Is this the worst dance ad ever?

It wasn’t that bad until she tied on the pointe shoes, and then the tomatoes began to fly: “This. is horrifying. Ballet dancers everywhere are cringing!!!!”

That’s one of many commenters hooting about a video ad that the clothing company Free People posted on its YouTube channel.

The ad was meant to promote its dancewear through the beauty of the dancer in it, but it has drawn a chorus of boos in the comments section.

“WHY IN HEAVEN’S NAME DID THEY PUT HER IN A PAIR OF POINTE SHOES!  This video is a disgrace to pointe dancers everywhere…”

“Free People, please fire your casting director ASAP. This was painful to watch and offensive to anyone who has taken more than one dance class in their life.”

Call it a case of going a bit too far. In the video, a slim young woman noodles around barefoot in an empty practice studio, while in a voiceover she tells us about her buckets of training and her passion for dance. So far so good…but then she puts on the pointe shoes and her story falls apart.

This is not shocking. This is advertising. But it is also not smart. If a corporation is going to market itself to its young, hip, dance-aware female following as knowing something about ballet, it should know something about ballet. Free People couldn’t do a little research?

The ad is a catalog of ballet sins. Granted, they may not be apparent to most. But if you have an eye for the art form, you might get a good laugh out of it. This poor woman’s rigid, untrained feet have no business being inside those pointe shoes, her body placement is off in so many ways and as a result, an otherwise lovely model looks comically awkward, like a child playing dress up. Childlike, too, is the way she laced up the pointe shoes, with one of the ribbon ends hanging loose. Actually, no child would get away with that. It’s the ballet equivalent of trailing toilet paper from your shoe.

Free People was trying to cut in on the growing partnership of ballet dancers and ads. Dancers can be a lucrative hook. Under Armour, the sportswear leader, has a knockout campaign featuring Misty Copeland, a soloist with American Ballet Theater. Why not? Ballerinas are uber-jocks. After the deal was announced in January, Under Armour’s stock shot up almost 25 percent to a record high, according to Business Week


Ballerina Misty Copeland next to her own portrait at the National Portrait Gallery on Wednesday, April 16, 2014. A blazing image of Copeland as the mythical “Firebird” — an iconic ballet role — is featured in the exhibit “Dancing the Dream,” which closes July 13. (E. Warren Perry, Jr./ National Portrait Gallery)

 

Ballerina Tamara Rojo, artistic director and principal dancer of English National Ballet, stars in a series of stunning and artistic videos for luxury car company Lexus:

The Lexus slogan is “A stronger body for greater control.” That’s a message you can sell with a dancer. What Lexus understands, and Free People doesn’t, is that there is a certain structural integrity to a real dancer, someone who not only looks like a dancer but moves and behaves like one. The point is lost if you settle for a fake.

 

Sarah Kaufman received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and has been The Washington Post's dance critic since 1996. But after logging serious sit-time in opera houses, church basements, fairground tents and lawn chairs, what moves her most is seeing grace happen where she least expects it.
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