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The Toast


More than any other art, classical ballet makes gender its problem. The focus is obvious but subtle. Almost every class is two-thirds female and the hallways of a ballet school are always disproportionately pink. But ballet also curates a vision of femininity as the very ideal of its practice. The vision is manifest not only in the old, narrative productions of the nineteenth century -- like The Nutcracker, or Swan Lake, or Giselle--full of the tiaras and tulle that women wear, but also in the newer, abstract pieces of the twentieth century and after, where dancers shuck off fairy-tale stories and make abstract shapes in nothing more than leotards. In all of these, women are the furthest extension of the classical ballet idiom, literally and figuratively. It's women who rise up to their toes en pointe., women who unfurl their legs to that height around the ears, women who do the thirty-two fouettés. Women who are lifted up to make gravity-eluding shapes in the air. The pas de deux, a male-female dance at the core of classical technique (partnering is usually the last class added to a dancer's training), remains a vision of heterosexual relations that exchanges support for lift, ballast for flexibility, power for finesse. Men are in control; women are on display. Ballet stages gender with every step.


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