Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Intersectionality and the Politics of Ballet


Ballet dancers drag a long and conservative history with them each time they step onstage. Yet recently some of the most radical challenges in dance are coming from ballerinas wearing prosthetic limbs, male dancers in tutus and pointe shoes and Ultra-Orthodox Jewish women performing ballet for women only audiences. This new seminar uses dance history to reposition ballet as a daring future-facing art form, one where the politics of nationality, religion, class, gender, race, and disability intersect (intersectionality). These issues are provocatively illuminated by classically trained dancers like South African artist Dada Masilo in her gender-bending Swan Lake and Giselle mashups and activist American dancer Alice Sheppard’s showcasing of the art of disability partnered by her wheelchair.  What can ballet bring to the pressing social issues of equity, inclusion, and diversity when for centuries it has been considered an exemplar of the static imperialist, Western art form and idealized white body? What has shifted to reveal ballet as a vital medium for registering new global identities and social justice challenges? How can an art form built on obedient bodies be politically dangerous?

Using live and recorded performances, interviews with practitioners reshaping the field and close readings of new scholarship, we will see how 21st century politics are being negotiated through ballet.  Exposing limitations of binaries such as feminine/masculine, white/black, heterosexual/homosexual, and colonial and colonized histories, we consider how culture is complicated through the ballet repertoire and its techniques for disciplining and gendering bodies.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Janice Ross

Janice Ross

"I am currently concluding several years of field work researching how ballet is used in ultra-orthodox Jewish communities in the U.S. and Israel. As a dance studies scholar my research interests for decades have focused on dance performance and social change – ranging from movement performance in American and U.K. prisons to experimental dance of the 1960s. Ballet, has long fascinated me for its hidden radical potential. I have written about the uses of ballet as a form of cultural and political resistance in Soviet Russia and traced how historically ballet in America has been a medium for imagined civic communities. This new course has been created to explore emerging and urgent uses of ballet in the struggles for equity, inclusion, diversity that are exploding national agendas and arts practices."