Ballet’s Television Downfall: Bunheads

Posted by on 06.12.2012

I feel as if I have been a television blogger recently.  It seems that everywhere we look these days, with the click of your remote you will come across another dance show.  These shows do, of course, generate exposure for the dance world and initiate dance based conversations among Americans.  But what are these conversations like?  Are these viewers saying, “Wow.  I think I am going to go see my local ballet company perform this weekend!”  I doubt it: but that should be the goal.  Today, America is talking about Bunheads.

As you have all probably seen, last week I posted my thoughts on the new CW reality show, Breaking Pointe, following the lives of seven Ballet West dancers.  Last night brought the premier of yet another ballet based show, this time on ABC Family, entitled Bunheads.  I apologize in advance for being harsh on the show, as I do not like to create a negative atmosphere here on TENDUS.  But as I watched last night and followed America’s tweets about the show, I felt the need to put a few of my thoughts out there.  Don’t worry, this will be my only review, as I do not plan to watch the show again.

Our main character, “professional dancer” Michelle Simms, Sutton Foster, starts the show as a Vegas show girl and before the first commercial, drunkenly marries her wealthy stalker.  The first five minutes left me  wondering, why is this show called Bunheads again? Oh, because she used to dance with ABT before running away for a “better paying job” in Vegas.  Oh and what’s more?  Coincidentally, her now mother-in-law owns a ballet studio.

Michelle correcting a student on her arabesque. © ABC Family

Like Black Swan, every ballet cliché is represented in Bunheads: body insecurity, obsessive perfectionism, and competitive spirits. The show is written by Amy Sherman-Palladino, who is well-known for the series Gilmore Girls. It is unclear if Ms. Sherman-Palladino has had any experience with the ballet world.  Based on the writing, I am guessing a few Google searches were involved.  I also wonder who did the choreography for the show; the first combination at the barre involved adagio grande battements, grande plies, and stretches.  In this scene, the mother-in-law studio owner and ex-Ballet Russes dancer, throws in a line about Balanchine, I expect to convince the audience that she knows what she is talking about.  I cringed and imagined Balanchine rolling over in his grave.

When our show’s heroine happens upon a couple of the students in the studio after class, she gives student, Boo, clad in a Snoopy leotard, a correction on her arabesque.  The students are amazed that she used to be a dancer.  Michelle later gives them pointers in anticipation of their audition for Joffrey Ballet School that is coming up.  I am certain that this was the most horrifying scene for any ballet dancers who were watching.  She gave them a “combination” of steps for them to practice, made up of steps she called “ponies,” “snakes,” and “freestyle.”  I can assure you that, post-career Vegas dancer or not, no ABT dancer would ever teach a combination like that.  That was enough for me.

The girls executing Michelle's combination. © ABC Family

What worried me the most, was the parallel the show created between Vegas dancers and ballet dancers.  I have nothing against the dancers in Vegas, but they are different from ballet dancers.  That is like calling an apple an orange: they are related in that they are fruits, but that is where the similarities end.  Ballet dancers dedicate their lives to perfecting their craft in a very disciplined way.  That effort of young ballet students is what the show should be focused on.

After the show’s premier, review after review has been posted online praising the show’s writing, humor, and acting.  People are loving this show!  It is expected to be one of the best shows of the summer.  This horrifies me.  If it were not based on ballet it would be just another bad television show that people are hooked on.  But this show is based in our world, and this is the worst portrayal of our world yet.

So I recommend telling your friends who are watching the show, what the ballet world is really like.  If they are looking for a ballet based show, direct them to something more accurate, like Breaking Pointe.


If you agree or disagree with me, please let me know!  I would love to hear your thoughts on the newest ballet based TV show.


