BY Sandrine Blanchette & Kayla Melo Costa

Ballet has the reputation of being a hard sport where strict teachers are the norm and where you have to fit in a certain mold, but what if ballet can look different in 2024? What if ballet could be inclusive?

While we have seen the phenomenon of Balletcore going viral on TikTok and becoming a fashion trend, this attention also brings discussions about anybody wanting to be a ballerina like when they were kids. Adults who have that dream are now influencing the recreational side of ballet to open up their previous out-of-touch standards.

Ballet dancer with tutu

Students practice with tutus. Photograph by Sandrine Blanchette.

Ballet Hop! is making the dream of many a reality. They have made it their goal to open the world of ballet to anyone who wants to learn the art form.

Camille Rouleau, the owner of Ballet Hop! says her company has a different goal than traditional ballet “We at Ballet Hop! Have the goal to approach ballet as a sport to have fun with in a feminist and inclusive way.” The studio offers classes without judgment, with positivity, and with the goal to make ballet a sport, accessible to all.

They use a body-neutral approach, meaning that the body is looked at in a technical way, never in a body-shaming way, “It’s fine to fit in the 1 percent and it’s impressive, but it’s not realistic for the rest so we don’t force a mold on anyone as it is forcing something that is not possible for 99 percent of people,” Rouleau adds.

If inclusive studios like Ballet Hop! are expanding, applications for traditional ballet like the professional program at L’École Supérieur de Ballet du Québec (ESBQ), are not.

“We used to have two classes for secondary five. Now we have one. We’ve noticed that recruitment has gotten harder” says Marie-Josée Lecours, librarian-in-chief at the ESBQ.

Teacher helping dancer with position

Anne Dryburgh corrects her students while they practice at the barre. Photograph by Sandrine Blanchette.

Ballet has been given a rebirth with movies like Casse-Noisette or Ballerina, and the fashion craze on TikTok. This attention has brought an appeal to come back or try for the first time to do ballet.

“After the movie Ballerina came out we saw a big rise of interest in children to come to take our classes” says Rouleau.

A history of Ballet in Montreal. Media by Sandrine Blanchette.

Marie-Josée Lecours, says that in the 80s a lot of people wanted to dance.

“It was like an explosion of dance,” she says. “When I was in school there were a lot of people here, and a lot of different schools of dance.”

There is a distinction to be made here, ballet as a profession and ballet as a recreational sport are two different things. While professional ballet could be more inclusive, to be a professional ballet dancer is to be an athlete which represents a small group of people that are the elite of their sport.

Student putting on pointes

Young student puts on pointe shoes. Photograph by Sandrine Blanchette.

While both sides agree that it is important for ballet to exist in different ways, the relationship between these different belief systems is a bit standoffish. “I feel as though it would be great for everyone to coexist in a peaceful manner but that’s not the reaction we’ve had so far,” says Rouleau.

There is skepticism within the traditional ballet industry about teachings and approaches to ballet, “You know in Quebec anybody can open a dance school, you don’t have to have a diploma or any proof of expertise in the sport to own a school” says Anne Dryburgh, dancer and teacher for now 20 years at ESBQ.

Dryburgh also adds that because of that there are schools that teach things wrong and that people are being taught movements without the precision that is needed.

“We see it in auditions every year, there is a vast difference between children that are taught here, and others that went to other studios where the teachers do not uphold the same standards.”

“There are a lot of studios that don’t have this air of superiority like L’École Supérieur de Ballet du Québec, that do a great job and teach in a relaxed way but with the right technique,” says Rouleau.

Dancer dancing a solo

Student practices solo for her evaluation later this semester. Photo by Sandrine Blanchette.

Rouleau wishes that the traditional ballet industry would receive them with less scepticism and more openness and that they should not put everyone in the same basket “While our priorities are not the same, all of our classes are taught by professionals,” she adds.

Rouleau says their focus is on having fun and moving your body, not perfection and drilling students. “We don’t cater to the same people, they teach the 1 percent and we focus on the 99 percent of people that don’t feel welcomed in more traditional institutions,” she adds.

While both sides coexist in a distant way, they still have an impact on each other and can influence each other to be better.

Dryburgh says “I think that professionals inspire others to want to better their technique. The people that practice the sport come to our shows and they inspire dancers to be better for them.” Camille Rouleau agrees “Often when our students see shows they want to try out the things they see it inspires them to practice and discuss the art.”

Dancer stretching in pointes

Students warm up in their pointe shoes at the barre. Photograph by Sandrine Blanchette.

When we talk about inclusivity in dance, it means inclusivity in weight, age, ethnicity, gender and background. With ballet, some things are by definition harder to be inclusive with. While many would argue that ballet is not an inclusive profession, some have noticed small changes that mean a lot to a sport with a reputation of exclusivity.

“Teaching ballet-jazz classes, I have noticed more guys in my classes, than ever before,” says Chantal Dauphinais, who has been a dancer for 40 years.

Dauphinais herself is also an example of inclusivity. She has been in the Nutcracker for three years now. Her role, the king of sweets, is usually given to older men in the company.

“I wish choreographers would hire mature dancers while we might not be able to do the same things, there are amazing dancers that I wish we could see,” Dauphinais says.

She says that in terms of age, ballet could do more.

For her, dance could stand to change if we talked about it more, it seems to her that when arts are discussed it’s often that dancers are left out of the conversation “Dance does not get any media attention, so how would it strive for change? If you asked anyone in the street to name one dancer from Les Grands Ballets, no one would be able to answer. I don’t think that that’s normal.”

Main image by Sandrine Blanchette.
Published May 16, 2024.