The Michigan Daily -Weekend etc. January 30, 1992 Page 1
While the fallen Prince was set-
tling into the best years of his musi-
cal career from'85 to'88, his female
protegees were rendering equally
great, and often superior, musical
These records can be used as a
view into the strange world that
Prince envisioned with his contem-
poraries. However spotty it may be,
this both decadent and idealistic
worldview purveyed by Prince's
Paisley Park artists ga'e us some
One of the best of these albums,
Sheila E's Romance 1600, delivered
the classic jams "Sister Fate," "Yel-
low" and "A Love Bizarre." Sheila's
sophomore effort was a concept al-
bum with its own unique lexicon of
rock from a female perspective. "Toy
Box" gleefully sings the pleasures of
female masturbation while "Dear
Michelangelo" lasciviously tributes
the Renaissance painter, "Color the
dreams in your head/ I look at your
paintings/ And I'm with you in your
Sheila E's live shows of chal-
lenging male dominance (having a
bodyguard hold a man from the au-
dience to his seat while pretending to
have her way with him, or using tour
men on stage as drum stands) were
* ironically tempered by requisite lyr-
ics about obsessive female love.
But ultimately, the lyrics of Sheila
E's first three albums served to forego
the male questions of female moti-
vation to perfect the spiritual mes-
sage of love which Prince has since
made his own manifesto.
It was through the pop format
that Sheila E would make her most
interesting statements, that is, up to
her newest effort Sex Cymbal, a
shameless bid for the top 20.
SingerJill Jones would later make
many of the same themes her own
with her debut album, Jill Jones.
"For Love," a R & B screw-against-
the-wall ditty approaching sado-
masochism, was an improvementon
one of Prince's ideas. The frankly
titled "G-Spot" improved on Sheila
*E's "Toy Box" with the same theme.
Jones' cover of Prince's "With You,"
from his self-titled second album,
finds her attempting to beat him at
his own game and making a very
good try of it.
Jones' own lyrics overlapped with
Prince's to the point where an ambi-
guity between the two personae re-
sulted. The message of sexual tran-
scendence which listeners received
became almost more fascinating thdn
the actual music. Yet Jones' follow-
ers have waited five years for a sec-
ond effort and there seems to be no
album in sight.
It seems that the industry simply
won't allow Prince to release the
number of albums that Paisley Park's
roster can produce. We can infer that
Jones has been omitted from the mar-
ket because the label is too prolific.
Meanwhile, Prince has struggled
back into the commercial mainstream
by relegating his own music to cre-
ative obsolescence with his newest
release, Diamonds and Pearls. But
the shortcomings of the music
industry's dictates extend far beyond
the disappointing stretch of Prince's
last few releases.
Instead of getting sincere ex-
pressions of the Uptown rebellion of
old, we now get exhausted images of
by Elizabeth Lenhard
The little girl stands awkwardly
before the mirror. Her stomach
pokes through her powder pink leo-
tard and blond wisps fall from her
bun. She flaps her arms up and
down, fluttering her plump fingers.
She's forgotten to turn her feet out.
She's trying, butno, she looks noth-
ing like a dying swan. She glares at
the other, more graceful girls who surround her.
I gaze at the scene in amazement. Nothing's
changed since I took ballet lessons 700 miles
away, fifteen years ago- the dusty wood floors,
the full-length mirror and the bored music stu-
dent pounding out Chopin on a crooked upright
- yup, it's all here. Even the clumsy blond at the
During the warm-up tendus ("Point your
feet, ladies!") the chubby girl in pink sneaks an
embarrassed look at her mother, who watches
from the sidelines. I know how she feels, even as
some other part of me helplessly notes
the best and worst dancer in the
room. I wonder, why am I
here? Am I enjoying this?
My great grandfather
used to call my grandmother
his "little Pavlova." My
mother took ballet, and I did
too. My brother ran free in little
league while I went to dance
class. Like armies of little girls
who've trooped to their dance
lessons on Saturday mornings.
I never questioned what I<
Ballet lessons may.
seem harmless, but
I've come to think the 4
opposite. The dance's
nature alone, as much
as the forces that bring
girls to the classes, has a
damaging effect upon
feminine imagery. t:
We women have
changed, and ballet
Backin the seventeenth cen-
tury, the French aristocrats
discovered the idea of dance lessons
as a way to expose their children to
high art. To this day, the ritual they
created has remained oddly intact.
Now, middle class mothers with
Hondas bring their little girls to the
of the ballet image. The late choreographer de-1
fined his idea of women simply. "Ballet is
Woman." Of course, the Balanchine ballerinas
such as Suzanne Farrell and Gelsey Kirkland
were required to be skeletally thin, passionately<
driven, asexual and terrifically feminine all ats
once. "What they're looking for," says Gigi
Berardi, a professor of Biology at Gettysburg;
College and author of Finding Balance, "is sort
of asexual, ephemeral, thin, waiflike, sylphlike
figures who are of another world, and so, sex-1
Kirkland and Farrell dance on stage in satin
and sequins, playing such romantic ideals as
Juliet and Giselle. They are the prototypes, their
images tacked to the walls of ballet school lob-
bies. "They're kind of unattainable ... that's the
problem for American women at least," says
Maria Powers, a former Broadway dancer and an
anthropologist at Seton Hall.