  1. wow you people are burtal! It is a fun show that I am enjoying. I was a ballet dancer for 43 yrs and do not find this show offensive at all. It is not intended to be a “ballet” documentary, it is a show about teens who happen to be ballet dancers based in a ballet studio setting in a small coastal town. I was happy to see the GG characters show up in this other quirky fun town. I will continue to watch because i see the lighthearted, fun, intentions of the show. I hope it has a long run and for those of you who did not make it past the first commercial of the pilot episode, it did get better. I love the setting and enjoy the dancing. If you are expecting a realistic ballet world view from an abc family channel show, well maybe that is why you are so disappointed in this fun show. I saw a few episodes of Breaking Pointe and that was a disappointment for me. The dancers seem very immature and such drama queens, not what I wanted to see from Ballet West…

  2. Hey, I can’t comment on the new show by bunheads as I am based in the UK, I did however manage to see the Breaking Pointe series and I have to say I agree with you. I found the show to be too focused on the feuds and love relationships of the company members instead of the dancing. The end of series one made me cringe as it was highly predictable. In the UK we have only had a couple of reality TV episodes for dance which I actually enjoyed but they painted the artistic directors in a very bad light, I would be interested to see what happened if there was more and how it affects the industry,

    Kind regards, Dolly

    • Dolly:

      It will be interesting to see how all of these shows/ movies affect the industry. I find it all very interesting to watch. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Dance Academy is a good show of dancers in their teens, their struggles in the ballet world mixed with their emotional lives.So I would recommand that one to watch, it;s funny and cute and not ridiculous at all. I haven’t seen the Bunheads yet but will take a look to see, based on the comments here i expect it to be really bad….i was also disappointed from Black Swan, i think it was a cliche movie and yes, the boring Hollywood style… I’m not a professional dancer so i can’t really say what’s it like, in the ballet world, but i think even as an outsider i can clearly say that it wasn’t realistic. I didn’t like that movie at all….I’m kinda surprised that everyone else I asked did…

  4. My last ballet class was when I was about 11 (a looong time ago), so I can’t comment on the dancing, but I was a television writer for 20 years, and this show is HORRIBLE.

  5. I’m impressed you all watched a portion of the show. I watched the trailers (which is supposed to be the best scenes of the show/movie)before it premiered and thought “no way”, “that’s horrible”. I never watched. 🙂

    Even in the trailers I could detect, as Stephen Manes pointed out, Hollywood “formula”. That formula is why Black Swan kinda sucked too.

    So I say, Ballet World Unite! It’s up to us to create actual creative/innovative/classic ballets and films about ballet. Forget Hollwood…… 🙂

    • Ballet World Unite indeed! Thanks for writing in Renee!

  6. The creator was a dancer that grew up in ballet lessons. Kelly Bishop herself, WAS a ballerina turned Vegas Showgirl.

    The character of Michelle is notorious for making bad decisions her whole life. An ABT trained ballerina, she left it for a job that “paid better” and has regretted it ever since. Now that she is 35, she is being turned down in favor of younger dancers and she realizes, this is the beginning of the end for her professional career, which then, pushes her into making yet another bad decision and impulsively marrying someone.

    • Thanks for the clarification Rocky.

  7. Am I the only one who sees this show as nothing but entertainment? I don’t think it’s meant to be an ambassador for the dance world. I think it’s simply meant to be comedic fluff, as was the gilmore girls. How realistic was the town setting in the Gilmore Girls? Not at all. The dialogue in Dawson’s Creek? Ridiculous. TV is, after all, entertainment, and sometimes you just have to take it at face value. Just as Grey’s Anatomy is not meant to be an accurate portrayal of the medical world, neither is Bunheads meant to be an realistic look at the world of dance.

    • Kim-

      I am glad you don’t see it as an ambassador for the dance world. I don’t think it was meant to be either. However, because the show is about ballet and appears to the mainstream public, it ends up reflecting to ballet, whether intended to or not.


  8. As I tweeted, turned it off after 1/2 hr. Embarrassingly bad and totally unwatchable. What can the ballet world do to put out the word that this is unrealistic portrayal, contrived, inaccurate and cliche?

