Is ballet too elitist?
Sunday 28 October, 10.00am until 10.45am, Henry Moore Gallery Breakfast Banter

Lee Hall’s smash hit film and musical, Billy Elliot, saw a working-class lad take up ballet in the middle of the 1980s miners’ strike. It was ballet as we’d seldom seen it before and was seen as a breath of fresh air for an art form described as ‘unattractively elitist’. But did ‘Billy’ really put the boot into ballet as a posh person’s pastime, and has ballet really shaken off its elitist tag – if indeed it should?

Dance in the UK seems to be in rude health. The 2006 Dance Manifesto proudly heralds dance as ‘the fastest growing art form, with over 13 percent of the population now attending dance performances and over 4.8 million people participating in community dance in England’. Ten million people watched the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing. Yet despite efforts by the likes of the Ballet Boyz and Matthew Bourne to make ballet accessible and exciting to a diverse and growing dance audience, ballet is still seen as elitist, and was described by Germaine Greer as a ‘cultural cancer’. But others argue that ballet should stop apologising for championing excellence. Andrew O’Hagan asks, ‘should it continue to bend backwards in an effort to gain media attention and meet the current craving for banality?’ Must the ‘barre’ of aspiration and excellence be lowered to make sure ballet comes alive for everyone?


Shobana Jeyasingh
artistic director, Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company
Jeffery Taylor
former dancer; critic, Sunday Express; co-founder, National Dance Awards
Ian Archer-Watters
ballet dancer, Les Ballets Grandiva and Fort Worth Ballet
Dr Shirley Dent
communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor,; author, Radical Blake

 Produced by

Dr Shirley Dent communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor,; author, Radical Blake
Hannah Lake freelance arts consultant, coordinator and educator

Stop this political prancing and get to the pointe - the best dance is elite dance, Shirley Dent

 Recommended readings

Ballet is elitist and won't enthuse children to take part
'With its elitist nature, ballet polarises audiences rather than acting as a common denominator'
Mario Lopez-Goicoechea, Guardian, 11 June 2007

'Ballet is often accused of offering a prettified version of life, an unreal picture of harsh reality, but that isn't quite so. Ballet presents life as it should be'
Alexandra Tomalonis, Ballet Alert! Onlibe, 1 February 1998

Is Ballet too elitist?
In asking Dance to be easily accessible, not to mention believing it capable of solving a whole host of social problems, 'we seem to have lost our bearings as to what art is and why it matters'
Dr Shirley Dent, Ballet Magazine, November 2007

The gorgeous silliness of ballet
'Ballet is a subtle and rather inobvious art; it requires patience and belief and a certain knowledge...'
Andrew O'Hagan, Telegraph, 12 December 2004

recommended by spiked

Abolish the DCMS
James Heartfield, 16 May 2005

'Where are the Margot Fonteyns?'
Josie Appleton, 21 September 2006

Why I applauded the 'BNP ballerina'
Shirley Dent, 14 January 2007

Session partners

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