Melissa R. Klapper
Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes MELISSA R. KLAPPER—professor of history and director of Women's & Gender Studies at Rowan University—for a discussion of her latest book, Ballet Class: An American History. She will be joined in conversation by PAMELA S. NADELL, the Patrick Clendenen Chair in Women’s and Gender History at American University.
Surveying the state of American ballet in a 1913 issue of McClure's Magazine, author Willa Cather reported that few girls expressed any interest in taking ballet class and that those who did were hard-pressed to find anything other than dingy studios and imperious teachers. One hundred years later, ballet is everywhere. There are ballet companies large and small across the United States; ballet is commonly featured in film, television, literature, and on social media; professional ballet dancers are spokespeople for all kinds of products; nail polish companies market colors like "Ballet Slippers" and "Prima Ballerina;" and, most importantly, millions of American children have taken ballet class. Beginning with the arrival of Russian dancers like Anna Pavlova, who first toured the United States on the eve of World War I, Ballet Class: An American History explores the growth of ballet from an ancillary part of nineteenth-century musical theater, opera, and vaudeville to the quintessential extracurricular activity it is today, pursued by countless children nationwide and an integral part of twentieth-century American childhood across borders of gender, class, race, and sexuality.
A social history, Ballet Class takes a new approach to the very popular subject of ballet and helps ground an art form often perceived to be elite in the experiences of regular, everyday people who spent time in barre-lined studios across the United States. Drawing on a wide variety of materials, including children's books, memoirs by professional dancers and choreographers, pedagogy manuals, and dance periodicals, in addition to archival collections and oral histories, this pathbreaking study provides a deeply-researched national perspective on the history and significance of recreational ballet class in the United States and its influence on many facets of children's lives, including gender norms, consumerism, body image, children's literature, extracurricular activities, and popular culture.