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Keeping on Your Toes

5 Dec

 

Generally you won’t see me at a football or basketball game,  unless someone gives me free tickets. I know I’m   dating myself,  but I   lost interest  back when the New York Jets won the Super Bowl and when the St. Louis Hawks moved toAtlanta. I gradually found myself  growing in agreement with President Harry Truman, who once said that sports are a bunch of “damned nonsense”.    

Last weekend, however,  I attended something even less probable than a sporting event– the ballet. I am not as  bad as Dave Barry, who wrote that he would rather watch a dog catch a frisbee than go  to a  ballet, although I do agree that about eight minutes is generally enough to fulfill most men’s ballet quota for the next decade. The prancing  does appear to get  a bit redundant to rank amateurs  such as myself .

The great choreographer George Ballenchine once said “Ballet is a woman”. In any dance school,  girls always outnumber boys by at least ten to one.  Many men feel bored and self-conscious and  put attending the ballet  in the same category as going to a “bridal shower or tupperwear party”,  at least according to Rocky Mountain News dance writer Marc Shulgold.    

Despite this innate gender-based bias, I actually found myself  excited about attending a real ballet, since my only prior experience was seeing our four-year-old daughter, with her high classical bun and yellow tutu, performing  in a recital 30 years ago. Oh,  I also remember watching a scene from the Nutcracker at Sea World or CypressGardens, although I think the dancers might’ve been dolphins.

Several months ago my wife Diane and I were at a silent auction for a charity event and by chance we ended up with a basket containing a gift certificate to a nice Louisville restaurant and  tickets to both the theater and the ballet.  Whenever we got to these things Diane is determined to be the high bidder on something. She  is still harboring a major grudge about being outbid for a boat excursion to Rose Island a few years ago.    Often the things we buy,  just languish in our house until they expire– like our house plants. I still have some old passes to Squire Boone Caverns and a gift certificate good for a ride on a small private airplane, that we could never convince any of our cowardly children to take.

Even if something  looks like a great bargain, I still manage to lose money on it. For example, when we used our  restaurant coupon,  our tab was over 40 bucks more than the certificate’s value and I had to spring for an extra ticket for our son when we went to Actor’s Studio.

I have to say the ballet ended up being very reasonable, although with two granddaughters we were almost hooked by the Angelina  Ballerina  ballet sets for little girls they were selling. For the uninitiated,  Angelina is an very perky dancing rodent.   

The   ballet we saw was based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, a book some of us remember and detest from high school English. Although many  people believe it   is the greatest American novel of all time, I could never get into it.  All I could remember was the book’s cover with a picture of creepy haunting eyes.  In the movie version the plot eluded me, but Robert Redford looked terrific in his white suit.  Personally, I thought the story was too complex  to be  portrayed through dance. It was like trying to act out War and Peace with finger puppets.  Although I am certainly no judge, the dancing, seemed  extremely impressive and professional  and the costumes were exceptional. I especially  like  the stagecraft and how they used a semi-transparent screen to give some scenes a  hazy dreamy quality.   

The theater itself could have used a few more aisles,  since I had to squeeze in front of 30 or 40  people to get to my seat. After watching all that dancing you tend to pirouette and take quick tiny mincing steps,  when returning   from the intermission.

There were a lot of people attending dressed in artistic looking black outfits, many  with little girls in tow. I didn’t see any little boys being brought to the ballet, demonstrating excellent audience judgment in my opinion. I  did wonder if the story was  appropriate for  young children,  since it involved two extramarital affairs, someone getting run down by a car, and a shooting.  However, in the ballet’s defense I have to say the affairs were  discreetly  portrayed, the shooting took place with the victim offstage, and the car was essentially a fancy golf cart.     

Addressing the question  “Does ballet really matter?  Los Angelestimes dance critic, Lewis Segal once wrote that hatred of ballet is “reasonable, even necessary”. Writer Marc Shulgold takes issue with these inflammatory words and comes to ballet’s  defense, touting such admirable features  as  the beauty of dance, the power of movement,  the glorious music, and  the  spectacle, not to mention the  magnificence of the human body,  that ballet so vividly discloses. 

Not being  connoisseurs of the arts, we felt sort of like imposters at the ballet,  to the extent that Diane felt a need  to explain our presence to some of her  acquaintances, whom we saw at the performance.  Of course, no one I knew was there or would  be likely to attend.  Maybe you can remember the old Patty Duke Show.  In  the mental health field, we  are more like Patty, than her identical cousin Cathy. You might recall Cathy adored a minuet,  crepe suzettes,  and the Ballet  Russes,  whereas Patty loved to rock and roll and a hot dog made her lose control—    that’s us. 

For my next foray into high culture I am considering gracing the opera,  or possibly the corn hole championships, whichever one  I  can get for the lowest bid

Based on a colum in the News-Tribune of Southern Indiana.

 

 

 

 

Guys and Dolls: Chicago Style

4 Dec

 Doing our duty as over-indulgent grandparents, my wife Diane and I   took our grandchildren to the American Girl Doll Place Cafe in downtown Chicago this summer.  This Mecca for girls  is more like a Vegas casino than a toy store.  The lights are bright and there are no windows or clocks on the walls. They want to encourage you to lose track of time. All that were missing were the free cocktails.

