Misty Copeland and the Men in Tights

I just watched Misty Copeland give Jimmy Kimmel a ballet class, and this is what I learned: Misty Copeland is a nicer, more graceful and open hearted person than I will ever be.

I’m not sure quite what it was about the segment that particularly got my goat, which you can watch here, but for me it hopped straight over spoof and right into disrespect in a way that, say, French and Saunders never did. But me not knowing doesn’t make for a very good post, so let’s work our way through some of the issues going on here.

Disclaimer: I’ve never watched a full Jimmy Kimmel. I’ve seen other clips on YouTube that other people have highlighted as particularly good. Perhaps it works better in context? For that reason I’m leaving aside discussion of Guillermo as a character, and I’m not going to comment on the wider aims and scope of the program. Just the clip.

Perhaps it’s the men in tutus getting out of the taxi? Dear Jimmy, NO-ONE wears those any more. The one-piece pink tutu combo might be a nice dress-up outfit for a 5 year-old, but you were wearing a practice skirt. A practice skirt that, I note, had been spritzed and sprayed to stick up the wrong way – you put effort into making that skirt look bad Jimmy Kimmel. Also, why do we still have this idea that men in tutus are intrinsically hilarious? Or that men even wear tutus to go take class… that ANYONE wears a tutu to go take class in? Did you think you needed to look any more silly than you were already going to?

Before anyone starts, yes I know this is supposed to be a spoof piece. We’re all supposed to laugh at the famous guy who fails completely at doing ballet, and fails so completely that he doesn’t even know what clothes to wear. So ok, I’ll let the skirt drop and lets go on with the class.

The steps you were doing. Good lord. Again, were you so convinced you’d look too good doing plies and tendus you had to go straight for the leg whacking? I mean, I can kind of forgive you if this was an excuse to let Misty show off her moves, but there’s an arrogance to it, and to my mind you’d actually have looked sillier trying to hold an extension – which you might have tried – than striving and failing for something utterly and completely beyond your competence.

But no, then you had to go and put on the pointe shoes. There’s an odd messing with gender thing you’re doing here Jimmy Kimmel, and I’m not really sure what you’re hoping to achieve. Do you think it’s just so hilariously unthinkable that men would do pointe? They’ve been doing it in the Royal Ballet’s repertoire since the 70s. Also, the Trocs would like to have a word with you. Are you trying to show that what Misty Copeland does is super hard? So why are you working so hard to be ill at ease? Guillermo isn’t comfortable – he’s in pain and he says so – so what’s with you?

Your side speech, Jimmy Kimmel, says that you’re a master of ballet. But Misty’s speech is just the opposite: today, ballet died. There’s too much conflict in how you’re acting towards the ballet, towards Misty Copeland, and what you’re saying about what you’re doing.

I feel like you went for the stupidly unobtainable because you didn’t want to be funny failing at something more basic – and perhaps this gets at why I take issue with this little segment of yours. When you turn up in the tights, and you put on the pointe shoes, you set the bar so high that excuse yourself from attention, effort or generosity towards ballet in general and Misty Copeland in particular. French and Saunders, in the name of humour, worked really hard to understand the traditions and conventions of the world they were stepping into, which is why it’s screamingly funny for dancers and non-dancers alike. You used Misty Copeland to get a cheap laugh out of cross-dressing.

There is no kind of dance that you can master on the first try, but I feel like only ballet smiles and nods and allows celebrities to pretend that they can be excused the effort. Ballet smiles, opens its doors, and puts a company on stage in a routine choreographed so that you can look terrible at doing ballet. In the same costume you went to class in – hell, you even did exactly the same steps. When you use ballet like that you cement it as this rarefied, elitist thing that no-one but the experts can possibly attempt, and you do a disservice to other dance forms, and to every amateur out there who does ballet for the sweaty, riotous joy of it.

Misty Copeland. Gloriously beautiful Misty Copeland, role model for so many young people out there in ballet and outside… your message all along has been that you should grit your teeth and work for the thing you want to do, even when everyone tells you its unobtainable. I realise you probably didn’t have much choice when some rich tv guy comes along and hands you a script where he has do precisely no work whatsoever, so I’m not blaming you. In fact, I’m sorry you had to put up with such a shallow use of your many talents. I don’t blame the dancer in the Free People ad. either, who was probably just trying to earn a salary, although I do have plenty to say to the people who wrote the storyboard pitching her as a professional, rather than an enthusiastic hobbyist.

But dear TV, and dear Jimmy Kimmel. Do better. Don’t treat any kind of dance as something you can use for a cheap gag, or a poetic moment, or a background shot without being prepared to actually respect what it is we do. Respect that people might want to get something from the dance as well as watching you laze around failing at it. Work a bit harder, and if you don’t know how to do that? Ask a dancer.

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