Monday, August 3, 2009

“What if I get too fat to dance?”…..BSC # 61: Jessi and the Awful Secret

Memory Reaction

The secret in this is that a girl in Jessi’s dance class has anorexia, and what really stands out in my mind is how Jessi confronts the girl. She tells the girl that she knows all the symptoms because she and her friends “looked it up in a book.” Which is okay, except for the fact that she then says she looked it up because she was worried about her. I must have been ten or eleven and still thought it was incredibly stupid of Jessi to tell the girl that’s the reason, instead of saying she was looking it up for a school project. Of course, the girl will get irritated at that.

Revisited Reaction

Jessi volunteers to help teach a dance class for kids that her ballet school is giving. When she does, she starts getting to know this girl, Mary, from her class. Mary is obsessed with her weight and thinks if she could just lose ten pounds her dancing would approve. Jessi thinks this is crazy, because Mary is super-skinny. Then, she realizes that Mary never seems to eat, which makes Jessi worried. So, of course, this is all because Mary is anerexic. She keeps denying it, and gets annoyed at Jessi for mentioning it, but she eventually faints in class a couple times. Jessi finally claims she is going to tell their dance teacher, which gets the girl to admit it.

So, meanwhile, the class itself is for underprivileged children. Jessi enjoys teaching the kids (most of them), and thinks it is sad that they won’t be able to keep dancing once the program ends. Her friend Quint gives her the idea to get the dance school to arrange the scholarship for some of the kids. Watson hears about this, and decides to fund the scholarship himself. So, Jessi is all happy about what they have accomplished.

  • During Jessi’s regular class she says that there is a piano player who plays for them to rehearse to. Does that seem believable? I can see if they were preparing for a show, but just for a regular class?
  • Jessi talks about this girl, Carrie, who is the “oldest student in class.” She thinks that Carrie is nervous because she is about to graduate and hasn’t had a leading role. Do people really “graduate” from class like that? And are kids who want to dance professional going to be training at the same place as little kids?
  • Claudia outfit: “She was wearing a neon green tank top under a white oversized man’s shirt and fuschia pink stirrup pants.” The top doesn’t sound so bad, but the pink stirrup pants kill it. However, I will admit to owning a pair back in the late eighties.
  • Jessi is allowed to wear “non-traditional” clothes to the kid’s dance class, and is thrilled about it. However, I specifically remember her liking not having to think about it previously.
  • Jessi’s own pick for workout clothes: “A neon green leotard and a pair of deep blue work-out pants with heavy yellow slouchy socks.” What is with all the neon green?
  • Jessi, Mary, and the other students teaching the kids class go out to a Burger King after classes to get to know each other. Obviously, this is an issue for Mary. Jessi suggests she get a salad (this is before Jessi knows she is anorexic), and Mary is all, “there is so much fat in salad dressing.” She doesn’t have to get dressing.
  • In this book Shannon has a lot of free time and wants to keep hanging out with Kristy. However, Kristy is apparently “too busy” for this. So, the other girls in the club tell Shannon to call them. Kristy is thrilled with this solution for a while, but then gets jealous when she sees her friends and Shannon doing things with out her. But the weirdest part is that no one can figure out why Kristy is annoyed whenever people talk about Shannon.
  • Is it weird that everyone refers to Kristy’s grandmother as Mimi? Mrs. Brewer actually does this when talking to Stacey (as in, “Nannie will be home at…”). I don’t see that happening.
  • The mother of a little girl who is one of Jessi’s favorites keeps staring at her in class. Jessi is all freaked out, but it turns out that the woman was watching her because she (the woman) was surprised to see a black person dancing. The woman is black too, and apparently someone had told her that her daughter could never be a dancer. So, it gives her hope or something. And that little girl is one that gets a scholarship.
  • Quint writes Jessi a letter describing how he gets annoyed about girls who obsess with dieting in his ballet classes. Then he says, “I’m lucky guys don’t have to worry as much.” Not exactly the most sensitive attitude. I mean, eating disorders are a serious thing, but you can’t really judge people unless you know what they are going through.
  • Jessi’s attitude isn’t really much better though. She is right that Mary is too skinny but she mentions how even though she watches her weight, she doesn’t struggle with it too much.
  • Madame Noelle tells Mary to have chicken soup to get over her “virus,” and Jessi thinks that the advice is “wiser than she realizes.” But I am pretty sure a dance teacher has seen eating disorders before. And we do find out later Madame Noelle suspected Mary’s problem.
  • Jessi has a lot of nerve for just walking up to her dance teacher and suggesting the school give out a scholarship. It worked out, since it is a BSC book, but still. It probably wouldn’t in most real life situations.
  • There is something weird about how Watson just “decides” to sponsor the scholarship. I am not sure how, it just is.
  • I don’t think this book really presents anorexia in the best way. It really is a psychological disorder, and it is presented as though it is just some girl taking dieting too far, and all she needs is to be told. It is like the Full House episode where D.J. had anorexia for a day.
  • It also doesn’t present “underprivileged children” in the best way. Well, the book actually describes them as “less privileged.” First, the teacher is super-relaxed, and Jessi and the other assistants think she doesn’t expect anything from them. Then, she actually teaches them and gets them to perform a recital, and the assistants act like they helped her “accomplish something” and made the kids really happy. But I am not sure why they think that. The kids danced for six weeks and only two of them get to keep attending class.


