So, too, were male ballet dancers Robbie Fairchild, Travis Wall, and Fabrice Calmels. Besides Wall, who is outspoken about his sexuality and involved in LGBTQ+ activism, I dont know the sexual orientations of the dancers. But I do know that they have a shared experience of bullying and shame because of their passion for something that, to a larger heteronormative, mainstream culture, isnt considered traditionally masculine.
I know that because thats precisely what they told Spencer Monday morning on GMA.
The Daily Beasts Obsessed
Everything we cant stop loving, hating, and thinking about this week in pop culture.
The dancers were part of a combination apology package and teachable moment that was orchestrated following Fridays controversy. During a segment on the courses that Prince George will be enrolled in when he begins school, Spencer outwardly laughed as she explained that he will be taking ballet, and ad libbed jokes at the expense of the six-year-old and his parents until her co-hosts and the GMA studio audience joined her in laughter.
After a breezy, anodyne Instagram apology over the weekend, she returned to GMA Monday morning earnestly contrite as she introduced her conversation with the trio of dancers. It was a segment that got many things rightafter it aired Monday morning, Wall and Fairchild were in Times Square teaching dance to both young girls and boysbut still got some very key things wrong. The same thing that these teachable moments tend to always get wrong.
I screwed up. I did, Spencer said Monday morning. The comment I made about dance was insensitive, it was stupid, and I am deeply sorry. I have spoken to several members of the dance community in the last few days. I have listened. I have learned about the bravery it takes for a young boy to pursue a career in dance.
Fairchild, a former principal dancer at the New York City Ballet who will be starring alongside Taylor Swift and Judi Dench in the Cats movie, spoke about being in middle school when his schoolmates discovered that he was taking a dance class down the street, showed up at the window of the studio, and pointed and laughed. I cant tell you how much that hurt, he said.
Calmels, a French ballet dancer who is the lead dancer at Chicagos Joffrey Ballet, spoke about how he teaches dance to young kids, and has seen boys just drop out because of the stigma around the form. He continued, Children should be entitled to experience things without being bullied.
And Wall, who became famous as a contestant on the TV series So You Think You Can Dance and has won two Emmy Awards for his choreography on the show, spoke about the power of visibility a mainstream series can have. How many boys have started to dance because of that show makes me so proud to represent that show.
Spencer ended it all by thanking them for participating in the conversation: For me, the lesson is words hurt. It was not my intention. But it was insensitive, and I thank you all for giving me the opportunity to apologize personally to you.
It was everything you could have hoped for in the aftermath of an incident that so cruelly reminded us that boorish gay-shaming and the crushing judgment of gender norms are still intrinsically woven into the fabric of our culture. It was eye-opening to see that such harmful judgment can be espoused with casual sunniness on a popular morning show, perhaps the baseline at any given moment for our own cultural mores, for better or worse.
Spencer delivered a humbled, educated, clear apology, coupled with the understanding that the incident needed to spark a conversation with those who felt wronged. But the truth is, the conversation only involved a segment of those who felt wronged.
While it was an admirable exploration of what a male dancer must overcome to keep on through childhood lessons into a career in the discipline, as well as the need to break the stigma against boys who dance, the segment failed to explore what necessitated the conversation in the first place.
Even for someone who should be considered an allyI dont think theres anyone who thinks Lara Spencer is truly homophobic, in the sense of how we typically view that wordher words were a reminder that there is a switch waiting to be flipped that reveals how embedded these hurtful clichs about gender and sexuality are.
Boys just drop out because of the stigma around the form. Children should be entitled to experience things without being bullied.
What if a major morning show like GMA, in the wake of a viral controversy like this one, actually addressed that? What if it finally brought in, alongside the straight-passing, studly male ballet dancer success stories, LGBT schoolkids and experts on the tangible effects of this latent societal bullying?
Cancel culturethe impulse to fire anyone who makes a public misstep or says something offensive, mistakenly or otherwisehas grown too rabid, voracious, and unforgiving to be effective. What is gained when, instead of conversation or contrition, all discourse and education stops? Its opportunity wasted not just for the person in question to grow, but for the entire culture to consider, debate, and evolve.
In the wake of Spencer mocking Prince George and male dancers, Broadway stars, celebrities, and dance icons posted on social media to admonish her comments on a sliding scale of vitriol, and to defend the dedication, strength, and athleticism it takes to become a dancerall attributes that fly in the face of this elemental misconception that dance is exclusively flouncy, fey, and weak.
It is admirable that Spencer seemed to internalize all those commentsat least in her public-facing, televised lifeand consider the value of translating her own education to her shows audience.
With so many of these controversies, the most that the offended hope for or desire is a conversation about it, one that almost never happens. The most infuriating aspect of the Kevin Hart Oscars hosting scandal, at least for me, was the insinuation that anyone angered or disappointed by his past homophobic jokes wanted him to be fired, no questions asked, no chance for remorse. Its myopicand, to my eye, a recent and unhealthy development in our cultureto not see opportunity in outrage.
