There’s always room for a prince in ballet, whether he’s the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier; a man in a plotless ballet; “The Little Prince”; or a small child like Britain’s Prince George, who finds joy in movement.
Yet, for all the people like Lisa Collins Vidnovic of the Metropolitan Ballet School in Jenkintown, Pa., who encourages boys by giving them scholarships and a safe, comfortable space to study, there are those like Lara Spencer of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” who last week scoffed at George for taking ballet class.
Attitudes like Spencer’s are likely born of ignorance, opinions based on twirling figures in music boxes, tutus and tights, and maybe a couple of classes long ago.
Prince George is 6. His parents say he loves ballet. His grandmother Princess Diana was patron of the English National Ballet. His family goes to ballets. He shouldn’t be stifled.
Most people like to dance, and ballet teaches discipline, artistry and fitness.
Professional dancers are no shlocks. They spend six or more hours six days a week doing the equivalent of very hard gym workouts, then perform at night. Many also cross-train, lifting weights, swimming or taking Pilates or Gyrontonics classes.
George Balanchine famously said, “Ballet is woman.” The choreographer and founder of New York City Ballet aptly noted that much of the attention is focused on the ballerina. Lately, there has been an extra push to get more women hired as choreographers and company directors.
But the men have also been so important. France’s King Louis XIV was a passionate ballet dancer who founded the world’s first company, now known as the Paris Opera Ballet.
Balanchine grew the art in the United States and helped his first American student, Barbara Weisberger, to start the Pennsylvania Ballet, now led by Angel Corella, who was an international star.
Ballet, and the arts in general, are better because of men like Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rudolf Nureyev, Gene Kelly, Bob Fosse and choreographers Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky and Justin Peck.
Ballet is the basis of nearly all types of dance. Nearly every Broadway musical performer has a strong ballet background, including Leslie Odom Jr., the original Aaron Burr in “Hamilton.” All the professionals on “Dancing With the Stars,” in which Spencer competed, likely studied ballet.
And just as A-list actors start out as a drama kids, dancers start out as small children at the barre.
The ballet world is making sure Spencer gets this. Many famous dancers, male and female, addressed her on social media. Ashley Bouder, a New York City Ballet principal dancer, said, “Prince George and his parents/family are inspirations to young boys around the world.”
Wheeldon, who is British and has met several of the royals, said, “Growing up as a boy in ballet class was not easy. … It was painful, but worth every second.”
On Monday morning, professional dancers showed up outside the ABC studios, where Spencer apologized and interviewed three of them.
George is likely happily sheltered from all this, but his teachers know. And maybe next time he takes the barre, he’ll feel even more welcomed.
Ellen Dunkel is the Philadelphia Inquirer’s dance critic.