Waterloo Region Record

Making fun of men in tights

U.S. TV host makes fun of boys in ballet, and the internet explodes


An 11-year-old boy in Northern England pursues ballet against the wishes of his coal-mining family and eventually dances his way onto a national stage, and into the heart of his stubborn dad. This is (more or less) the plot of Billy Elliot, a movie from the year 2000 that defied both box-office expectatio­ns and homophobic stereotype­s about boys who like to dance.

Nineteen years have passed since the film’s release and though kids are more inclined to abandon gender norms today than ever before, narrow-minded adults still snicker when they do.

For example, this month we heard the story of another little English boy who likes to dance: not a son of coalminers but of royalty.

It turns out that Prince George — Will and Kate’s first born — is fond of ballet. This fact shouldn’t matter to anyone but Prince George. But leave it to the vapid hosts of American daytime TV to shame a six-year-old boy for loving something other than football.

Last week, ABC’s Good Morning America aired a segment it shouldn’t have, in which GMA host Lara Spencer mocks Prince George’s school curriculum, and specifical­ly his penchant for dance.

“In addition to the usual first- or second-grade things like math science and history,” Spencer says with a smirk on her face, “the future king of England will be putting down the Play-Doh to take on religious studies, computer programmin­g, poetry and ballet, among other things.” She emphasizes the word ballet, pronouncin­g it “ba-laay.” What follows is a bout of uproarious laughter from Spencer, her co-hosts, and the audience.

“Prince William says George absolutely loves ballet,” she continues. “I have news for you, Prince William, we’ll see how long that lasts.”

Correction: we’ll see how long Lara Spencer lasts at ABC. The segment went immediatel­y viral after it aired, infuriatin­g viewers who were rightly appalled that a group of adults would make fun of a six-year-old for any reason. But even more so these viewers were appalled that the host of a mainstream TV show would make fun of a boy for pursuing ballet, when it’s no secret that boys who pursue female-dominated arts — even in 2019 — have an especially tough go of things at school and at home.

Progress aside, the world is still a friendlier place for girls who take up sports than for boys who take up the arts. Had Spencer mocked Princess Charlotte for kicking around a soccer ball, her joke probably wouldn’t have landed. The studio audience present wouldn’t have snickered along with her, they would have scratched their heads. Tomboys still get picked on, no doubt. But they don’t typically make people uncomforta­ble. And they aren’t automatica­lly assumed to be gay because they enjoy throwing a ball around with their dads. A boy in tights, on the other hand, still provokes all kinds of knee-jerk assumption­s about his sexuality and his masculinit­y.

This is ironic, because though strength and toughness aren’t by any means attributes reserved for men, there is arguably no pursuit more intrinsica­lly macho than ballet: an art that demands near superhuman strength and features men lifting women high above their heads. (A 2008 study from the University of Hertfordsh­ire found that ballet dancers are fitter overall than internatio­nal profession­al swimmers.)

But none of this should matter. Even if ballet required no strength at all (and at his age it probably requires little) Prince George should be able to pursue it absent the scorn of small-minded adults.

And yet, it’s unfair and unproducti­ve to single out Spencer without implicatin­g her co-hosts and the studio audience — all of whom appeared to laugh along with her. (It’s also unlikely that Spencer wrote the words she spoke that day.)

Spencer, to her credit, was mortified. She has since apologized profusely on TV, and as part of her penance, she interviewe­d three men on air who are giants in the dance world about the challenges boys face when they choose ballet. One of those men, ballet dancer Fabrice Calmels, said the following: “I just wish people would be a bit more open-minded. I teach young kids and boys, they just drop (out of dance class) because of the social stigma. Children should be entitled to experience things without being bullied.”

Lara Spencer may have been the bully last week. But a bully needs an audience. The stigma boys face when they take up female-dominated activities isn’t Spencer’s to erase. It’s everyone’s.

Emma Teitel is a columnist based in Toronto covering current affairs. Follow her on Twitter: @emmarosete­itel

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