’t do their job and then made her believe she was a talented dancer.

 Ballet is a dying art. Audiences are hard to come by, funding is nearly non-existent, professional companies are shutting down yet there is an overabundance of talented and passionate dancers in the world.  Many, many little girls dream of being a ballerina one day but the reality is that the vast majority of those little dancers filling America’s dance studios will never dance professionally (I am a perfect example of that).  And a negative portrayal of the art, such as this breaks my heart.  I want more than anything to see ballet come back alive, to become relevant again and to reach every corner of the world but this ad just goes to prove how misunderstood the art form really is.

 You can read more about my life as a Ballerina Mama on Beyond Mommying.

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