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Ballet Talk for Dancers

History of distorted body ideals?


sarsdad

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I agree with vagansmom's theory about the smaller companies. My (biracial) DD14 has the size/shape the big companies seem to favor (at least right now), but I am very pleased that her goals for a professional career include dancing for the small company attached to her own home school. She said at the end of the day she truly loves the AD and his choreography, they also have opportunity to do guest choreographer work as well as Balanchine pieces, and the company dancers have always been of diverse body types and color. I love the idea of her dancing for her hometown, small company or big doesn't matter.

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Thank you everyone who contributed to this conversation and have brought this topic back to life. I know body size, shape, type, etc...can be a sensitive subject, but it is almost unavoidable when discussing classical ballet. It is difficult to guage what direction to go, given our daughter's hard work ethics, committment and aspirations, especially when they do have a gift for ballet and have beautiful presentation and facility but there may be a strike against them because their legs are 2 inches too short or their waist too thin or too thick or they happen to become a woman somewhere in the course of their training.

 

So if some of those 3 letter companies your talking about tend to have a certain look, then we just find the training or company that is suitable for our dancer. I wish that too, was posted somewhere.There seems to be no real guide book for the world of ballet.

 

I appreciate all who have helped give direction here.P.S. excuse my run on sentence above.

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DD has been offered Apprenticeships and Corps contracts with smaller companies. This point may lead to a different topic, but who can live on $100/week? Who can live on $300/week for 32 weeks a year? It just isn't paying off vs. investment in a college education.

 

I do agree there are smaller companies who are more forgiving when you don't look "the look", but that equates into a living a life at near poverty levels.

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It's important to understand to remember that it's not just body type or where a curve is that brings dancers to smaller companies. Sometimes it's something like the lack of a banana foot, or lack of the S curve leg that seems to be popular in some locations. It is not to say that dancers at smaller companies are completely off the "facility" path. But sometimes, because those companies are more open, they can look beyond those stereotypical "it's" and determine that if a dancer is only missing one of those things, that their stage quality and movement overshadow that.....and it's okay.

 

Just like in a larger company, there might be a place for a male who is a phenomenal soloist but too small/short to partner well. There is generally no place for that in a smaller company because every male needs to be a good partner. Trade offs but not completely off the scale.

 

Yes, another topic napnap. I"ll start it. But in the meantime, do remember to factor in additional work on the side and cost of living for an area while determining if starting pay versus ending pay will be enough to live a simple life on. It's low pay for sure, but depending on the area, $300 a week plus a part time job can be do-able when the average rent of a one bedroom for the area is $650ish. This is how it is in many cities where smaller companies are. This versus comparing $675 a week, which is base Apprentice pay for a dancer in a large Western USA company (from AGMA contract). Yet the average cost of a one bedroom studio is $1375. The differing amount of pay just got negated by the inflated housing costs. I'll open that thread so that a discussion can occur.

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I'm really glad to have taken the time to read this whole thread, I realize that given the circumstances, being at SAB, there was a lot of opportunity for dd to get caught up in focusing on the wrong body ideal. That is not to say that it is rampant, but you know that it is a risk.

 

Something I learned which I hadn't known before, is that many people that have eating disorders are seemingly very healthy and above suspicion, which is frightening. Having been at a school where there is a cafeteria where you get to see ballet students and professional's eating habits and food choices, I never was concerned about eating disorders. Everyone looked apparently healthy. I know of no one DK or professional that was dismissed or left because of weight. Dd was in the cast of the infamous Nutcracker when Jennifer Ringer was called out for being overweight and was in many clips and photos in the news so we remember firsthand the firestorm it ignited, but until that time it had never ever been a concern of mine. The School also seemed to get on top of this as well and started incorporating nutrition breakouts and education for all levels.

 

That being said, shortly thereafter in the Spring a friend of mine's dd was going to a dolly dinkle school but only when she had weekends with her Dad. It had been going on for sometime and her daughter was giving her a lot of guff about being taken out on the weekdays and on her Mom's weekend to the studio near Dad (an hour away) so she could dance more. And this at a place that in my limited experience, had extremely very poor dance training. Having been educated on BT4D I know that to be the case.

