Monday, March 9, 2020

Melissa R. Klapper's "Ballet Class: An American History"

Melissa R. Klapper is Professor of History and Director of Women's and Gender Studies at Rowan University. She is the author of Jewish Girls Coming of Age in America, 1860-1920, Small Strangers: The Experiences of Immigrant Children in the United States, 1880-1925, and Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women's Activism,1890-1940, winner of the National Jewish Book Award in Women's Studies.

Klapper applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Ballet Class: An American History, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Ballet Class: An American History is in a chapter about ballet teachers, studios, and the business of ballet. Most of Page 99 is about the role parents historically played in finding ballet teachers and studios for their children and the difficulties faced by those who did not know much about ballet and had trouble recognizing good—or poor—teaching when they saw it.

The Page 99 Test does not work especially well for Ballet Class: An American History. While the discussion of finding quality ballet classes for children remains relevant, it is not really clear from this particular page that the book as a whole is interested in the way ballet class became part of American childhood over the course of the twentieth century. This page also does not draw directly on gender, class, race, and sexuality as analytical themes as the book as a whole does.

The pages right around Page 99 do discuss issues like the preponderance of female ballet teachers in most recreational ballet classes throughout American history, an important point to note given that so many of the most famous ballet choreographers and artistic directors have been men. Since most American children who take ballet class had neither the talent nor the aspiration to become professional dancers, this means that the women who taught recreational classes were the point of contact between most children and ballet. They were role models not only as ballet teachers but also as professionals and entrepreneurs with their own businesses.

Moving further away from Page 99, there are entire chapters in Ballet Class: An American History on race and ballet, boys and ballet, ballet and girl culture, and critiques of ballet class from artistic, medical, and feminist perspectives, among other chapters. There are also more than two dozen illustrations. So while Page 99 is informative—and contains a fun story about an ignorant mother who told a teacher not to bother with any more barre exercises because her daughter already knew how to do them—it is perhaps not the best page to illustrate the full richness of the book.
Learn more about Ballet Class: An American History at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue