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Ballet Talk for Dancers

History of distorted body ideals?


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That choreographer's comment just helped me keep things in perspective alittle bit.


It just helps me from "coveting" another dancers feet, legs etc.... but think, HOW am I using my own foot? HOW am I transitioning from one step to another? And so on....


And of course there's a standard. Your technique and physical appearance have to be at a certain level. After all people are paying money to see a performance.


I remember a female audience member once complaining about the weight of a male dancer saying she "didn't want to see her husband" up on stage. (No offense to any wonderful husbands out there...)


So instead of being "skinny", I like to think of being an athlete as well as an artist.

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I am 5'6" and weigh 123 pounds. If you saw me in person, you'd insist that I weigh far less than that. I'm quite bony,pale, and sinewy looking....have been accused of being "anorexic" PLENTY of times throughout my life. I eat food normally, and have always had a regular period. Never get sick. Numbers mean absolutely nothing. And I really think appearances can be deceiving too.


Throughout my training and career, I have encountered people with eating disorders on a number of occasions. Purging behaviors. Starvation. And it's often been the women who look as though they DON'T have the problem....Sometimes the "healthy", "athletic" lookng bodies on stage may belong to a woman with a serious eating disorder. I think it's important to keep that in mind, too. Appearances can be very deceiving. It's important to never make any judgements based upon appearance. You really have to get to know a person.

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Lampwick, my DD is only 16 and from her very first SI at 12, she has been exposed to others' eating disorders. In fact, it seems so prevalent to us that when go-tutu-go stated that "some ballet peers are so thin & eat pizza, fries or whatever they want" I instantly thought it's probably because they don't keep it down. :( You are so right that one shouldn't make judgment calls just by appearance.


Just a side note, it is sad but true, back when my DD used to have to put up with many accusations of being anorexic, she received a lot of attention from guest teachers and SI teachers. Now that she is older, she knows that she will never be able to go back to that "look" of bones without becoming unhealthy so now she is trying to become adept at looking muscled but "cut". She found inspiration when she saw LINES Ballet perform. Very strong looking women and excellent dancers. It was just so much more enjoyable to her to watch such strength and power.

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mylildancer, i love that u mention LINES ballet. because they are my inspiration for what companies should be, regardless what their style is. they are the epitome of, in my opinion, what dnacers should look like. i saw them recently, and got the chance to speak with Alonzo and Arturo (the ballet master) and they were very nice. Alonzo stated that he doesn't look for the perfect ballet bodies or technique, but instead he looks for dancers who can move, dancers who can dance. and it is sure evident when you watch them, that they can dance beautifully. they are all sculpted beautifully. and they weren't waifs, but they were thin. its really inspiring. my teachers always bring up, after watching LINES perform, that there should be no height problems in the dance world, because they had short guys partnering tall girls, and there were no visible difficulties. so i agree with your daughter, LINES is definitely an amazing company. i just hope that more companies catch on, it would be great if that became the standard for dance in the US!

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Knock knock


LINES is coming to DC this summer and I am really looking forward to seeing them.


RE:lampwick's comment. I have been in class with her and am within spitting distance of her weight (a few lbs less usually), though 1-2" shorter. However, my body type is _totally_ different in just about every way you can imagine (NOT traditional ballerina, unlike lampwick). We could seriously be poster children for the whole "numbers tell you almost nothing" idea.

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Although my AD might insist that my feet are made of lead. Clunk clunk clunk. Maybe that's where the weight is. Maybe it's not poor technique (or completely hollow floors:dry: ). It's the lead feet.

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As a child I remember having to take a bus downtown to a certain shoe store to get shoes to accomodate my size 10 feet. Now I can find shoes anywhere, even up a size if necessary. My daughter is one and two inches taller than her grandmas but four shorter than myself. Thanks to a short dad my daughter is not a giant. Unfortunately, although she's thin she looks shorter because of body porportion and is like me in that she will probably never show muscle definition no matter how hard she works at it. After much ado she has finally realized it's recreational for her. She's seen so much anorexia in the ballet world and obesity in the real world that her focus is now in the health field. Myself, I don't know how those dancers who don't eat keep up the energy level to perform. My daughter's roomate doesn't eat well and is getting very sick and won't listen to her. Talk about seeing it up close and personal!

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DD truly has two teen pals who eat anything, are thin, healthy & often falsely thought to have ed's- but dont. DD is slim thru hard work. Her Big schedule & Big appetite mean she has to make smart food choices almost always; not easy. She declines shared meals with dance friends [yesterday: nachos & pizza!] yet she hears, "You're just lucky-naturally thin! it's so easy for you!" daily. Some studio gals half-starved for years & are now compulsive overeaters. Big, big issue...

