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Ballet Talk for Dancers

History of distorted body ideals?


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Telling a 14 year old these things is like the other warnings we give our children about driving, smoking, relationships... some will listen some won't.  All you can do is watch for the signs; keep talking about life beyond dance and the reasons for staying healthy for that.  Allowing them to understand that if someone wants them to make a choice that will be unhealthy that they are strong enough to make an informed decision.  Understanding the tradeoffs may be all you can offer.


The major difference between talking to your kids about driving, smoking, and sex, and talking to them about a healthy BMI is that they are receiving a consistent message about the former, and a horribly inconsistent one about the latter!


We can talk until we are blue in the face ... but if we allow their teachers, their ADs, their ballet masters and mistresses to suggest -- or state flat-out -- that their casting and their careers depend on doing what is in fact UNhealthy, our talk will be worth nothing. Kids understand consequences. What is the consequence of dieting? Getting rewarded in the studio. What is the consequence of not dieting? Losing roles and having a healthy body. You're 14 -- which are you going to chose?


In reality ... the tradeoff sometimes is between staying healthy and staying hired. Why on earth do we put kids in this position?

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In reality ... the tradeoff sometimes is between staying healthy and staying hired.  Why on earth do we put kids in this position?


We should all kick up. They want to dance - fine. They don't want to lose weight for an Olympic Gold (which is what some disciplines believe). Please, read 'Little Girls In Pretty boxes' - it applies probably more to ballet than to gymnastics and iceskating. Most top gym coaches abuse their female charges and call them all sorts of unflattering names. I remember one girl writing - 'I had no strength left, but I was down to 90lbs'!!!! :blink: Fiz.




*edited by Moderator to make a "quote" more clear.

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Having started this brouhaha, I will now add two comments. The first is that AD's and people with power in the ballet world often state that body type is a part of their decision, and this is appropriate. To a real extent, I agree - the art will not flourish if we went to see a bunch of fat dumpy dancers. To use an analogy I have used in discussions with people about this topic in the past, I am 5'5" tall. The chance I would have had a stunning career in the NBA is rather slim (spud webb aside.) [This follows a thoughtful email on this subject from Victoria Leigh]


That having been said, that is NOT the situation about which we speak. People, in my slightly unconnected opinion, need to take control. My other child is a fantastically talented baseball player. I really can't imagine parents of children such as he stating that they needed to go along with certain realities of the baseball world, for example the kids taking steroids. After all, if I make a fuss about the steroids (even though my child does not need them - he has the natural talent) he might get benched.

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"You get a lot of positive attention for losing weight. The more you lose the more they like you."


To show that there are some companies that take eating disorders - and too much weight loss - very seriously: One of DS' instructors (in the past) had a contract with a major ballet company (in the U.S. - but I won't give the name to protect her privacy.) She developed an eating disorder. They worked with her to overcome it, but were very clear in stating that if she did not GAIN weight, then she would not continue to dance with them. She was unable to overcome the problem in enough time and was released from her contract. She has since worked through the problem and shares her experience with students, and it's great to hear. Yes, you can be too thin, and there are companies that will not tolerate it. Maybe that's not the norm, but it's nice to know that some companies take that position.

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Well, I want to say that I think the attitude IS changing, both in the ballet school world and in professional companies. As knowledge spread about eating disorders and as the medical community AND the ballet community understood them more, I saw a great deal of positive change over the years in the school I'm most familiar with.


I do think, yet again, that the very first place where everything has to start is with ourselves. As Treefrog stated, we as parents need to know our kids are temperamentally suited to ballet rigors. What I have seen, over and over and over again ad nauseum, is that some parents can't recognize the changes taking place in their own daughter's weight. They are so caught up in their child's dream that they deny what's right in front of their eyes. They can't face it. Some of the mothers even diet along with their daughters! Now that is lovely when the daughter is doing it healthily but boy, have I seen the opposite quite a few times!


When some parents finally do realize what's going on, it's pretty late in the game, with the child having a lengthier history of dieting abuses.


So, while yes, schools need to be conscientious about what they say - and avoid mixed messages :blink: as in having a nutritionist on staff giving classes in nutrition but individual teachers are saying things like, "You'd look great if you'd lose 5 pounds" - it's still first and foremost the parent's responsibility to know their child and to remove their child if they think she's at risk for or beginning obsessive dieting behavior. The mind has to be in great shape as well as the body of a ballet dancer.


I know that it's easy to for parents everywhere to agree with this - "Of COURSE parents have this responsibility" - but the reality is all too often at odds from the thought.

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I remember at UBA, a girl was sent home for being unhealthily thin. She returned later in the year looking stunning--healthy and beautiful, and so strong she could pirouette and jump for days. It was wonderful to see such a prominent school set a positive example regarding body image.

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yahoo! Vagansmom! You put it so well... the thoughts that parents play into the weightloss of their dancers - happy to see them get thin and happy to see them get rewarded for it (i.e. parts, placement, etc), that SO exists.


When these young dancers are students - it begins. This is also where it should begin that teachers take a very firm stand on weight issues and eating disorders. However, I have seen them look the other way in favor of dancers reaching their weight goals in any way possible.


Once a dancer becomes employed by a company, they have already reached that point in their dance life where they have taught themselves how to maintain their weight. Whether they do that in a healthy way or have an eating disorder, it really makes no difference to their AD until they begin to gain or lose too much. Companies can and should take a moral stand and protect the health and well being of their dancers, however... the reality is entirely different.


