Gestures of Hierarchy in Ballet
Most of the research I have encountered on decolonizing ballet class in the 21st century is focused on large-scale, systemic changes to the structure of curricula, syllabi, schools, and other dance organizations that place diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) at the core of the work. While this work is important and deserves praise in a contained form, I question the greater implications of invitational spaces created by instructors, facilitators, choreographers, and/or directors. My interest, therefore, is not in how the bodies relate in a gross-movement and linguistic scale, but rather in the acute gestural codes and cues that the instructor/facilitator/choreographer enacts daily. Often, these gestures are unknowingly employed in order to establish a sense of sovereignty over the students/dancers and have been passed down for generations in the name of tradition. Analysis of these gestural codes will illuminate some of the ways in which instructors may be unconsciously participating in an embodied form of non-inclusive and unjust practices in the dance studio. I speculate on the gestures that are enacted in ballet classrooms, apart from the prescribed movements of ballet technique itself, that reify the instructor’s body as superior and the student as inferior. The goal of this manuscript is to enliven discussion on the format of ballet class as a democratic exchange of ideas to produce meaningful embodied knowledge in contrast to an autocratic placement of predetermined motion on a docile body.