 

My friend educated herself about dance and offered her dd some fine local alternatives to Dad's studio, but they were all shot down. She instead was insisting that the school she was going to, where not one person on faculty had any professional experience, lacked good facilities (floors, rooms and stage) was the best fit for her. To add insult to injury they had these big shows (3 or 4) a year where tickets were $25 a seat and the "professionals" we're just adults who had ballet training, but not very advanced and no one that had every danced with a company... It really made me upset to see this, but I bit my tongue.

 

I offered her dd, to see about auditioning at SAB, and took her so that she could have a sense of what it was like as an alternative and arranged a tour and observation of a class. I wasn't prepared at all for her reaction... She said she was shocked at how anorexic all the dancers looked, and that they all had to wear the same outfit and that it didn't look like they were having fun! She couldn't see herself going to this school at all, and for basically these reasons. Yes there might have been also a little bit of a defensive posture on her part, but her comments were an honest reaction.

 

Being this was our only experience with a ballet school and thinking this is how the majority of schools are, it was an unexpected reaction. I dismissed it as loyalty to her Dad and the school by him, but it did get me to thinking about her comments.

 

So I started probing my daughter, who has always been a great healthy eater about dk's at Her school being too skinny. She said something really interesting. She said yes, but that everyone just blames the mirrors, that the mirrors make everyone look fatter.

 

Immediately I had this "funhouse hall of mirrors imagery" pop into my head and I was wondering if that really was the case. To that point I was wondering If this was intended or a weird happenstance, does anyone think that the mirrors in a studio could actually reinforcing a positive ideal or for that matter a negative one? Is this just an effect that certain large mirrors have, or is it just a popular brand. Would an AD actually work that or account for that effect into their training. It's just something that I haven't heard before, and never gave it much thought, until I read this thread.

 

I'm a big fan of simple answers and to me it just made me wonder, because I know that even in clothing stores mirrors are really important and it may be their advantage to have mirrors flatter a specific body type.

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firedragon0800- Sadly, I think the comment about how "the mirrors make everyone look fatter" is more about how the girls see themselves in the mirrors, and with how they think about themselves and the image they are projecting, than the actual mirrors. I am assuming that you were able to attend a few watch days in your DD's time at SAB, did you notice anything unusual about the mirrors?

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Cat11 great question, I honestly never fully investigated it myself. Although I don't know really how one could unless you had different type of mirrors to compare right next to each other. The large studios have really big mirrors, are basically white and extremely high ceilings so hard to judge perspective. When observing we are facing the dk's, so it's hard to see how their bodies translate to the mirror image, which would have been easy to judge. It was just one of those off-hand matter of fact comments and I could your perspective, but it was a comment that stuck with me. I never discussed it with anyone there either, and since no longer there...

 

Also not saying that there was something nefarious going on either, as I said I personally had not seen anyone one person impacted by ED, just was curious if anyone had considered this.

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Over her ballet student and professional dancer lives, my daughter has stood in front of many mirrors. She says she never noticed a difference among them, other than that some were cleaner than others!

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My DD informed me that indeed the mirrors in a few of the studios at SAB were indeed distorted. Her exact words were "distorted". She attended as a year round student for 5 years.

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I think the "look like they are not having fun" can be interpreted different ways. In my experience there are some kids to whom "fun" is working very hard, and very exactingly, at something. Ballet, gymnastics, other sports probably, seem to attract these kids. Dh used to joke that DD didn't like something unless it sucked. And, well, that is pretty much true. The fun for her is the extreme physical discipline. It can look pretty weird and non fun to observers, but that doesn't mean it isn't fun for the kids doing it, their definition of fun is just different.

 

While I haven't met any kids in ballet with eating disorders, I do see disordered eating, if that makes sense. A lot of talking about food, and food they like, and what they want to eat...but not eating it. Or eating it and then discussing it a lot. Which is a bit not quite normal, as food is generally something pleasurable, yes, but not something most people think about and discuss so obsessively. It's hard to describe, it's one of those things when you see it you know is just not quite...right. Ribs showing through a leotard is "gross", but it's gross in a way everyone crowds around and remarks...and maybe they really mean it's admirable...like bony hip bones sticking out...gosh it's just terrible...look at my hip bones, eeew....you know? I can't be the only one hearing these things. Or the only one who finds it unnerving but is unable to put their finger on quite why. It is there, definitely.

