Jump to content
Ballet Talk for Dancers to close ×
Ballet Talk for Dancers

“Like a Haven: Not Work, Not Home!”


Recommended Posts

I found this interesting ethnographic study on adult ballet by Felicity Paxton:





This paper stems from an ongoing ethnographic study of women who attend adult ballet

classes in Atlanta, Georgia. The project draws on narratives collected in one-on-one interviews

and fourteen months of participant observation. The primary aim of this research is to explore the

motivations behind these women’s engagement in an activity traditionally associated with tots

and teens, not working women and mothers. I am interested in how these women explain their

involvement in ballet, and how they situate their classes in relation to the rest of their lives. I

examine what their narratives tell us about the physical and psychological burdens of

contemporary work and family life, as well as the ways in which modern women are and are not

able to escape these burdens.


The paper that follows divides into two. In Part One, I explore why the women I am

studying represent what philosophers call a “category mistake.” I show how these women are

acutely aware of their “deviancy” both in terms of age/appearance and in terms of the ideology

of “good” (i.e. intensive, self-sacrificing) mothering that is dominant in the U.S. I discuss the

ways in which these women both reproduce and challenge the discourses that mark their

participation in ballet classes as “deviant.”


Following Janice Radway, who examined reading-as-escape both in terms of act and

content, the second part of my paper examines how my interviewees explain their choice of

ballet, specifically.1 For while the mothers in the group spoke of a generalized desire for “me

time,” all of the women in the group commented on the unique lures of ballet as an escape from

their work lives. For example, several of the women in the group state that ballet allows them to

get in touch with “feminine” selves that are perforce muted at work. Others claim that ballet

helps them to recapture a sense of themselves as free and unencumbered.


At the end of Part Two, I draw attention to some of the contradictions within and across

these women’s narratives. For while some of their statements on ballet versus work seem

relatively straightforward, others are deeply complicated. I show, for example, how descriptions

of ballet as freedom from pressure and surveillance are hard to reconcile with descriptions of

ballet as pressure and surveillance. Having outlined a series of discrepancies and incongruities, I

then suggest different ways in which we might begin to theoretically account for them. In my

conclusion, I outline a number of directions for future research and summarize some of the ways

in which this project challenges us to revise our thinking--perhaps even our policy-making--

around work and leisure, motherhood and family.

Link to comment

It looks quite interesting and when I have a few spare moments, I will finish it. Of course, since I am a mother, adult ballet dancer, and ballet teacher, I guess I win the trifecta of "Category Mistakes"..... :thumbsup:

Link to comment

Raises a valid point: why should a mother pursuing her own passions (in this case taking ballet classes) be considered 'deviant' by societal standards?


By those standards, I must admit to hanging out with a lot of deviants: moms who dance, sing, paint, write, garden, cook, design...Friends all. :thumbsup:

Link to comment

The clue is in the quotation marks around "deviancy" and "category mistakes" -- I think the author is trying to indicate that these are terms under interrogation & not absolutes. They're social judgements and open to question.


But think of the comments we get on this forum from adult dancers who face quite aggressive questioning or negative comments for pursuing their hobby-as-passion. I can remember, for example, various threads about taking class wit teens, and dealing with other people's criticisms and negative comments (rarely other dancers' opinions!)


Add to that the social pressure for women -- particularly those married with children -- to be very "other-directed" and rarely take time for themselves ...


So don't assume that the author of this essay agrees with or is condoning dancing adult women as "deviant." Strikes me she's questioning it, just as we often do in this forum. Indeed, reading this forum would have provided her with even more material with which to develop her hypothesis!

Link to comment

In figuring out what the author means by words like "deviant," I think it's important to click through the link and read the article, not just the abstract that's been pasted into this forum. I haven't yet read the article, so I don't know what position the author takes (although the quotation marks seems to be a good clue, as others have mentioned).


I heard the companion study titled "Ballet as Escape Ritual for Middle Class Working Men" was not undertaken, due to lack of enough subjects to attain statistical significance. ;-) In any case, people KNOW we're deviant!

Link to comment

The paper makes a good point.