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I'v spent quite a bit of time reading through this thread! The weight/body type issue in ballet terrifies me. My eldest has said since she was quite small that she wants to dance but isn't willing to be anorexic to do it. She is shaply for a dancer, drop dead gorgous for a regular human and all that she see's is that she doesn't have skinny hips. It's very hard on her, it's not as though she can do anything about it other than blame her gene pool. Curves just don't seem to be appropriate and it's a heart breaker. I go back to past professional productions I have seen over the decades and the ones I have enjoyed the most are the ones where the women look female rather than androgenous. Maybe I'm in the minority but a well tones, slim curvy woman can dance as well as a girl with snake hips. Most women have hips don't they, it's the minority who are straight up and down. I really do think that women dancing look better when not totally flat chested.


Look at all the talent out there that gives up because they feel they will never make the grade because of curves. Back in a past era (the 60's in particular) if you look at company photo's, say of the Royal Danish, Londons Royal Ballet and the like, dancers, female dancers were womanly. Who would ever say that Fonteyn didn't have a dancers body but by todays average dancer type she wouldn't quite fit the mold. Toned and slim and healthy are the essential elements aren't they.


My curvey eldest has done a lot of pas de deux and the feed back is that she's a dream to partner. She's tall with a medium bone and is easy to partner. It relates to what Mr. Mel said about the small girl in the company being hard to dance with. It's not necessarily what you look like that determines such things, it's how well you dance and in Pas de deux how well you use your plie and your jump. A 90lb dead weight is heavier than 120 lbs that helps hoist itself up. Having daughters who want to dance professionally I keep praying that more companies will have the pendulum swing farther back to reality and ultra skinny won't be the only acceptable body type.


I'v had it said to me that certain choregraphers liked the androgenes body because the choreography looked better. It's a point well taken but I'm not sure it's locked in concrete. Ballet, as with everything is evolving all the time. Petipa choreographed on a very different body type. I doubt anyone would call the ladies of that era skinny. We still see Petipa's choreography on stage all over the world. I wonder if he would think his work was less well performed because the bodies performing are so very different. Just a thought. Anyway, this is a mother talking, a novice who feels like protecting her chicks. The body type issue truly terrifies me. My girls are not perfect, they are tall, they have curves and they are talented. As far as their dancing and performance goes they have a good shot at careers but they are not perfect, they have curves.

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Another though here that was stated at the beginning of this thread. Puberty and body type. After the SI auditions this year, I am very aware that the girls REALLY being noticed are the pre pubescent ones. For instance, the 16 year old, 5'3" waif offered year round at a top company school, on full scholarship does not go un noticed with class mates or parents. I don't believe there is any kind of eating disorder, these are smart parents but she looks 11 where as others of the same age look womanly. Higher level dancers, looking womanly have had a much harder time in auditions. The message this appears to give is, don't grow up! Stay a girl and don't become a woman. We have evidence of this right in front of us each day in class.


A dancer from a few years ago, also offered year round all over the place finally heeded her doctors orders and started eating sensibly. She was not anorexic, she just ate so little it was amazing she had energy to move. At 17 one, maybe two periods a year and she was told her future health was in jeapordy. Thank God she listened. She is healthy, she did gain weight, she did not take any year round offers.


One of our teachers says no judgement should be made on anyones potential for a future in ballet until puberty is well underway. Bodies can change overnight and do. We as parents just need to be smart enough to realize that puberty is a normal progression in physical maturation. If it doesn't happen, it isn't natural and needs to be looked into. Without good health, no one will dance for very long!

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DD has always had an issue with her size. Being a child who went through puberty early, she was always the "big" girl. Whether the comments were made about her height or her ever changing figure.

Her choice in activities were weight focussed also, which didn't help. She is now happier with her size but still has her hangups. Recently she went to the doctor for, what was thought to be hypoglycemia and dehydration. Turns out the dehydration was part of it but blood work proved she was fine. The issue seemed to be her diet. DD, like so many other teens believes the way to weight control and weight loss is by eating less, cutting out meat and other foods that they feel put weight on. DD had a very rude awakening when her doctor told her she needs to eat more. DD's usual food intake was breakfast in the morning, nothing else until I picked her up from school at 3, at which time she would eat a small snack. She would dance for hours and then have dinner, which would consist of a larger than normal portion of a carb of some sort and a vege. No red meat, occasionally chicken and no pork. She rarely ate any "fun" food. She felt this was normal and no amount of threats from me or her father could get her to change. We tried to teach her about the importance of protein and muscle growth. SHe never lost weight and at times seemed to put weight on.