Fitzie aka Jan said...

Great point about the way the book depicts " less privileged" kids- never thought about that before but boy are you right!!! And actually while this book doesn't portray anorexia in a great way, it's slightly better than the FH episode- that was BAD!!!!!

Unknown said...

"During Jessi’s regular class she says that there is a piano player who plays for them to rehearse to. Does that seem believable? I can see if they were preparing for a show, but just for a regular class?"

For the first time I can be helpful! My sister is a college student and works part-time for the local ballet school. Her actual job is to play piano for the classes. There are 4 or 5 pianists there, and they play for all the classes and rehearsals.

So score one for the ghost writers--that's actually believable!

miaohdeux said...

Thank you K, I was just about to say that!

I grew up on canned music in my dance classes, but especially for pre-professional programs, live music for classes is the norm. It definitely is for the dance studio I take class at now, as an adult--ballet is piano, modern is drums and piano.

It's also not unusual for a school like that to teach young children: 1) they might have a "trainee" program to groom students (then they don't come from another dance studio where they may have learned bad habits that will have to be broken), 2) many dance studios do outreach for disadvantaged children. (Though as someone who works in arts fundraising, I will say that these programs usually require funding beforehand. Maybe this program had it, though.)

I know, I know. I'm way overthinking. ;)

I actually liked this book because it was about Jessi's dancing. I can see now, though, that its treatment of ED's and underprivileged kids was pretty poor (no pun intended).

Emily said...

This book always makes me want Burger King food....

Sadako said...

It made me want BK, too, Emily.

I thought the really unrealistic thing was that the BSC had no idea what anorexia was even though in book one, Kristy knew about eating disorders and thought that was why Stacey was acting so weird about eating sugary foods. It's also odd that Jessi who's supposedly been dancing for so long has never met an anorexic girl before. Why does Quint know all about anorexia whereas Jessi doesn't?

I don't really see what's so bad about Jessi's attitude, where she says she doesn't really struggle with her weight. Some people just don't.

MsJess said...

I'm suprised that dance programs wouldn't have some kind of preventative measure where they talk to the girls about healthy eating. Maybe I'm being super naive here.

I remember there was one male assistant who was kind flamboyant and you know he was subtly coded as gay.

SJSiff said...

Regarding everyone calling Nannie "Nannie:" my grandmother is known to everyone under the age of 40, related or not, as Granny. It's how she has also introduced herself to my friends and the friends of my brothers and cousins.

BSC Snarker, aka Kristen said...

I took ballet as a kid, but it was lessons once a week in this woman's house, so not exactly professional level. Interesting that there really is live music in those.

Sadako, I thought of that too, but they actually talk about the fact that Kristy thought Stacey was aneroxic. It is only Mal and Jessi who don't know what it is. Which, is still unrealistic, but not really a continuity error.

Sadako said...

But if the other BSC members knew what anorexia was from book one, why did they have to get the encyclopedia from Janine's room to look up anorexia?

BSC Snarker, aka Kristen said...

It was supposedly to find out more information about. Jessi wanted to be sure she was right before talking to Mary. Or something.

It was really just another excuse to unnecessarily insult Janine (for having so many "academic" books.

Stephanie Rumple said...

@MissJess: Yeah, you'd think that most dance studios and gymnastics training facilities would learn, but, nope. While both places will say, "Oh, we take eating disorders very seriously - we discuss healthy eating, and anyone who develops an eating disorder isn't allowed to attend until they recover" or whatever, it's really not the case. It's more like they say, "You need to lose 10 pounds - that leotard is showing off way more than we want to see", or something even less nice.

Believe me - being classically trained in ballet screwed me up pretty bad.

Anonymous said...

Is it weird that everyone refers to Kristy’s grandmother as Mimi?

don't you mean Nannie

Dana said...

I took dance classes for years and went to two different schools. In the first school you really didn't rise up to a new level which is why I stopped going to that school because I was going nowhere. The other dance school I went to had different levels. I took jazz and it was: Basic, Basic Intermediate, Intermediate, Intermediate Advanced, and Advanced. You had to be able to do certain moves to be moved up. Course I was not that good of a dancer, and never made it past intermediate.

As far as I know, there was never someone playing a piano during ballet rehersals. There was a ballet class after my jazz class.

Lesley Newcome said...

Well, in dance culture its changing, but a lot of times those sorts of talks about food are presented in optional seminars or behind paywalls. Much of dance culture still remains: you do what you have to do to fit the mold your potential intstructor/employer wants. There are always more talented dancers than there are jobs to give them.