• Jennifer Strube

Dainty Dancers


Every ballerina needs a rifle.


Really. It aids with balance when dancing on your toe edge. It assists with equilibrium. And then you can be the Primadonna for the next propaganda poster. I mean, who really wants to dance for the classical ballet? Forget the tra-la-la Nutcracker. That was so 1890’s Russia. You don’t want to dance for a weird uncle who cracks your nuts anyway. But rifle ballerinas? 


Pump it while it’s hot. 


But please don’t pull the trigger.


In the side alleys of Shanghai, past two or three non-descript cement buildings, around the sullen corner, and up seven flights of an unmarked apartment, resides the Propaganda Poster Art Centre. For a mere 20 Yuan or roughly the price of a grande latte, you can view all the spectacular posters from the last 100 years.  These posters, translated in both English and Mandarin, display all the luminous highlights of the last century, from Shanghai Poster girls to “we aren’t super good friends with the US” artwork. See below:



Sure, it may look slightly antagonistic, but all good art is. Yet nothing can be more teasingly seductive than rifle ballerinas. I mean, I thought I was a feminist. But once you hit your 30’s and see militant ballerinas, you realize you have few more dance moves yet to learn. In fact, I have no lacy shroud of feminism left in me. You go girls. Hold down the fort with your gray knee highs. Strap on your toe shoes and pack well. I, on the other hand, will gladly sip my martini and hope the too cute expat at the bar will pay for it. I can’t compete with militant tutus. I’m not that detached.


These dancers premiered their formidable dance the Red Detachment of Women in 1964. In a machine gun kind of art, the ballerinas portrayed the liberation of a wee peasant lassie and her exciting pledge to the Communist Party. Indeed, this was not mere silken toe shoe fantasy. The ballet was based on a novel, which was based on a true story — back in the 1930’s, there was an all-female company of the Chinese Red Army, who were personally congratulated by Mao upon the Communist victory. Nearly all of them survived and some of the fair ballerinas are still alive today. Talk about fierce women. These broads are not to be messed with. I definitely wouldn’t want to mean them in a dark alley.


And yet, I did. On the 7th floor. At the propaganda museum. They gave new meaning to the stereotype of women. Of what women from any country should be and do, specifically ballerinas. After all, China breaks most stereotypes. I mean, when I close my eyes and imagine ballerinas, the words that come to mind are:


(A) dainty

(B) fair

 © breakable

(D) anorexic


Not these chicks. They are detached. And ready for battle. And available for modeling in any unmarked building. This is all part of the Cultural Revolution, a controversial time in Asian history best described by the museum itself:

“The Cultural Revolution itself was like a psychopath, who had done a string of bad deeds, but may just be one thing — the art works left behind — is still an astonishing treasure.”


Next time I’m having a bad day, I’ll pull out this astonishing treasure and let them kick some serious Nutcracker a**.

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