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Ballet Talk for Dancers

History of distorted body ideals?


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I feel I need to speak up......what exactly is this "Balanchine" body that everyone keeps referring to?!?!? Because if NYCB is the "home" of Balanchine that phrase is MEANINGLESS!!!!! If you lined up the principal dancers and rising stars of NYCB you have a representation of every body type in dance today!!!! Put Sterling Hyltin next to Sara Mearns or Lauren Lovette next to Ashley Bouder.......ALL DIFFERENT!!!!!! We need to stop putting dancers bodies in boxes because I am SURE that AD's see the dancer NOT the body when hiring and filling roles.


I'd also like to add, that until I had the pleasure of meeting these dancers in the flesh, I too had a mental image of the long, thin super graceful dancer. Imagine my surprise to see a athletic mostly normal person standing in front of me. Stereotypes are really hard to ignore.....

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The reason this discussion almost always gets derailed is our own way of speaking when describing others. It is hard to get your point across in words I know, but we have to try. Please be mindful, that words hurt even in trying to describe. I get it, it's hard to discuss the issue without using descriptions. However, the descriptions themselves can sometimes be just as offensive. I think of my mom when I say that. She would roll over in her grave to hear my kids say the word "crap". To her a bad substitute for a more profane word is no more or less offensive than just using the word itself. That is how we need to think here in this thread to be able to discuss this issue in both a rational and sensitive manner.


AB's mom--I understand your frustration. It is difficult to be any kind of different when descriptors are involved. The thing to remember is that in ballet, in general, when compared to the real world outside it. Everyone is "different" body wise. As a people, we tend to stereotype. We do not like it though when we become the stereotype. There are so many of life's issues that would be solved if we, as a people, can fix just that.


Rational and sensitive is the only way to continue. Rating mirrors? A bit irrational!

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buzzandmoo - I'm glad that you spoke up. Well informed people that are exposed to the current world of professional ballet are exactly who we need to hear from regarding this topic. Thank you so much for your feedback.


In answer to your question regarding Balanchine's preference. Long legs, short torso (I have read 2 to 1 leg to torso ratio), long neck, small round head, long arms, shoulders broader than hips, small hips. No curves. slight hyperextended legs, banana feet, high arch, bump on instep, 90% rotation at the hips.


Only 2% of female population have this.


The long legs or limbs is in comparison to the torso. So if you are 5'5" and the girl standing next to you is 5"7", your legs could possibly be 2" longer than the taller girl. You would be more apt to have the 2 to 1 leg to torso ratio. The 5'7" girl would likely have more of a medium torso and leg length. The shorter your torso, the longer your limbs will look no matter your height.

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ABsMom, both my husband daughter would sympathize with you and your daughter as they both are extremely thin and have always been so. My husband's struggled his entire adult life to gain enough weight to hit the charts for getting a normal life insurance policy. He's healthy as an ox. My daughter is just like him. She endured an especially difficult time from 12-14 when she was overhearing parents (which I find abominable behavior) and dancers at performances and SI's questioning her to her face and to others as to whether or not she had an ED. "Rail thin", "ribs showing" describe both husband and daughter from their very early years to the present. My husband's in his 60's and is thinner than ever. It's as troublesome to him, in terms of what people have to say about him, as it is to people who struggle to lose weight.

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Interesting article on retailers "Skinny Mirrors" I mean with the psychological effect of skinny mirrors have on self perception why wouldn't a mirror that was unflattering have a negative effect.



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pbs - I happen to have a male dancer. I beleive there is a lot more diversity in male body types in the professional world of ballet.



Also- I do find the word "distorted" when referring to body type, to be offensive. But clearly the person who began this thread did not have ill intentions. Any dancer with a natural "Balanchine preferred body type" should consider themselves blessed. Notice how I wrote natural? It can not be duplicated or achieved through diet or exercise. A person cannot simply change the length of their limbs or torso. However, you can build flexibility and strength to enhance your arch, rotation at the hips...through continued training. I recall somebody telling my daughter that ballet demands your body to do the "impossible". It is not natural for people to have turn out. It is developed. It isn't natural to walk on pointe. You are asking something of your body that it is not naturally prepared to do. Which is why it requires years and years of training.


I personally, would like AD's to break from unhealthy stereotypes. I do believe that preferring a body type that only 2% of the population has is a form of discrimination. But unfortunatly artistic preference IS discriminating.


I hope there are more companies that will hire dancers on thier technical abilites, artistic expression, work ethics and ability to dance and move an audience.

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For the purposes of this board and this discussion, let's keep this discussion to the "history of distorted body ideal" as it relates to ballet. This might include a discussion of mirrors, but that is not the same discussion as a retailer who purchases mirrors which make you look thinner, designers who make clothing a bit larger but keep a smaller size on it, or lighting in dressing rooms. That is a completely different discussion.