In her book Dance, Sex and Gender, Judith
Hanna outlines women's traditional qualities in
society. Among the characteristics are "emo-
tionally expressive; cooperation; self-abnegating;
pet, doll, sparrow; childlike." Nowhere is
this image taught to young girls as in ballet
From age four, when many girls be-
gin their lessons, they are taught that thin,
frail, and tiny is attractive. Male choreog-
raphers dictate it, male audiences appreciate
it, and the ballet world created it. While
ballerinas may appear to be weak, how-
ever, they must actually be incredibly
strong. If your ankles are too wobbly, as
mine were, to sustain your entire body on
one foot, en pointe, you can forget it.
"Biologicallyit's denial. See, you can't
be a ballerina if you start to menstruate at
an early age. It's much better if you de-
velop later," explains Berardi.
"You have a princess, you
dress her up - she doesn't
have sex. It keeps your
child in dreamland," says
Gay Delanghe, a profes-
sor of modern dance at
the University. The val-
ues we find are purely
implemented in their ballet
lessons, but the problem
is, girls don't just drop
their impressions at
the door when
they quit (and
bigger than them.
Women's relationships with each other aren't
made any healthier by ballet than those with
men. In dance classes, the uniform is set, as it's
always been, at pink tights and slippers and pink
or black leotards. Difference in the girls' size, the
way their legs turn out, and varying degrees of
grace are made painfully apparent. "They know
who's good and who's not good, and how you
need to dress, and who (hasn't), and that that's
bad," Berardi comments.
Stephanie, the heroine of Jill r
Krementz's classic, A Very Young
Dancer has established with thousands
of young readers, the necessity for
conformity. "You have to have longI
hair to be a dancer." She demon-
strates as well, the value in cutthroat
competition. "Susie Eisner hurt her
foot, so I got to do one extra perfor-
I talked to two six year-old .
girls after their ballet class at Ann i
Arbor's Sylvia Studio of Dance
one rainy Saturday morning. Annie .
is one of the ubiquitous apple-cheeked7
blonds in her class. Her hairstyle, an
exact replica of Hope's ballerina bun, is
adorned with bright, plastic barrettes and a
"I have two tutus," boasted Annie, point-
ing and flexing her little feet.
I asked her for a description, as Hope, not
quite as graceful, clambered off her chair to
show meher pli6s. "Wonderful," I encouraged,
feeling guilty because she wasn't.
Annie began, "One is pink and white, and the
"I have two tutus," Hope yelled.
"Really, well that's great," I said.
"Well,justone," Hope conceded giving Annie
a sidelong look.
"It's damaging. It doesn't do much for self-
esteem," Berardi says. "They're never good
enough. They're never thin enough, they're never
tall enough, they're never short enough, their
legs are never turned out enough - just not
Perhaps it's unfair to blame the ballet for all
the stereotypical ills that women just can't seem
to shake. After all, religion, culture, history (not
to mention advertising and Barbie dolls) also
affect our images of ourselves. But certainly, all
the qualities that are consistently in the way of
emotional equality, are stringently taught in bal-
Why do mothers, who themselves are strug-
gling to reach equality in marriage and work,
bring their daughters to ballet class? Some are
caught up in the fantasy of the art, while others
see it simply as a healthy exercise. But, the
lessons are also a way to carry on a tradi-
"(Ballet) was something I always
wanted to do when I was growing up,"
says Sandy Penn, whose eight year-old
twins both take ballet. Penn wants her
daughters to have more than a middle-
class background allowed. "I never
really had the opportunity to do that ...
but when you think about it, the life of
a ballerina is very hard, very pain-
ful and very competitive, and I
really wouldn't want my daugh-
ters to be ballerinas."
Back at the barre, and before the
mirror, the plump little blond is taking
ballet because she's supposed to, just as
she's supposed to be thin. When women
like her mom wonder why the media says,
"You've come a long way, baby," but notice
that their own lives haven't, perhaps they
should reflect on their ballet memories.
Do you see a graceless child at the end of
the barre, struggling to keep up with the
other girls, or were you the best one in your
class, the one with two tutus? Did you
dream of the Sugarplum fairy at Christmas?
Do you now feel ethereal, graceful, beautiful as
the slim, graceful girl who starred as a butterfly
in the ballet school's recital? Blame your genes
or god (or George Balanchine) but very few of us
are those things.
I started ballet at age four. Miss Marilyn, my
teacher, turned out my knees, tapped my stom-
ach and told me to bend over backwards so the
mothers could admire my flexibility. Am I
scarred? Am I trapped in empty, pink satin fan-
tasies? No. Do I feel pressure to be thinner, more
graceful (both in manner and body), prettier,
more feminine than the woman at the desk next
to mine? You bet.
Mules aren't just for hauling
anymore. See head shoulders
At the A2 Folk Festival.