What Dancers Want You to Know About the Free People Ballet Line

Free People, a clothing boutique that opened in the 1970s and today has three wholesale showrooms in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, recently posted a photo on their Instagram announcing their new ballet line. The ballet world is stunned, a little hurt, but mostly - it has everyone talking.

Photo posted on Free People's Instagram account announcing the new line.

The comments from upset dancers immediately started coming in. Then this video was posted:

The photos and videos have left the ballet world in an uproar about Free People's marketing campaign and how ballet is being presented to the world.

What Dancers Want You To Know About the Campaign:

1. Dancer bodies are not model bodies, and we're proud of that. While dance does embrace a lean figure, training also builds muscle. The body image they've put out there as representing "ballerinas" is simply not accurate.

2. Dancers know their bodies well enough and we understand what is safe. In the video, you see a lot of supination (the inward roll of the ankle and foot). This can cause anyone on pointe to roll their ankle or break their ankle. In the ballet world, if a dancer is not prepared for pointe (strength-wise and knowledge-wise) then they are not permitted to go on pointe.

3. Dancers can spot a trained dancer (and an untrained one). There are many factors that reveal a trained dancer: proper port de bras, turnout, knowledge of dance vocabulary, how the movement is executed, feet, legs, the use of épaulement, the use of spotting. We are trained to understand the mechanics of our artform, as well as what makes it difficult and beautiful. None of these are present in the photos or video.

4. Dance is hard work and hard work shows itself. Many dancers start dancing at 3 years old (as the video campaign says). But solid dance training shows through every movement and approach to stretching. Trained dancers understand proper stretching and what stretches are needed for what parts of the body and for what particular moves are to be executed.

5. Proper dance attire is supportive and beautiful. Free People's line simply does not look anything like the attire used in the ballet world. For example, their handmade ballet slippers (selling for $150) do not look anything like ballet shoes and seems to be mocking the process that goes into artfully creating ballet shoes and pointe shoes.

6. Dancers aren't mean people. We aren't upset at the girl in the photos or video. Perhaps she has been dancing since she was 3 years old, and perhaps she does love it. Everyone who loves something should be free to take class, learn, grow and develop their talents. What is upsetting dancers is the seemingly unapparent lack of thinking on the marketing team's side. Who was the target audience? (Trained dancers? Professional dancers? Dancers who occassionally take class? People who love dance but don't take class? Yoga? Zumba?) Pointe is very difficult and very revealing, so why choose to have a girl on pointe if it isn't up to industry standards? Why create dance attire that looks nothing like dance attire?

We have reached out to Free People for a comment, and we will update when we hear back from them.

But this campaign does have a perk: It generated conversation about the image of ballet and what is important when it's being dispersed to the general public. Ballet is a beautiful and challenging artform with a seriousness attached to its approaches, styles, history and performances. So the campaign has forced dancers to ask and answer important questions.

Questions For You:

1. What does this campaign make you feel?

2. How should ballet be portrayed to the general public?

3. What do you think are the key factors to keep in mind when presenting ballet to the public?

 

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