Seven times out of ten when I meet someone new, and they find out I’m a dancer and a teacher, at some point in our conversation they will bring up dance movies and inevitably the Black Swan movie.
I’m happy to chat about John Travolta and about how nobody will ever put Baby in a corner, but whenever anyone brings up Black Swan, I internally have to groan and roll my eyes, because I know what’s coming next: they will tell me how much they loved the movie, how brutal dance seems, and if I liked the movie as well.
Nope. I didn’t. Because, to me, the movie Black Swan has nothing to do with ballet.
Black Swan hit theaters back in 2010 and pitted 2 dazzling and well known stars (Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis) against each other in the cut throat setting of a world renown New York ballet company.
The movie did well at the box office, and it did expose a whole new audience of movie goers to the world of dance, many of whom, presumably, had never seen ballet on stage, or had ballet on their radar at all. Which could be great, except that Black Swan isn’t a movie about ballet.
It’s a movie about mental illness that happens to be set in the dance world. An environment that the general public perceives as glamorous but merciless, and I get that these are elements that make for great drama.
But for every story you’ve been told about how ruthless the dance world is, there are ten more stories about how supportive dancers are of each other; how ballet companies are villages and communities, and how much dancers love and cheer for each other.
There’s no mistake that to be a professional dancer is a demanding, tough, and rigorous job. But the dance world is also so much more than that, and so much more than the themes that Hollywood boils it down to.
In all years, I’m yet to see a movie that depicts dance and dancers as anything other than crazy, egotistical, sex maniacs who live only off the fumes of being in the spotlight. It’s a cliché, and it’s old and it’s wrong.
So can we stop calling Black Swan a ballet movie? Let’s call a spade a spade, and call this movie what it really is: a film about mental illness that happens to be set in the dance world.
Would the movie have been as successful had it been set in the world of real estate? Would there have been as much buzz about the lesbian love scene in the movie had it been between women that hadn’t made People Magazine’s list of 100 Most Beautiful People?
Especially today, when there are so many opportunities to bring mental illness into the light and educate the public about the stigmas surrounding mental illnesses, it’s important to be responsible and cognizant of when dance (or any art form, for that matter) is being used as a vehicle to drive drama and money making stereotypes.