Of leotards and leg-splints

I cannot really tell you how I found it, but yesterday evening I came upon this rather interesting article about the Maryland youth ballet involving children with disabilities in their productions. Let me state from the get-go that I have no objections to this: there’s nothing more natural than little girls wanting to dress up and dance. Yet it does raise a few interesting questions pertinent to the subjects of inclusion and disability.

Ballet is traditionally quite an elitist art form; I’m sure most of us have read about the body fascism that seems endemic in ballet schools. These are places where anorexia seems almost normal, and where any girl even remotely plump is bullied mercilessly. That’s what makes this article so interesting: dance seems almost innately anti-inclusive, but they are applying the principles of inclusion to it. While it’s wonderful, it’s also kind of odd: its sort of oxymoronic, in a way, to open an art form where physical ability is prized over all else up to those with very little physical ability. Of course, you could argue the same of disability sport – kids with disabilities are frequently included in, say, football clubs. But I think it is in this case that the paradox is most pronounced, and thus the most awesome. I know none of these girls will ever dance professionally, just as nobody with cerebral palsy will ever play in the premiership, probably; but it is a symbolic blow against the elitism in society which seems to prize physical ability above all else.I suppose some may argue that this is nothing but a shallow gesture, and ask why these disabled girls should have the chance to dance while other able-bodied girls are turned away, despite being more physically able. After all, one goes to the ballet to watch examples of physical perfection, grace and beauty. Yet I would counter this by pointing out that the nature off all art is, in part, to ask questions of itself and the world, which is exactly what this does. If a person with severe cerebral palsy can dance alongside able-bodied professionals, then surely there is no limit to inclusion.

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