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Couldn't agree with dancypants1 more. At the school, DD reports that in her 5 years so far, no one has been told to lose weight directly. However, many have been told to gain weight or they would not be allowed to dance. "See the Nutritionist" is a very common recommendation to students. However, students do not want to be seen seeing the nutritionist, as it is a source of embarrassment for them.

 

There is an elephant in the room, so to speak, when we talk about weight on this thread. However, it is a huge issue in this profession. I'm not going to beat a dead horse and harp on what is normal and abnormal eating patterns, as it is unique for everyone. Whether it is natural or not, the ideal is to be rail thin.

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Pardon-I am the parent of a DS, but am finding this thread fascinating. My own DS has had (my opinion) somewhat inaccurate views of the body type needed for a male dancer. I would love to see a separate thread, applicable to both males and females, started on this board and would further be very interested to know which companies are open to those without the most ideal body types.

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...She said yes, but that everyone just blames the mirrors, that the mirrors make everyone look fatter.

 

Immediately I had this "funhouse hall of mirrors imagery" pop into my head and I was wondering if that really was the case. To that point I was wondering If this was intended or a weird happenstance, does anyone think that the mirrors in a studio could actually reinforcing a positive ideal or for that matter a negative one? Is this just an effect that certain large mirrors have, or is it just a popular brand. Would an AD actually work that or account for that effect into their training. It's just something that I haven't heard before, and never gave it much thought, until I read this thread.

 

I'm a big fan of simple answers and to me it just made me wonder, because I know that even in clothing stores mirrors are really important and it may be their advantage to have mirrors flatter a specific body type.

 

I don't believe the simple answer is that the ballet school is intentionally putting body distorting mirrors into their studios.

Here is how mirrors are made: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u03S1Nmslw4

 

In every studio that I have danced (and there have been hundreds, if not thousands), there are "fat mirrors" and there are "skinny mirrors." It is easy enough to walk slowly from one side of the room to the other.... you will see your image change: taller, shorter, wider, and/or narrower. Many times if you stand near a seam you will see the difference between one mirror and the next. I do not know if this is caused by the liquid silver on the back of the glass, the thickness of the glass, or even if gravity doesn't allow for the mirror to hang perfectly straight (making a slight outward/inward curve)? Since dancers spend endless hours looking at themselves in the mirror, they see the nuance faster, and they will gravitate toward the more flattering mirrors in the room.

 

Sometimes one set of mirrors in a studio will feel not particularly flattering. One my current studios of employment has a room that makes me feel 5' tall every time I walk in. I do not believe that I am 5' tall.... there is just something about that set of mirrors that does this.... I do not think it was intentionally done by the studio owners.

 

So that your DD said this off the cuff does not surprise me. It is probably true that one set of mirrors was less flattering. It is also probably true that the dancers are smart enough to realize that the peer standing next to them does not look like the image that was reflected in the mirror. Disordered body image does not come from looking into bad mirrors.... it is a deep psychological issue with multiple facets.

 

**EDITED TO ADD**

pbs, this is the thread to discuss this. No need to start a need thread.

Edited by GTLS Designs
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Perhaps the reason I am feeling slightly uncomfortable about this thread is that I have been on the opposite end of the spectrum. I was, and am, extremely thin. For most of my life I have endured comments about it and been asked if I am anorexic. People feel very comfortable body-shaming thin people, even to their faces, because they feel that they can cover it by saying that they are jealous when you show offense. I grew up eating meat and potatoes and processed foods, plus a bowl of ice cream every night before bed. In high school I tried drinking protein shakes every day in an effort to gain weight but really only got stomach aches. I understand that ballet students would be particularly vulnerable to eating disorders, not just because thin is the ideal, but also because dancers seem more likely to have the type of personality that desires control. However, I also look at my long, thin, daughter, who works harder and is more focused than any person I know, and I worry that people will assume or accuse her of having an eating disorder.(Have you read about the Yale student who was told she had to gain weight or face suspension)? I also take offense when people assume that her accomplishments are based more on her body type than her abilities. I am not trying in any way to diminish the severity of the problem of eating disorders, but I would argue that you can't judge a person's health just by their weight.

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