After Allison DeBona’s Facebook post commenting on the recent Kendall Jenner controversy went viral, we invited the Ballet West first soloist to elaborate on the Dance Magazine blog.
Let’s cut to the chase. The recent Vogue Spain video with Kendall Jenner was not the first ballet representation gone wrong, and it will not be the last. So, as professional dancers who spend our lifetimes working on our craft, I call you to arms: conceive, create and educate.
I came across the Jenner video on Facebook because a friend of mine shared it. My first reaction was, “not this again!” This summer I was hired by Vogue Italia and the creative photographic mastermind Emma Summerton to be part of an eight page editorial and video for their August issue. Emma told me she was very dedicated to finding someone able to do extraordinary things with their body. I submitted photos and video to be considered for the job. I was up against models who really wanted the opportunity as well, but Emma found my technique to be important to her and her vision, so I booked it.
When I first saw it, I wanted to make light of the Jenner video because it seemed to me Vogue Spain hired her to pretend to be a dancer in her room—I originally wanted to post my video on my Facebook page and write, “Beautiful video Kendall, but I raise you a pointed toe.” But, I slept on it and the photo of Kendall in pointe shoes surfaced. There was a bigger issue to discuss.
I think it is wonderful that ballet is becoming more mainstream. Dance needs that to survive. I have made that point numerous times since Ballet West signed on for “Breaking Pointe.” But, as artists we can no longer allow pop culture to dictate the content that is being released on our behalf. “Breaking Pointe” was pitched to us as a docu-series to showcase the blood, sweat and tears it takes to be a professional dancer, but in post-production we fell victim to what the masses wanted—cat fights and love triangles. Ballet was lost in translation. How do we keep a mass of companies who are trying to capitalize on our art form, but are highly uneducated in our craft, from shaming us? We stop sharing the trash, create art we believe in and support each other.
There is a high level of competition in ballet, and it is not often that dancers look to their peers in support. We all can say we do, but do our actions support it? I posted my Vogue video weeks ago, and it did not get half of the shares and comments as it did after the Jenner video surfaced. Everyone partakes in self-promotion, but in order to educate the masses we must come together and support the content we find intelligent, thought provoking, artistic and technically sound. I try to practice what I preach. In 2014 I started “Art with Alli – A Random Thought” to create a forum where I could share other dancers’ content and endeavors. I ask dancers to tag #ARTWITHALLI for a chance to be featured. I also direct artÉmotion Summer Intensive along with Ballet West principal Rex Tilton, a program we started to invest in the future of young dancers and artists. We will also be launching a new endeavor where we hope to reach the masses on a more regular basis with dance. Be the change you want to see, collaborate with artists who share your vision and share what moves you. Or else Kendall Jenner will continue to get the one million views you’re hoping to get for your latest project. As a commenter on my Facebook page put it: “I know nothing about ballet, but Spanish Vogue made me think, ‘clothes + Kendall = $$,’ whereas Allison’s video made me wish I’d taken ballet.”