After the scary episode at school and the subsequent visit to the doctor, dd is now eating a much more balanced diet. She is eating a lot more protein, lunch every day and brings a snack of fresh veges to school everyday. She has a snack after school and eats a well balanced dinner. She has increased her meat intake and lessened the carb portion. She is still concerned about her weight (the number portion) but is trying to understand that the way to lose weight and gain more muscle definition is to eat more of the right foods.

DD's ballet school does not put any pressure on the dancers regarding weight. They do not show any favortism towards the smaller dancer. Their casting is done by strengths, not size. It is refreshing to say the least. DD still has concerns about her weight. She knows in her head that muscle weighs more than fat. She is 5'6" and wears a size 1 but is not waif looking at all. She looks very healthy and solid. Her body is still changing and she still has some of that pudginess that comes with puberty, but isn't as obsessed as she once was.

I do have one question. This may be better answered in the nutrition forum but I will give it a shot here. DD has been having strength issues. She has improved her turnout by leaps and bounds, uses it when dancing and doing developpe's and such but can't seem to get it up any higher than about ear level. Could this lack of strength be caused by her past lack of protein intake? I was told by her doctor that she needs to eat meat to make muscle. WIth dd's new diet of increased protein (animal) and decreased carb intake going to help with her muscle development? I would love to be able to give dd something positive to focus on. She is working very hard but seems to be at a plateau and is very worried this new way of eating is going to actually put more weight on her.

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Redstorm, i can give your daughter somewhat of an encouragement. My past is very similar to your daughters. For the past several years, i would barely eat any breakfast, have a bagel for lunch, a small snack at home before dance, and then sometimes no dinner. You can imagine how upset i was when i began gaining weight, not losing it... and that was also accompanied by several dizzy spells and that sort of thing. After a long chat with the director and assistant director at my school, i began to seriously reconsider my eating habits. Starting in january i began reducing the carbs in my diet. Eating oatmeal for breakfast, some sort of wrap with cheese and a meat for lunch, a high protein bar for a snack, and then at dinner i would have chicken and veggies. I of course was a little nervous that i would begin gaining weight, but i have toned up a great amount and lost a good amount of the unhealthy weight that i had put on in my bad eating years. As far as my strength goes, i have always been a strong dancer. I was blessed with a great amount of developed muscle from a young age, but since ive really gotten my eating under control and increased my protein intake, i have noticed that i feel alot better. Certain things take less work, i notice that i can get through variations and things of that sort easier. Now granted i know that my body is still adjusting to this new eating style... and it probably still will for a couple more months, im constantly amazed at how you really must eat in order to lose weight! now that doesn't mean nachos and pizza like some young dancers choose, but a healthy approach to eating is a must. And i always keep in mind that its my body that people are paying to see move, so i must take care of it. because if i fill myself with healthy things, the better my body will perform!

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Redstorm - Protein intake definitely affects muscles and strength. I had a hard time gaining and maintaining strength - a couple of missed classes and all my strength seemed to be gone. Weakness was always a struggle with me. (I am of normal weight, so that isn't the issue).


I thought I had adequate protein intake until I began measuring everything I ate. I bought a gram-accurate kitchen scale and weighed EVERYTHING for about a week, eating normally. I downloaded a nutrition program off the web that allowed me to enter a food diary and tracked protein, carbs, fats, and all vitamins and minerals, calories, fiber, etc. It was a real eye-opener. I was eating below the US minimum recommendation for protein for regular folks (the recommendation for athletes is much higher). I was not getting good intake of vitamins and minerals.


I changed my diet - I get a lot more protein (more than double my previous amount), and I'm getting a lot more vitamins and minerals now that I'm learning what foods will give me what I'm typically deficient in. I also started taking a multivitamin/mineral pill to make up the difference. I'm still weighing my food because it is so empowering to understand how what you eat stacks up nutritionally. I use it both to make sure that I don't eat too much and to make sure that I eat ENOUGH - I've noticed that if I don't get in a certain (hefty!) number of calories during my day before class that I can really tell the difference in my energy level. I'm stronger now and so much happier with the way I eat - I feel like I'm in control of my nutrition and I can see the results with a stronger, more energetic body.


It is a lot of work to get started measuring what you consume, but it gets easier over time. I have found it to be a powerful tool and a positive influence on my eating habits. It might be worth a try, even if only for a week-long diagnosis of dietary habits.


good luck.



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  • 2 weeks later...

DD lucked out with her parents' knowledge of eating for athletes. I'm a former gymnast and my husband a former baseball player and body builder. It's surprising just how much protein you need but it doesn't only have to come from meat. Yogurt is a good source and DD also makes herself a protein shake with soy milk (she's lactose intollerant) that we purchase from the health food store.

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