Being well in touch with my artistic side as well as being a mother, I laugh that the juxtaposition of all the things I do in my life (my passion for music and mothering) is considered deviant in any way. Of course it is, as I am sometimes met with raised eyebrows as I head out for a gig, which is what her paper is about: why are women/mothers in the particular not allowed to be playful?...but who cares? It's my passion and I would hope more and more women take the moment to pursue theirs.


If not now, when?

Link to comment

I'll definitely take a look at this, thanks, citibob. It made stop and think about how some folks have mentioned that my boyfriend and I live in a extended adolescence- I dance, he plays guitar, video games are huge in our house , and we have no children. Apparently, we're totally deviant!

Link to comment
why are women/mothers in the particular not allowed to be playful?...but who cares? It's my passion and I would hope more and more women take the moment to pursue theirs.


If not now, when?


That's why I started last year - basically, it was a "why not?" sort of moment for me.

Link to comment

I've read the posts and skimmed most of the paper. My impression is that "deviant" only means atypical. For all you adult students, especially mothers, think about how many of your friends also take ballet class regularly. For me, not counting Richmond campers, the total is zero.


My biggest criticism of the paper is the references to ballet or the women to take classes as being "girly" and "feminine". It was interesting how many of the working women interviewed had jobs in traditionally male fields, but I wonder if that's the main reason for the women to choose ballet as their form of exercise, creativity and expression. I think ballet is so much more than pink frilly tutus. For me, it's the aesthetics, and that is completely gender neutral. It's hard enough encouraging boys and men to dance without students relegating ballet to females only. But that's another topic that's been covered before.

Link to comment

I have always thought that ballet should not be classified as an activity for teens & younger as it mainly is in the US. I have said for many years now that I will be dancing in my 80's (I am now in my 20's).


Why can't adult middle class women who dance simply be continuing something they've loved all of their lives, as I am? We continue reading, sewing, playing sports, but its wierd to continue dancing? Why is that? Maybe because ballet classes are less accessible than sports or other hobbies? Very true as pss said, out of my close friends only 1 dances on a regular basis & she teaches so she is not taking class & occassionally performing as I am and as what the article is aimed towards I imagine. I havn't read the article yet but plan to read it.

Link to comment

From reading some of the above posts, and after reading 17 pages of the paper, I am thinking that we should all read it and then continue this valuable discussion. :D

Link to comment

Yes, Clara76, I think it is important to read (or skim) the article. The author is NOT condoning the general view by non-dancers that ballet is for girls and teens, and not for non-professional adult women. Her research is really fascinating: she's interviewed a range of adult women dancers, and their responses and her analysis and quite complex sociological argument is illuminating. She puts her finger on quite a few things I've often wondered about, and that we've often discussed on this forum.

Link to comment
My biggest criticism of the paper is the references to ballet or the women to take classes as being "girly" and "feminine"... I think ballet is so much more than pink frilly tutus. For me, it's the aesthetics, and that is completely gender neutral. It's hard enough encouraging boys and men to dance without students relegating ballet to females only.


It's important to note that the paper reflected what the investigator heard in the interviews. She interviewed a number of adult students who pretty unanimously talked about ballet as being "girly" and "feminine." I also think it's revealing (and somewhat sad) when you look at what they think "feminine" means, it seems to be synonymous with "pretty", "frivolous", "helpless" and "useless." Alas, we have yet to define a widely disseminated version of "feminine" free of these negative connotations. Whether ballet can help or hurt in developing a more capable femininity is up for debate.


Admittedly, the interviewee's view of "masculine" was also somewhat off. "Masculine=competitive" vs. "Feminine=cooperative" seemed to be the mantra. One look at the fiercely competitive world of teenage ballet students will blow that myth to pieces. What surprises me is that so many of these subjects were able to hold onto that belief, even having been through ballet programs as kids.


In any case, ballet really is pretty feminine, according to our society's current gender constructs. Start with the fact that 99% of the people involved in it are female. Many students frequently take class with no men at all in the room. Also, as mentioned in the article, many of the things it develops (control of the body, poise, grace, etc) are seen by the wider society as desirable in women but not in men.


The article brought up many important marital relationship issues for me. I was saddened to see how much these peoples' lives seemed to be dictated by the men they knew. That needs to change.

Link to comment

Yes, exactly, citibob. I am very thankful that you posted this paper....I think I needed it right now.

Link to comment

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.
  • Create New...