The cold hard truth is that each and every dancer must watch and worry about everything they put in their mouths, chew up and swallow (and keep down), everyday of their dance careers. They walk a very thin line between too thin and not thin enough. Many dancers will develop full blown eating disorders but each dancer will have some sort of issues related to their food intake - it is almost impossible not to. Also, in most dance companies - thin is rewarded - often with no regard or care as to how the dancer maintains that maximum thinness. It is a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil situation.


At a grass roots level, it must begin with the parents and teachers of these young impressionable dancers so that by the time they reach adulthood, they have a healthy and sensible way of handling the weight demands placed on them as professional dancers.

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This is so interesting as the subject has been on my mind of late, as my soon to be 13 year old's body has been going through major changes since puberty struck. My dd is gorgeous, healthy and very fit and athletic looking. She has also put on a little 'roll' around her middle after having always been a slightly built child.


I know very well what the classic ballet body is like and am under no illusions about the spoken and unspoken rules with the majority of ballet companies. Things may be changing, but it is slow and companies that employ a more athletic body type are still the exceptions. The Australian Ballet justifies their position of taking on the finely built dancer is that this body type is more suited to ballet as it has fewer risks of injury. I beg to differ in this regard.


But it has changed the way I evaluate the potential of dd, who is passsionate about dance. I know that she still has changes to go through, but I now consider other options more seriously. Despite being talented, dedicated and passionate about ballet, her body may work against her becoming a classical dancer, which would be a terrible shame.


How many wonderful dancers may we have misssed out on for these very reasons?

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How many wonderful dancers may we have misssed out on for these very reasons?


Now that is an excellent question!


The Joffrey currently has one dancer -- Erica Lynette Edwards -- who is definitely on the busty side. In street clothes, she looks skinny, but on stage she looks -- dare I say it -- a little pudgy. But, oh, how glad I am to see her dance! She has a definite joie de vivre, not to mention fabulous extension. This is a body that I doubt would ever make it in ABT or NYCB, but she is such an asset to the Joffrey!

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Erica Lynette Edwards is a Butler graduate, and a good friend of my sister. So i had to pleasure of seeing her dance frequently throughout her college career. And i agree that she is just spectacular, but her body is not a stick. and thats awesome!


I dont know if anyone has gotten the most recent edition of Dance Spirit Magazine, but theres a wonderful article on Ballet Austin. The AD, Stephen Mills, was asked about body types in his company and (sorry i dont have the magazine near me but i'll paraphrase the best i can) he said that he doesn't like wisps and that he would choose a dance who may not have the best body but can dance well over the perfect classical body, but not the best dancer. I was so happy to hear an AD come out and say this, and especially because Ballet Austin is quickly gaining a strong reputation. I will give you all the direct quote as soon as i can.


I am continually encouraged by the amount of companies that are slowly broadening their body types. and there are so many companies out there that are beautiful and like athletic builds. and even some of the big names are too. i spoke with a dancer from a small NYC based ballet company (Ballet Deviare) who often comes in contact with dancers from NYCB. She said that Sofiane Sylve (a beautiful dancer who just came to NYCB from Het Nationale Ballet as a soloist) but she is known for her more muscular legs. She is by no means big but she is definitely a strong girl. She also always brought up Misty Copeland. Who is bigger than a waif! so theres definitely hope!

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Berlin State Opera Ballet also accepts a wider variety of dancers into their company.

One of the soloists Marianne Joly is a strong, athletic yet feminine wonderful dancer- and does not fit into the ballerina stereotype at all.

Also Berlin State Opera Ballet school ist known to accept dancers of normal weight and feminine bodies.


Marianne Joly in pictures:










(all pics taken by: Kathy- a very talented young photographer and fellow balletomane. Her website: http://dancing.onmygrave.de )

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Berlin State Opera Ballet also accepts a wider variety of dancers into their company.

One of the soloists Marianne Joly is a strong, athletic yet feminine wonderful dancer- and does not fit into the ballerina stereotype at all.

Also Berlin State Opera Ballet school ist known to accept dancers of normal weight and feminine bodies.


Good grief - she looks like a real person - I still can't get over the pictures on the Dance programme site - enough to give you nightmares! :o


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I find this an interesting topic. I think however, that sometimes by meaning well, we are our own worst enemies. Have you noticed that lately,( this site included and I do understand the reasoning), there is a trend to NOT mention weight - height is ok, but we will not discuss weight - due to the prevalence of eating disorders, etc.


Why do I think this is not necessarily a good thing? My daughter, like many other young dancers nowadays is taller - 5'8. For so long it has been believed that dancers weight 105 at the most - I have tried to tell my daughter that this is a weight based on smaller dancers. However, nowhere in print does it exist that taller dancer (Maria Kowrowski, Darcy Bussell, etc.) actually weight more that 100 lbs - because it is taboo nowadays!


Thank goodness in the most recent issue of Dance Spirit (I think) there was a Q&A article where a young dancer asked if it was true that you couldn't be a professional if you were over 100 lbs.

There was a reply from a dancer in the Boston Ballet Corps who said - I have been in the Boston Ballet Corps for 3 years - I am 5'8 and weight 125 lbs. THANK YOU!!!!! My daughter finally sighed a sigh of relief and has not mentioned her weight since.

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