My Facebook feed exploded this week when a Free People ad ran that featured an embarrassingly untrained “dancer” who talked about how she had trained in ballet since she was 3 years old. The ad was for a new line of ballet/movement wear, and it was painfully obvious that the model was selected for her lithe frame and gorgeous face, and not so much for her technique.
My dancer friends winced, snarked, and clucked tongues all over The Book. Not too long after, the Internet got wind that the dancers were mad, yo. In this article for AdWeek, dancers were interviewed expressing their disgust about the model’s lack of training, as well as the danger of going en pointe without proper strength and positioning.
A lot of non-dancers on the Internet are wondering why us dancers are so up in arms about this. So what that Free People chose someone who’s not very good? Give the poor model/dancer a break! (And I do feel bad that she’s getting so much flack. It’s not her fault. Let’s direct our anger at Free People, and not the poor model who was probably psyched to book the commercial and had no idea the damage she’d be doing.)
Well, let me explain. Imagine Free People was running an ad about a singer saying that she had taken voice lessons since she was 3 years old. Then imagine that the singer screeched her way through a Celine Dion song off-pitch and with little, if any, musicality. That would be awkward, wouldn’t it? To play the ad off like it was aspirational? That’s essentially what Free People is doing with this ballet ad. To us, watching this amateur dancer warble her way through ballet exercises en pointe is the equivalent of a tone-deaf, untrained singer attempting a song in a difficult range by one of the greatest divas of all time.
But it goes deeper than that. Dancers aren’t only peeved that Free People decided to run an ad that showcased poor technique. It’s that there are literally thousands of beautiful dancers out there who are highly trained—why not select a dancer who has the proper skill for the ad? Not only is it more aesthetically pleasing, but it also won’t alienate the audience of dancers you are trying to get to buy your product.
The problem is, in the “industry,” skill is not the most important factor—even when you’re talking about auditioning for actual dance jobs (versus a commercial for dance clothing). Perhaps it’s not the case with professional dance companies, but when you’re talking about commercial dance, the girl with “the look” gets it over the girl with “the skill.” I know because I lost the jobs to those girls. And it was infuriating to see a dancer with less skill but a prettier face get a job that wasn’t even ABOUT selling a commercial product. It’s even more infuriating to showcase that pretty face alongside a narrative about how much this dancer has supposedly trained.
Okay, you want a gorgeous model. That’s more important to you than skill. Fine. But don’t cue the inspirational music and the close-ups of the dancer NOT executing the most basic of ballet movements and tell us she has trained since she was three. Just don’t.
You know why dancers are so mad? It’s because they trained for 20 years just to miss out on that commercial job over the girl who took an adult ballet class the night before the casting call.