  9. I have not watched it yet. I have it recorded, I had high hopes. I did watch The secret life of dancers with the RNZB. It was awesome, I was hoping for that level of ballet show here in the states. At least people are talking about ballet.

    • Tammy-

      All we need is for people to be talking about ballet! Thanks for the comment.

  10. I just watched the show to see if it really was thr bad…and it was haha. Has anyone here seen Dance Academy? It’s an Australian coming of age show and is on Netflix. The teen drama is kinda rediculous but I thought the dancing was nice

    • Annie-

      Well at least the dancing was good! I will have to check that out! Thanks for writing in!

  11. I stopped after the first commercial break. I’m guessing from your review I didn’t miss much. I was hoping w Sutton Foster and GG writing there was a chance for this one.

    • Molly-

      You didn’t miss much. Thanks for catching up on the show through my blog!

  12. I could not get past the fact that Kelly Bishop’s character would have to be in her eighties to have danced with The Ballet Russe, in her nineties to have danced when Balanchine was there.

    Amy Sherman Palladino took ballet as a kid but I do not think that she has kept up with the ballet world at all since she stopped training.

    • Benita-

      Great point(e)!!! She would of course be much older! Yet another unrealistic element.

      Also, thank you for mentioning that the writer, Sherman-Palladino, did take ballet as a kid. I looked every where for some sort of indication of her ballet training before publishing this review, and came up with nothing. Please let me know if you have seen this anywhere online.

      Thanks for writing in.

  13. Agreed. This show was AWFUL in every way.

  14. There are times when you read reviews and think “Did I see the same show as all those people who loved it?” (It just happened to me and my wife with Ratmansky’s “The Bright Stream”.) Hey, I hated “Black Swan” too. Others differed.

    Still, this opening episode, like almost all ballet fiction on the screen, trotted out all the tired old wheezes that have been around since “The Red Shoes” and probably before. You just waited until the world-weary old dancer would spout something about living every minute of life to the fullest–and sure enough, there it was!

    The sheer contrivance of the plot–disaffected veteran dancer marries dull guy she barely knows (and hasn’t slept with) so that the show can put her into a small town with “colorful” characters in coastal California–rankled from the moment it became obvious. Me, I was so nonplussed that I took to wondering about things like those huge low lights in the dance studio that you can see in the photo above. As in, “Who would mount lights so low that dancers would be guaranteed to hit them even before they started doing lifts?”

    Hollywood, that’s who. Ah, well: as you suggest, back to documentaries.

    • Stephen-

      Yes! The lights in the studio were odd! Yet another unrealistic element!

      Thanks for the comment!

    • I pretty much agree. Actually, going in I guess I had set my expectations so low that the show ended up seeming somewhat decent, which isn’t much praise at all. I couldn’t get past all the improbabilities! Point after point, I kept thinking, “really?”

      And I’m such a fan of Sutton Foster’s Broadway work; I would’ve loved to see her in something better. I feel like she’s doing the best with what’s there, but there’s only so much one can do with the writing.

      Ha, I had the same thought about those lights!

      • Jeff-

        I am glad to hear you feel the same way about the writing. Maybe it isn’t horrible writing and it just seems awful to us because it is so cliché. It seems that people are praising the show mostly on the writing and Ms. Foster’s performance. People seem to be forgetting about the ballet element, which might not be a bad thing.

        Thanks for the comment.

  15. Couldn’t have said it better! Amen!

    “It is unclear if Ms. Sherman-Palladino has had any experience with the ballet world.” COMPLETELY SUMS IT UP.

    I was very upset about the way they portrayed these dancers… Vegas, insecure, wearing extra bras to hide boobs, pregnancy forced her into dance education… tsk tsk. Such a shame.

    • Thanks for the comment Sheena. I agree, it is a shame.

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