With three sisters, our  four year-old grandson, readily  accepts that nearly everything in his environment is pink.  However, we weren’t too sure how he would like spending so much time in a doll store. He’s a pretty tough little guy who spends much of his time playing aggressively with Spiderman and  Batman toys  or fist fighting with his older sister. To secure his interest before the trip, we offered to get him one of the boy American Girl dolls. This boy doll is part of a  set of  twins. He looked at one on-line and said he wanted it and that it looked just like him, which it sort of does. When the dolls arrived in the mail, he had no interest in the female  twin, which went to one of his sisters, but he readily claimed the boy doll,  naming  him Mack (a nice macho name that please his father).

 When we were seated at the American Girl Café there were fuchsia-colored  bows used as napkin rings. The girls wore them on their wrists or made ponytails, while Oliver ended up wearing his as a bowtie. I donated   mine to one of the girl’s dolls.   The waitress also seated the kid’s dolls alongside them in special little seats that attached to the table.    Then she  set a tiny red plate and white mug in front of each doll. The doll seats, plates, and mugs were all conveniently on sale as you departed the store. We had a consultation at the doll hospital on the way out, but avoided the expensive doll hair salon.

  Gender differences in toys have long been observed.  A study  by Purdue University  psychologists  Judith Blakemore  and Renee Centers  in 2005  had college students rate contemporary toys  as masculine or feminine. Wrestling figures , GI Joes,   and Spiderman action figures were all rated among the  strongly masculine toys;  while Barbie’s, Bratz, and American Girl dolls were categorized as  strongly feminine. As you might expect girl’s toys were associated with physical attractiveness, nurturance, and domestic skills, while  boy’s toys elicited  violence, competition, excitement, and danger. It seems like it is these associations that really  distinguish between a “doll” and an “action figure”.

Such gender differences are not limited to humans.  A 2010 study found that young chimpanzees in the wild play in gender-specific ways, much like  humans. Although both male and female chimps play with sticks, girl chimps carry sticks around   like dolls, imitating their mothers caring for infants, according to Richard Wrangham of Harvard University. Male chimps  do less stick carrying and are more likely to use their sticks as probes or weapons. 

            In 1967  Hasbro introduced the 21-inch  “That Kid!”  doll for boys, promoting it as  “your own kid brother”.   He was described as a  “freckle faced rascal!” . Complete with a sling shot, That Kid said smart-alecky  things when you moved him.  The “My Buddy” doll,  made by Hasbro in 1985   had the stated  intention of making a doll that could teach little boys about caring.   It’s not clear whether either of these dolls ever caught on, despite the heavy television advertising.  Ironically both of them are thought by some to be the  inspiration for  “Chucky”, the creepy evil doll from the movie  Child’s Play.    

               Our daughter and son-in-law  didn’t have a  problem  with us buying an American Girl boy  doll for  their son, but some parents and experts are  strongly  opposed to such things. Back in the 1980’s   Mattell  introduce, She-Ra: Princess of Power, as the long lost twin sister of  the popular  He-Man  character. Our kids had all of these action figures, but the story   circulated throughout the kindergarten  that one father took all of his son’s She-ra figures and destroyed them, because he was worried that they were too feminine.

               I don’t  remember ever having a doll when I was a child, but Diane said that her brother Gary had one–  a boy doll that he carried around and called little Gary.

            On his website advice section, television  psychologist  Dr. Phil McGraw  told a mother of a five-year-old boy that she should not let her son  play with “girls’ toys”. The mother had asked for advice about her son, who liked  Barbie dolls and dressing up in  girls’ clothes.  McGraw told her that it was not uncommon  for little boys to be interested in girls’ toys and clothes and  that such play  was “not a precursor”  to being gay.  But he did advise her to direct him in an unconfusing way. McGraw said  “Don’t buy him Barbie dolls or girls’ clothes. You don’t want to … support the confusion… Take the girl things away, and buy him boy toys.”

McGraw’s advice opened  up a can of worms. Some parents and experts weighed in  arguing that allowing cross gender play could only encourage gender confusion. The other side, however,   saw such play  as an opportunity to teach boys fathering  skills that’s perhaps becoming important, as more  men take an active role in caring for  children.

Of course, there’s also the question as whether to prohibit  girls from  playing  with  tools or cars, because it   might   confuse their budding gender identity.  Some experts suggest that  allowing freedom in play, allows children to learn  about  both male and females roles and that this can help  them  have insight in  relationships with the opposite sex.

Most authorities, however, do agree that play or specific  toys do  not determine future   sexual preference, which seems to be outside the realm of the parental influence in any case.

Purdue  psychologists Blakemore and Centers  conclude that strongly gender-typed toys were less supportive of optimal physical, social, and mental development than neutral or moderately gender-typed toys.

As for Mack, I think his days  are probably numbered. Our grandson doesn’t seem all that attached to him and is quite willing to sling him at any sister who crosses him.

Based on a column appearing in the Southern Indiana News Tribune