See, this is exactly what I mean about our own input in this: Every dancer is blessed. The thought that if you have a Balanchine body you are blessed is part of our personal problems related to body image and ballet. My daughter who is 5'2", petite, large feet, and is a minority dancer is blessed because she exists on this earth and she's trained to dance through fruition. She is no less blessed than any other dancer and no more so. Our own biases are really showing in our language on this thread and we need to stop or we are part of the problem! You can't say they are blessed in one sentence and then that it's discriminating in another. Please let's be careful.

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Again, never intended to slam anyone who is naturally thin. Great for you in this job market!!!! Never meant to say that those that are thin are not talented either! I have no idea. I do know that the ideal body type right now, in this job market, in NY, where my DD is currently participating and seeing first-hand, favors a certain body type.


Yes, NYCB has may different body types in their Company. That ideal was in the past, and that is why DD loved the diversity of this Company so much. However, currently, not so true. The Board has told the AD to diversify, so you will see another dimension to the type of dancers entering Apprenticeships this year. And that's a great thing!!!!!


The point I need to make is that the body type that was acceptable eight years ago is different than the body type most larger American companies are hiring right now today is different. The pendulum swings back and forth.


As for the mirrors, spoke with a teacher at SAB about it. Some mirrors are brand new, some are old and need to be replaced. There is no intention on distorting the mirrors at SAB to portray dancers as larger or smaller than they really are. He thought that was absolutely ridiculous.

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I didn't mean to insult or upset anybody by bringing this topic to surface again. I was hoping for a safe place for a positive and healthy discussion about the current trend of the professional ballet world embracing diversity. I was hoping that the few women who have found success as professional dancers in companies that have made the news are not the exception, but may be paving the way for future talented and deserving dancers who may not have the Body Type "ideal" that Balanchine was so drawn to artistically.


The biases and preferences mentioned in my above posts are not my own, nor do they reflect my own body image issues.I apolgize if "blessed" was the wrong word to use. It was a figure of speech and I did not mean for it to be interpreted that the other 98% of girls in ballet are not blessed.


And yes, I do believe that when artistic directors have a bias or a preference based solely on a body type that only 2% of the female population has, it is very discriminating. So it is possible to say that these girls are blessed or fortunate in one sentence and that the artistic director is discriminating in the next sentence. The artistic director has a vision based on a beautiful art form as they see it. It is their biases or preferences that accept or decline applicants who audition for their training programs or companies.


I love this...Balance in everything ballet! I'm sure it has more than one meaning depending on how we interpret it. And I did not mean for my in put or inquiries to be offensive to anybody. I do have concerns, regarding what direction and guidence to give my daughter as she develops and matures in dance. As for now, she is physically fit and has a beautiful facility for classical ballet. But she does not possess all of the physical qualities that Balanchine sought in his dancers.


I am very grateful for this forum, where we have a place to ask these questions who know a little bit more about the current trends in the ballet world. Without it, many of us would be lost. Momof3darlings, many of your past and current posts have been invaluable to my developing knowledge of the current dance world.



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Napnap, you were brave for asking that question...I can see that my suggestion that perhaps distorted mirrors having to be considered as a culprit in fostering distorted body ideals is considered pretty far fetched.


And perhaps I went further out there when floating the concept that there might be a calculated effort to incorporate similarly distorted mirrors in the studios of dance schools for some type of advantage. For me it was just a natural leap. Many weird and misguided things happen when very competitive institutions perceive something is likely to create an advantage, for example, letting air out of Footballs, pumping in fake crowd noise for home games, etc. etc. I couldn't for the life of me fathom the what and why. And I do know that mirrors play a very important role in self-perception/identity and having as an undergrad psych student watched people/kids interact through two way mirrors, it is very revealing.


That being said, everyone should be aware that mirrors aren't foolproof and are not to be relied on as distortion free.


Here are two posts, one discusses how distortion in mirrors can occur and it would seem that improperly installed mirrors or older mirrors can develop distortions. [. . . . . ]


This other post is related I suppose to the other aspect of the thread a perception of oneself, the author discusses a circumstance of ED being a "mimicked behavior" especially if socially reinforced. It does cite a situation of ED at a ballet school, quite possibly SAB, although it isn't exactly clear. I wasn't suggesting that the mirrors are the culprit either. http://www.rhcounselingservices.com/2012/07/16/mirror-mirror-wall-thinnest-all-experiences-eating-disorders/


So check your mirrors as objects might actually be closer than they appear;)

Edited by dancemaven
Removed link to blog per BT4D policy.
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I second what buzzandmoo says. Having had 1st hand experience meeting and seeing many of the NYCB dancers, I would even be so bold as to say MOST are quite muscular and not very waif-like. A former ballet mistress associated with the company affliated school, once told me that the dancers the school accepts are VERY different than what Balanchine's ideal was. I think the whole Balanchine body is a very outdated stereotype.

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After reading through a few books on Balanchine, with photos of his dancers back in the early days, I think many have a very different idea of what his "ideals" were. Look at his dancers - quite a bit different than what some might think. Also I think the use of the word "distorted" in the original post topic is appropriate because the phrase used was "distorted image" - not distorted bodies. What some see in the mirror is NOT reality - and this is the topic that every mama (imo) needs to have with their child (dancing or not).

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