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17 Jul, 2022 16:04

UK dance school explains its crusade against ballet

The Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds says it dropped ballet from its auditions to “decolonize” the curriculum
UK dance school explains its crusade against ballet

A dance school in Britain has removed ballet from its auditions because it’s an “elitist art form” that draws heavily on “white European ideas and body shapes.

This may have discouraged dancers who do not conform to this “aesthetic ideal,” Francesca McCarthy, head of undergraduate studies at the conservatoire, told The Telegraph in an interview published on Saturday.

It is a very specific form that is built around particular white European ideas and body shapes that are often alienating to young people who do not fit that aesthetic ideal.

The Northern School of Contemporary Dance in Leeds explained that its move was part of a broader effort to “decolonize the curriculum.” It also emphasized that, due to the high costs involved, students from poorer communities usually cannot afford to study ballet.

McCarthy also said the classical dance style’s terminology has “strongly gendered roots” and is therefore “problematic in relation to inclusion of non-binary and trans dancers.

Ballet classes will still be taught at the school, but teaching methods have been altered specifically to make them more “inclusive.” Staff are being encouraged to use gender-neutral words when addressing the students, such as “dancers/people/folk/everyone/everybody.

Teachers are also being advised against using the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’, and instead stick to ‘they’ so as “not to make assumptions” about students’ identities.

Speaking to The Telegraph newspaper, McCarthy said it was largely thanks to her “wonderful wife” and two adopted sons that she had learned of “challenges experienced by young people today.

In fact, the school’s push for more inclusion began back in 2019, when the conservatoire’s staff began learning about “unconscious bias” in dance.

The effort was given further impetus by the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, McCarthy revealed.

It was then that students set up an LGBTQ group, which focused in particular on “pronouns and the implications of gendered movement vocabularies such as in ballet classes.