Lessons in Gender Equality at My Daughter’s Ballet Class


There’s one boy in my five year old daughter’s ballet class (and probably in all the younger levels). In his white tank and black shorts, he bobs about in the sea of pink leotards and pink tights around him. It’s like a scene from an old children’s book that has illustrated in only three colours to save on printing costs.

Apart from his outfit and perhaps his short hair though, there’s not much essential difference between him and the girls. He isn’t taller or more coordinated, and if he’s stronger, it’s not by much. He joined mid-year, and the girls were unperturbed.

He both stands out and blends in.

Also, he is important. Any ballet school treasures the little boy dancers who join in, because they are so few, and bring needed balance and new possibilities to the art form.

My daughter’s class is practicing for the recital that comes up in a couple of months. Their piece is set to the song “Under the Sea” from The Little Mermaid soundtrack. The girls will be mermaids.

And the little boy? He’s going to be a crab, or a lobster. And now I picture a different scene, where one little spot of red bobs amidst a sea of green.

It’s all very cute. But I’ve in a reflective mood, thinking about gender issues more and more these days. And I can’t help reading something more into this seamless integration, like perhaps the class is some mini manual on how to work towards equality (and though my ballet example features only male and female genders, the lessons could apply to all genders, and other types of equality).

I’m no Robert Fulghum, and I know it’s a bit clumsy, but this is what came, unbidden, to mind at ballet class.

When someone new wants to join the class, be kind.

When someone different wants to join the class, be kind.

Then take your places and wait for the music.

Whether your slippers be pink or black, look after your stray ends.

Be ready to learn many new, sometimes complicated, steps.

Prepare to fall sometimes.

Get back up. Try again.

Help someone else get back up, so they can try again.

Practice, practice, practice.

Strive for perfection, but remember it is for the birds.

Being equal doesn’t mean everyone’s a mermaid. Someone may need to be a crab.

No matter you’re wearing, stand straight and hold your head high.

The show succeeds only if everyone works together.

When the music plays, dance like everyone is watching.

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