Critics wanted to know what Hart had learned about why his past jokes could still trigger such hurt, even though they were in the past. They wanted to understand how he feels his platform could be used for the better. They wanted to understand a mindset that could lead someone away from views like the ones he had articulated in the past to a more evolved perspective today. They wanted a conversation.
But Harts defensive dismissal of the criticism silenced that potential discourse. His petulant martyrdom was maybe more telling than what he said in the first place. Spencers segment Monday may reflect her genuine education, or it may just be damage control. But it did give space to the conversation; its just time for that conversation to be taken deeper.
Its ridiculous that the idea that ballet is for sissies still exists. Men who train in ballet arguably rank among the most physically fit, strongest, disciplined athletes in the world. What they are able to accomplish with their bodies is as astounding, often more so, than anything someone might witness while watching sports.
Gene Kelly, Mikhail Baryshnikov, hell, even Channing Tatum or Hugh Jackman: How many strapping leading men will we see become major stars because of their talent for dance, while still perpetuating the idea that real men dont dance? (Oh, and if youre a talented male dancer without biceps as big as your head and a square jaw to fill a movie screen? THATS OK, TOO!)
But, ridiculous or not, that notion does still exist. Whats maybe more surprising is that we allow ourselves to forget it does.
When theres progress of any kind when it comes to gender representation, LGBTQ+ acceptance, and the celebration of identity, we forget how surface-level that can be. We forget how much deeper our feelings, conversations, and self-reflection have to burrow for change, real change, to happen.
Just look how easy it was for every single person on screen, from Spencer to her co-hosts to the audience behind her, to laugh at a little boy taking ballet class, like it was a reflex to do so. Maybe because it still is.
How many of us are woke but, when it comes down to it, are uncomfortable around anything that doesnt conform to the gender roles weve been conditioned to accept? How many of us think we are understanding, until were faced with the opportunity to prove it? How many people are there who love their gay friends, love their gender non-conforming hair dressers, love going to Broadway shows, and love marching in Pride parades who might still blanch at the idea of their own sons taking ballet, or, to take the hypothetical further, being gay?
Im not sure these are topics that could be properly delved into in a five-minute Good Morning America segment. Im glad that the small spotlight on the shame and stigma faced by male dancers, at the very least, was. But what if, this time, we can wring from the knee-jerk outrage just a little bit more?
European settlers of America probably thought they had it hard, but they had no idea of the perils they might have faced. Had things gone differently 10,000 years before, the continent’s predators might have been considerably more fearsome. Much of what we know about the North American animals of the last glacial period comes from the La Brea Tar Pits, but a recent study of those fossils shows we’ve been getting some of these extinct giants wrong.
Located in the heart of Los Angeles, the tar pits provide a spectacular record of more than 600 species that became trapped in the tar over 50,000 years. Dr Larisa DeSantis of Vanderbilt University has been studying the teeth of entombed predators to learn their place in the ecosystems of the day.
Along with the ancestors of gray wolves and coyotes, the pits host larger and more terrifying predators including dire wolves (yes, they were real), saber-toothed cats, and American lions.
Contrary to the message of their chief propagandist, the frequency with which dire wolves were caught in the pits suggests they may not have been smarter than gray wolves. They did, however, have particularly terrifying teeth, and the greatest bite force of any member of the dog family, even when allowing for their size. The American lion, on the other hand, was considerably bigger than its African equivalent.
Their disappearance, and that of the equally dentally fearsome saber-toothed cats, roughly coincided with both the arrival of the first people in North America and the ending of the last ice age. The debate as to whether it was humans or the changing climate that caused the extinction of these giants is among the fiercest in palaeontology.
In Current Biology, DeSantis shows the answers are more likely to vary by species than previously recognized. “Isotopes from the bones previously suggested that the diets of saber-toothed cats and dire wolves overlapped completely, but the isotopes from their teeth give a very different picture,” DeSantis said in a statement.
If predators with the same prey went extinct about the same time, it’s reasonable to assume they had the same cause. However, DeSantis continued, “The cats, including saber-toothed cats, American lions and cougars, hunted prey that preferred forests, while it was the dire wolves that seemed to specialize on open-country feeders like bison and horses. While there may have been some overlap in what the dominant predators fed on, cats and dogs largely hunted differently from one another.” This division held even as climatic conditions shifted.
Prey differentiation increases the chances the extinctions, despite occurring at similar times, had different causes, and rules out the possibility that competition between them was responsible for some species’ demise.
Meanwhile, DeSantis noted, once these large predators disappeared, species like cougars and coyotes that previously fed on smaller prey or scavenged others’ kills were able to expand to fill the new apex niches. Coyotes benefited from the loss of big cats by moving into forest territory as well as consuming larger prey, while the diets of gray wolves and cougars changed less.