What’s Lara Spencer Got Against Ballet Boys?

Controversy erupts over a famous TV news anchor's mocking of Prince George.

Posted Aug 25, 2019

On Friday, August 23rd, television host Lara Spencer sparked controversy after mocking 6-year-old Prince George’s enrollment in ballet classes in his upcoming second year of school. During the brief ‘Pop News’ segment of Good Morning America, Spencer reported, while stifling laughter, that “Prince William says Prince George absolutely loves ballet. I have news for you, Prince William," she said, amidst chuckles from someone off-screen: "We’ll see how long that lasts.” In no time, social media lit up with a frenzy of comments from people claiming that Spencer’s comments were a form of bullying. Many condemned her complicity in furthering stereotypes that engender the mistreatment of boys who deviate from gender-based expectations, thereby solidifying the toxic masculinity endemic in our culture. The dance community, in particular, vociferously defended Prince George and encouraged his love of dance. They called upon all boys and men who dance or want to dance to stay passionate, confident, committed, and encouraged. Many male dancers—some of whom have created illustrious careers, such as Emmy-award-winning choreographer, Travis Wall—spoke openly about how painful it was to be a young boy who chose ballet shoes instead of cleats. The flood of impassioned responses to Spencer’s insensitive display prompted an apology from the host, which she posted on her Instagram account the same night of the episode.

This apology is, in essence, a complete reversal of the message Spencer conveyed in the original TV segment. In it, she states, “From ballet to anything one wants to explore in life, I say GO FOR IT. I fully believe we should all be free to pursue our passions.” Unlike the other nearly 2,000 Instagram posts on Spencer’s account, this one does not allow for comments. But the comments section in other recent posts on the celebrity’s account reveal a general consensus among those keeping up with the controversial story: this apology—and the censoring of responses to it—is insufficient and, for many, as insulting as the original incident.

If you read through the comments on Spencer’s recent posts, you’ll mostly see an echoing of some of the following sentiments: dance is for boys, too; as an adult and a mother, you need to be a better role model; bullying is wrong; we need to encourage our boys, not demean them for their choices; your apology was a brush-off. A rare few commenters, however, claim that Spencer is being unfairly crucified for comments they deem innocuous and forgettable. So, should Spencer be let off the hook? Or do those demanding a better apology have a right to it?

To attempt to answer these questions is to risk falling down a pretty intimidating rabbit hole. There are an astounding many contemporary cultural issues tucked into this controversy. For starters, there’s the issue of gender expectations and social norms. By laughing at Prince George’s love of dance and implying that it won’t last, Spencer appears to mock behavior that deviates from stereotypical gender norms. She, perhaps completely unwittingly, reifies the socially constructed notion that gender expression and biological sex need to match in perfect order. She scoffs at the creative expression of young boys and tacitly suggests that boys’ bodies, gifts, passions, energy, and time should be used somehow differently. She raises the question: If it’s silly for boys to prefer ballet, what do you believe about girls?

There are a lot of presumptions attached to Spencer’s coverage of this Pop News segment. It’s possible, of course, that she meant nothing nefarious by her coverage or comments. It might simply have been an imprudent pot-shot taken for the sake of a few laughs from her co-hosts and audience members. But in this accountability era we’re living in, technology grants us access to those in power—like celebrities, corporations, and the media, at large—allowing us to use our voices and make demands. Knowing this, Spencer would have been wise to consider the serious implications of her actions—before taking those actions, to be sure, and afterward, before choosing to issue an arguably disingenuous apology and censor responses to it.

Children who identify as LGBTQ+ or are assumed to be by their peers—typically because they deviate from gender norms and expectations—are bullied at astounding rates. Choosing to like ballet, therefore, can be tremendously risky for a young boy. For an adult with celebrity status and the power to shape social opinion to project a limiting and potentially damaging belief, such as the one that says ballet is for girls only, has the potential to crush dreams and invite deep shame for many boys and young men who might already feel discouraged to pursue their ambitions and be who they are.

It’s hard to imagine that Lara Spencer hasn’t been affected by what’s taken place over the weekend. She likely never imagined that she’d find herself in such a vulnerable position. But as someone who’s spent more than a decade witnessing, firsthand, the wreckage of bullying, shaming, and marginalization, I hope it’s given her a great deal of pause. I hope it’s made her aware of the responsibility inherent in her position as a media figure to consider the impact of her words carefully. I hope it’s moved her to extend a sincerer apology—one that directly acknowledges the weight, consequence, and potential damage of her words and mocking tone. And I hope that in homes, schools, peer groups, and dance studios everywhere, boys who love ballet—and all boys and men who defy defunct traditions and dare to shine out loud—are being celebrated and encouraged to love what they love and be who they are.