When Breaking Pointe premiered its second season on July 22nd, the standing ovation came in part with mixed reviews: Many viewers were up in arms over the "lack of dancing" and portrayal of Beckanne Sisk, whose talent certainly overrides any onscreen miscommunications with her boyfriend. Despite high ratings, viewers seem unconvinced this is the best demonstration of ballet in the pop culture world: They want more variations, less body shots (though I personally find showing both an inspired choice).
Despite the upheaval, Breaking Pointe's controversy was largely typical: Viewers debated, dancers defended, dance writers posted reviews that were fence-riding. Much like the usual reality TV debate, conversation surrounding Breaking Pointe was enough to make audience members post a snarky comment or two, but not enough to make them close the curtains on viewing the show altogether. Viewers complained they wanted more truth of the ballet world. Well, it turns out, pre-episode two, that truth was delivered in an astoundingly blunt, impressively passionate Facebook post from Breaking Pointe's most unsuspecting heroine, Demi-Soloist Allison DeBona.
On July 29th, DeBona posted a multi-paragraph Facebook status to her public fan page, explaining it was her turn to sound off on Breaking Pointe. For once, viewers received precisely what they asked for: The bitter truth of the ballet world, expressed in honest exasperation from one of it's own. Instead of discussing upcoming rehearsals, bad blisters, and casting, DeBona plunged fearlessly into topics that lack conversation in the dance world, including work cuts, health and dental benefit cuts, and the difficulty of being a working-class citizen in an artistic career. DeBona went on to point out that many viewers didn't realize Ballet West existed prior to the show, and made a statement that should be a headline on every dance publication in the country: "I hope I don't offend anyone, but we are human and not glass dolls."
It was the wake-up call heard throughout the ballet nation.
The beauty of DeBona's commentary is that she addressed things other viewers, dancers, and dance administrators pointedly refuse to. Each of the dancers followed on Breaking Pointe are experiencing a major challenge that mirrors those most people face every day: We watch Ballet West II members Zach and Ian struggle for a single company contract, hoping endlessly their years spent devoted to their careers won't be in vain. First Soloist Ronnie Underwood is powering through an injury that could result in the loss of his career--or even more drastically, the loss of his foot. Principal dancer Christiana Bennett appears to be experiencing the deterioration of her marriage, something excruciatingly common in this country. Beckanne Sisk and her boyfriend, Corps de Ballet dancer Chase O'Connell are navigating the growing pains characteristic of many young adults, while DeBona herself illustrates a dilemma faced by thousands of women around the world: A demanding career or a family?
It's time for the ballet world, and the ballet viewers, to be reminded there is more to Breaking Pointe, and especially more to the dancers followed on Breaking Pointe, than just ballet.
Why is Breaking Pointe on TV? DeBona answers this question as well: "Ballet is struggling in the United States." We can hide from this reality all day long, citing the mystery of ballet as part of its elusive appeal. Well, mystery doesn't pay the bills to put productions onstage, nor does it pay the dancers, many of whom work second jobs to pay their rent after dancing upward of eight hours a day. The days of ballet flourishing as something removed, untouchable, and exclusive are no more. If we want to keep ballet, we have to own it and promote it in every possible outlet.
Misty Copeland, Soloist with American Ballet Theatre, currently appears in commercials for Dr. Pepper. Does her advertising a soft drink negate her ability to perform as a classical dancer? No. It makes her a recognizable figure to little girls across the country watching TV, who might beg for ballet lessons because of it. Sophie Flack, former Corps de Ballet member of New York City Ballet, penned a novel, "Bunheads," dealing with the outside world vs. ballet struggle dancers face. Does this mean Flack's career as a dancer is somehow less valid? Absolutely not. It means a girl in a bookstore will be able to purchase a Young Adult book written by an incredibly talented dancer with a gift for literary honesty. Does the fact that ballet is attempting to pop up in film, television, social media, fashion, and literature mean the art form is losing its luster? No. If anything, it means ballet, and ballet dancers, are ready to launch their life's work into public view, where it can be appreciated. Perhaps so appreciated that one day, companies throughout the country will sell out performances again.
DeBona's point should be highlighted and distributed to every young dancer, dance parent, and dance patron in this country. We have to tune in, and we have to support the dancer's decision to present themselves as more than just dancers. Obviously, ballet is a tremendous part of a ballet dancer's identity, but that isn't all there is. Their mistakes, struggles, quirky characteristics, and humor aren't just things drummed up by producers to increase ratings. These are legitimate parts of human beings. These human beings do the extraordinary--and deserve success, support, and financial backing. They have earned it.
DeBona proved not only is there more to ballet than meets the eye, there is more to the dancers as well, and when begging for honesty, that's what viewers will see: Human beings pursuing their dreams with every fiber of their being, and the subsequent struggles that follow. When Breaking Pointe's second episode wrapped, this time, the standing ovation was for Allison DeBona.