Ballet Drop-outs

Nihad Allam, Monday 17 Jan 2011

To become a graceful ballerina and flutter like butterflies is the dream of many girls. But how far can that dream be reached in reality, in a country where conservatism prevails?

Ballet Class

First, attitudes in Egypt vary greatly, beginning with “dancing is forbidden by religion” through to moderate and then liberal thinking. However, in private ballet schools, beginners’ classes abound with little girls. But the number of youngsters decreases noticeably with each higher class.

In Dr Abdel Moneim Kamel’s ballet school at the Gezira Sporting Club, the beginner’s class has around forty pupils while the senior class has about sixteen.

Why? Many factors are involved in the process. For some girls, the end of childhood implies different behaviour, like wearing the veil, swimming sessions during ‘ladies’ only’ hours, and of course, no dancing. This may not be entirely due to family constraint as being raised in a conservative environment.  In some cases girls become self-conscious of their developing bodies and drop activities like ballet willingly.

Another key reason is the education system: “Children and teenagers in Egypt are overloaded with studies, never-ending tests, homework, and research,” remarks Alexandra, a former prima ballerina, currently a trainer at the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, and teacher in charge of the ballet school at the Gezira Sporting Club.

She has seen some of her best pupils leave ballet classes because of their school work. In a number of national schools, activity classes such as ballet are cancelled because “there’s no time”. Alexandra has observed that many beginners are attracted by the end-of-season performance – the glamour of fancy, colourful dresses and tutus, the stage, the music, the lights – and don’t expect the demanding techniques they have to learn. Confronted with reality, they quit ballet sooner or later.

There is also a cultural issue, as classical ballet is not really well-known enough in our society. Another reason for the boom in beginners’ classes is “the out-comers.” In some sports like water ballet and artistic gymnastics, participants are asked to learn classical ballet as it supports and enhances their performance. So, they only follow ballet classes for a season or two as a side activity.

More reasons for quitting ballet relate to individual temperaments. Some teenagers just lose interest in ballet and want to try new activities. Others might be stressed by the rigorous training hours (and diet), and after some years, long for free weekends to join their friends’ outings, parties etc. while a few others are forced to stop ballet for health reasons (bone deformations, surgery).

On a professional level, things are more stable. Established ballerinas can dance for years, as their career has been determined earlier and most of them continue to dance after marriage (unless their husband asks them to retire) and resume dancing after childbirth.

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