Jump to content
Ballet Talk for Dancers to close ×
Ballet Talk for Dancers

History of distorted body ideals?


Recommended Posts

Having exhausted our parental views on weigh in at local pre pro and residencies, I have a question for you serious scholars of ballet out there. Whence came this deeply distorted view of feminine beauty and dancerly grace? I know Balanchine is often blamed. If you look a photos of ballet stars from the 30's and 40's in Europe, not a single one of them could be hired in the US today. Balanchine certainly did emphasize a certain line in the dancer, but through my daughter, I have spoken to a number of his greatest stars from the 50's and 60's (maybe 70's.) They vociferously deny a focus on weight. They state categorically that while none of his stars were hefty, there was real variation in body type with some very "feminine" figures.


So my question is twofold:

1) If this is not due to Balanchine (as I believe) what happened? Is it simply that later less talented AD's and choreographers who couldn;t match his creativity simply tried to "out skinny" each other? Is it the recent feminine stereotype we see from movies and advertisements?

2) What percentage of companies actually are willing to present women with more atheletic or feminine bodies. To be brutally honest, if you go to some major companies performances, you would think that 3/4 of the corps just happened to miss puberty. Will it actually occur to some of these other companies that ballet can be danced beautifully and effectively by women who look like women, not ageless nymphs?

Link to comment
  • Replies 119
  • Created
  • Last Reply

Top Posters In This Topic

  • LooseLegs2


  • Danza2


  • Mel Johnson


  • Fiz


I think that part of the body ideals question dates from the 1960s, when we saw an extremity of silhouette in fashion, not just in ballet. Balanchine may have endorsed some of this, but clearly not all. In the 60s, a taste for the "mannerist" silhouette from the Renaissance with its small heads, short torsos and long, long limbs came in, and is still with us, to some extent. Ballet follows fashion, it seldom leads it. Think of the models from those days, Shrimpton, Veruschka, Twiggy! In many ways, ballet is like military uniform. It lags updating because of an inherent conservatism. I don't predict a return to the Lillian Russell profile anytime soon, (Anna Nicole still ain't fashionable!) but when it happens, I'll bet that it will stick around for about 30 or 40 years.


I suppose that the narrowing of the feminine "ideal" began after WWII, and the return of fuller dresses which used more fabric after wartime shortages. In time, the garment, and not the wearer, grew to be more important, and we're still seeing this phenomenon on red carpets everywhere (but most notably in Hollywood) where a "best dress" is often more similar to a masquerade than a showing of persons.


Joffrey has traditionally, and continues to, employ women, and men for that matter, of non-traditional body types and to employ them well. Back around 1960, there were those who expressed astonishment that Rochelle Zide had a bosom! Heaven forbid!

Link to comment

In the wondeful book "Grace Under Pressure" Mark Morris says that his female dancers are different from ballet dancers- they look like women and they have periods. Sad commentary.

Link to comment

Mel - you could write a book - "Freakonomics of Ballet" !!!! There is no end your your knowledge - I am constantly astonished and enlightened by your posts!


Thankfully, my dd overcame her non-traditional ballet body and enjoys employment - rather "chesty" as they say!


So - with those thoughts about ballet lagging behind the trends in fashion - will we be seeing a turn towards more athletic looking dancers in the future?

Link to comment

Mel- I had the experience of being around Rochelle Zide while she was teaching at Butler, and if you have not seen her lately she definitely was not a naturally thin woman.


I think that there is a certain appeal in ballet with the thin look. not the sickly thin, but a thin "weightless" look. and i think that will never leave the dance world. but i think that dancers will begin finding ways to show weightlessness in their dancing, not just their bodies. which could certainly make up for a couple extra pounds.


and i think with the rising amount of contemporary ballet choreographers, the more athletic look will definitely be more respected. if you look at Alonzo Kings' Lines Ballet or Complexions, both have very strong bodies. they certainly are not big or hefty but their bodies are much more muscular than those of the very classical genre. so with the intermixing of contemporary pieces along with classical pieces into companies, i think we will see and increasing mix of the thin dancers along with the more athletic ones.


it should be interesting to see what occurs in the dance world as far as body types go in the upcoming years.

Link to comment

It is also interesting that the average woman is getting larger as in their waists, rib cages and height. I have old patterns from the 40s and 50s and the female body has really changed. I'm not really talking about weight but bones.

Link to comment

yea i totally agree. you see it more and more where daughters are much taller than their mothers! and i know that it seems like larger shoe sizes seem to run out of stock sooner than the "smaller" sizes.

Link to comment

Both mine (eldest stopped dancing last year, youngest still does) are taller than me at about 5'5" and still growing , I think. Eldest was born 1987, younger 1991. I'm 5'4",born 1957. I'm taller than my mum, who is 5'2" , born 1929, and she's taller than her mother who was 5'0" born at the end of the 19th cent - so it certainly looks as if sizes are changing, just from us, and it goes the same with feet too - Great -gran had size 2, Mum is a 5, I'm a 4-5. my eldest is a size 6 and my youngest a 4-5. Fiz.

Link to comment

Oh, Fiz, I was really sitting here in amazement reading the foot stats of your family till I realized you are from the UK! Your foot sizes run apprx. 1 1/2 to 2 sizes smaller than ours here in the USA! :yes:

Link to comment

in my family... my grandmother was 4'11" (born in 1910) ... my mother is about 5'2" (born in 1954) ... my oldest sister (born in 1980) is 5'7" ... and i am 5'9" (born in 1988)! haha i guess we're living proof as well!

Link to comment

About fifteen years ago, a study came out of Northwestern University on comparative stature. The only parameter covered was height, but the researcher found that in the 18th century, the average height of Americans and Britons was only about one inch shorter than averages today. The English started to "shrink" over the years, owing to inhospitable living conditions, primarily urban, and degraded nutrition. Americans followed suit by about forty years. The average American in 1900 was up to five inches shorter than today's 5' 9", and the English and Scots were about the same. Massive improvements in environment and nutrition seem to have been highly instrumental in increasing stature. To the best of my knowledge, other physiometry (body measurements) has not been an object of study.

Link to comment
Guest balletandsynchro

Just as an aside: my maternal grandmother (from Mexico) was 4'10" tall. My paternal grandmother (born in US to Irish parents) 5'2" tall. My mom was 4'11" tall. I'm 5'7"; DD is 5'5", and synchro daughter is 5'3". I guess I'm the mutant of the ladies in this family! :yes:

Link to comment
Oh, Fiz, I was really sitting here in amazement reading the foot stats of your family till I realized you are from the UK! Your foot sizes run apprx. 1 1/2 to 2 sizes smaller than ours here in the USA!  :ninja:

LOL! I thought it was only clothes sizes that were different - I didn't realise it was shoes as well! :cool2:

Link to comment

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    • No registered users viewing this page.

  • Create New...