Dance of the sugar plum anorexics

By Gina Arnold


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I wanted to clarify a few items inaccurately reported in your article today regarding the San Francisco Ballet School.

1. San Francisco Ballet School is not being sued. There has been a claim filed at the Human Rights Commission but no lawsuit is pending.

2. San Francisco Ballet Association receives funding from Grants for the Arts but the school does not. According to the specific guidelines provided by this funding organization, the funds received by the professional company cannot be applied to education and training activities or performing activities of students. We do not use the funds in the school, only for the professional company.

3. Fredrika Keefer was never denied access to audition for San Francisco Ballet School.

4. Fredrika Keefer was accepted into San Francisco Ballet’s highly respected Dance-In-Schools program in May of 2000. If Ms. Krissy Keefer had accepted that invitation into that program, her daughter would have been a part of the school without any audition process (for further information on Dance-In-Schools, please refer to our Web site or contact San Francisco Ballet). The Dance-In-Schools program goes into 19 public schools throughout San Francisco and teaches world dance to over 1,500 children. At the end of the session, 70 boys and girls are selected to come to San Francisco Ballet School, on full scholarship, to study.

Since we were not contacted for this article, we appreciate that you would clarify the above stated inaccuracies in your article. Thank you.

– Diane Kounalakis
Associate Director, Public Relations
San Francisco Ballet

As someone who has had an off-and-on relationship with classical performance arts, I understand Gina Arnold’s frustration with institutional ballet’s elitism and entrenchment in terms of body types. These are all extremely good reasons to think twice about letting your child become involved with this kind of artistic pursuit.

However, her mistake is in emphasizing the “arts” in performing arts. For example, many would be impressed with the amazing musical feats of a great classical pianist, but few understand that the training involved is very mundane. Great musical instincts or not, 95 percent of one’s training is in rote memory, muscle memory and in reproducing the styles of great performers. This is largely the same in ballet. The difference between creative arts and interpretive arts breeds exactly this kind of elitism.

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So, feel free to dislike ballet if you want. But be honest about why you dislike it. A major criterion for success is having a body that conforms to certain standards, and Arnold disagrees with those standards. This is fine. But willowy and waify art is not necessarily any less worthwhile than chubby kids doing pirouettes.

– Nils Skjodt

While I find myself in agreement with Gina Arnold in a number of places in the beginning of her article, by the bottom of Page 2 she reveals that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I’ll wager that she’s never seen “chunky” Anna Pavlova in flesh — so she must be judging Pavlova’s physique by old, known-to-be-shape-distorting photographs. But to characterize the relatively short and small-built-although-well-muscled Mikhail Baryshnikov as built like a Mack truck suggests that she needs a better set of opera glasses. I’ve seen him, perhaps Arnold has seen him, too — and to most people with half-decent eyesight Baryshnikov is anything but that.

– Arvo Lannus

Our current ideal ballet dancer body form comes from the legendary George Balanchine. Until this mythic figure of the ballet world is superceded by another, skinny will be in ballet. He set the standards for what we see on stage today. I would have loved to take ballet lessons, but my mother wouldn’t let me, she said I wasn’t the type. I thought she meant I wasn’t girlie enough. It wasn’t until much later I figured out what she meant. I hope this mother wins her lawsuit even if it is for all the wrong reasons.

– Cat Lincoln

When I first heard about Keefer’s suit against the San Francisco Ballet, I too rolled my eyes and was grateful I lived in Sacramento where we are close enough to watch the weirdness that is S.F., but not close enough to deal with it. However, the local TV station showed footage of Fredrika dancing, and I immediately understood her mother’s point. While the kid is hardly a budding Calista, she ain’t no budding Roseanne either. Fredrika is not fat — as a matter of fact I would say that she fits the “well proportioned body” criterion quite well.

– Robyn Anderson

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