And so the discussion of Lara Spencer’s comments on Good Morning America is turning into an ever growing swirling vortex of drama. Most of my colleagues are outraged. I have read social media posts that have demanded apologies. I have read social media posts that have called her apology “lame”. There are professionals in my industry who have called Ms. Spencer: A Bully, Dumb Ass, Stupid, Ignorant, Mean, Insensitive and some other names I prefer not to repeat. I have read dozens of posts calling for her to be fired.
I so often find myself disagreeing with the majority of my colleagues; and that is actually how the idea for this blog and website was born. So, once again, I will respectfully disagree with what I have read from many of my fellow dance professionals and dance families. I know that this may anger some of the people who read this, but it is the discussion of the issues that I find so fascinating.
Most of my readers know my story, but for those who do not, I would like to briefly state that I was, for the first part of my life, a victim of what Ms. Spencer dished out on national television. I was raised in an environment where boys did not pursue careers in dance and I was the target of merciless bullies for my entire youth. Having not had the opportunity to train as a dancer until my late twenties, the kind of performing career that I longed for was an impossibility. By the time I had developed the artistry and technique that could get me hired by a major ballet company, I was too old to be hired by a major ballet company. I harbored anger over this for over 25 years; dwelling on the pain of wondering what “might have been”. I am now closer to 60 than I care to admit. Recently, a soloist in ABT told me that her goal was to dance like me. And as lovely and flattering as that compliment is…it just stirred up that pain all over again. So my comments, my point of view are not coming from a teacher, a retired dancer, a dance mom or an advocate against bullying. My comments and my point of view are coming from a victim of this precise way of thinking and acting. And my life, my career, my future were directly impacted by this environment.
Firstly, I do not believe that Ms. Spencer is stupid or ignorant. I believe that Ms. Spencer, like much of our country, is uninformed when it comes to ballet. It appears that she simply does not understand or have the slightest bit of knowledge as to what it takes to become a dancer, what dancers do or the passion that we feel for our work. She simply DOES NOT KNOW. And because she does not know, she said something cruel. And as a result she infuriated and entire industry and bullied a child. I truly do not believe that Ms. Spencer woke up that morning and said “I’m going to go on TV this morning, I’m going to infuriate an entire industry and I’m going to bully a defenseless six year old child.” I believe that since she was uninformed, she made a mistake. I agree that people who have the ear of society, people who are in the public eye should be held to a higher standard. But she made a mistake (and I have made many, many mistakes myself). And this was a BIG mistake. But I don’t believe that punishing her by simply terminating her contract will solve the problem or teach her and those like her anything at all. Simply firing her out of hand will teach her to never do this again. But, sadly, it will not teach her why. It will manage her behavior but will not get to the root of the problem. Many are saying that the apology is “lame”. Do I think that her apology was insufficient? Yes, I do. But how could it be any better when I believe she truly does not understand what she did. But if we take away her job, berate her in the media, call her names and refuse her apologies then we are, actually, not much better than she is; we become the bullies, she becomes the victim. And isn’t this precisely what we are fighting?
We are educators and this is a time where we have to be at our best. This is an opportunity for us to try to teach Ms. Spencer, Good Morning America, ABC, and the world at large about what we do as dancers and dance educators. This unfortunate incident has actually opened a door. It has given us a forum, it has started a conversation that can teach the world what we do and what it means to us. I have always believed in teaching by example; and yelling, name calling and terminating contracts is not the example I want to set. I’m hoping that my thoughts, my writings, and the thoughts and writings of others in our industry will continue to be shared and read. If enough of us are engaging in TEACHING about what we do rather than screaming, name calling and berating our offenders, perhaps our words will ultimately reach the right ears and the right eyes. And perhaps the words of a victim (like me) will reach a bully (like Ms. Spencer) and perhaps we can start to make changes. If there were a way for me to reach the ears of Ms. Spencer, Good Morning America and ABC I would welcome the opportunity to start a real conversation. Unfortunately I, by myself, am too small and insignificant and my reach is too limited.
My life was filled with pain and disappointment due to people like Ms. Spencer. Many of those people were the people closest to me and truly believed that they were acting out of love and in my best interest. But that pain and disappointment lead me to leave the dance industry much too soon. When I returned to the dance world in my forties, and my body really began to betray me, the anguish of the lost opportunity was unimaginable. But then one day I was asked to do some substitute teaching. And I found a new passion. And the Joffrey Ballet School opened its doors, it’s arms and its heart to me. And that day my life was changed forever.
The people around me, the people in my life who once were the source of the anguish, are now looking at me through new eyes. I have a career. I have the respect of my students, my colleagues and my readers. And I have finally, in my fifties, found happiness and fulfillment. Those people who were the unwitting bullies in my world now realize how their behavior impacted my entire life. I have taught them what it means to be a dancer, what it means to have a passion and what it means to follow one’s dream; no matter how ridiculous it may seem to someone else. And I didn’t teach them this by yelling, berating, chastising and name calling. I taught them by example.