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Ballet Talk for Dancers

Ballerina looks


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So..I finally got some inside information from the director at the school where I dance!

He gave a dancer who looks incredibly ideally balletic a big part in a recent production who is a lovely dancer but maybe doesn't have ideal turnout!!! He basically admitted to me that it is common enough in the ballet world and particularly to him that a (in his words) "thin, pretty dancer who is good but not necessarily as talented" will get a part above a "bigger, less attractive dancer..NO contest!!" ...I had always suspected this but it was interesting to hear it from the horse's mouth, if you will...

As a twelve year old, I auditioned with my class for a big part and got the part above a girl who was a billion times better than me, because I looked more the part!


I mean we all know that ballet is a lot about looks...and the classical ballet world is about being thin, elegant and pretty as a female...but I guess I was surprised to hear it reinterated as an adult!


Is this the norm still? I know that there are companies out there like the Joffrey who use fit looking athletic dancers..but they are still relatively slim and attractive...

Almost all principal dancers you see on youtube are quite beautiful!!! Not merely pretty! Polina Semionova, Evgenia Obraztsova, Svetlana Zakharova, Paloma Herrera, Irina Dvorovenko, Tamara rojo, Julie Kent ...I could go on and on......any of them could grace the cover of Vogue no problem!!!

How is that?

At the company where I dance, I would say that the female dancers are prettier than the average population for sure and the ones who get the main parts are VERY elegant, balletic looking and very thin. Some dancers who are MORE talented are relegated to corps roles and they tend to maybe not be as well proportioned (maybe be slightly more muscular or heavier) or simply less facially pretty!!!


I guess I am waxing poetic here...but would be interested to hear other's thoughts! Sometimes in class I see an AMAZING dancer who barely gets a look in and I wonder if it's because she just doesn't LOOK like Cinderella, the Snow Queen, Odile or whomever...?

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They're performers in an art form. Like it or not, physical beauty is one of the sought after features of performers. Many actors/resses are conventionally beautiful, or unconventionally striking. Professional dancers -- male and female -- are performers, first & foremost.


BTW: "Ballerina" is a rank in a company; most dancers are working dancers, not ballerinas.


And just a note to everyone. Please remember this MB is public. Only post what you'd feel comfortable everybody in your studio hearing from you face to face ....

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And just a note to everyone. Please remember this MB is public. Only post what you'd feel comfortable everybody in your studio hearing from you face to face ....


That's a great reminder to everyone! While anonymity is an expectation most of us have here, you would be amazed how easy it is to identify folks from your own school over time :speechless: ! Thank You Redbook :thumbsup:


Back to the topic at hand...

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I have actually discussed this issue with people I dance with...but I DID remove some specifics just in case. All the dancers at the company are excellent and I mean only to discuss this issue on a larger scale....


The well known dancers I name above are so so beautiful and this in interesting to me as once can't even see faces from a distance when they are on stage!

How do they happen to be that attractive!? Facinating to me ;)

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This is something I was thinking about having been to see Swan Lake just last night....


In terms of having the right hair or eye colour, or whatever, being cast for your looks, I should imagine, exists within all the performing arts. The figure/physique issue feels a bit different to me


The dancer playing Odette yesterday was so slender, that I found it quite uncomfortable to watch. Every bone was so visible I felt I could have taught my latest crop of students skeletal anatomy without the benefit of a skeleton! Now, to be fair, this probably says as much about my issues (grew up with an eating disorder, still have numerous body image 'issues!') as anything else. I noticed other dancers playing the swans who were, to my eye, very beautiful in movement and physique, but all the soloists tended to be of a very slight build.


Now I realise that it is a personal aesthetic preference - I just feel more comfortable watching the dancers who were 'better covered' - for want of a better phrase! None could be considered large by any stretch of the imagination.


I suppose I find it interesting to compare to gymnastics, where we seem to have made the leap from every performer being required to have a particular build, to a place where a number of different physiques - and changing physiques are seen. Hannah Whelan (team GB) would be one of my best examples of this, (just compare her between the 2008 and 2012 Olympics - very different but still brilliant. No British bias there, obviously! :innocent: )


Clearly ballet and Olympic gymnastics are very different beasts! I just wonder whether there is any move within the art form to look to a more 'mixed' approach?


Apologies if I've not put all that very well! The performance I went to was brilliant, but I don't really know how I feel about the actual discomfort I experienced at some points. Hard to explain I guess......

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Doormouse, I know what you mean when a certain dancer seems overly thin...I also don't love the look....As an artist, it is interesting to see sinews and bones and veins but in a dancer, to me it is not terribly aesthetically pleasing.

Many dancers are not necessarily underweight thought, they are more often very SLIGHT of build...like they are naturally small boned.

Do you feel that from a distance, from the audience, you can tell if a dancer has a beautiful face...or at least get the impression that they do? I am not sure that I can....


It is interesting that in gymnastics, which is all about the physique and what the body is capable of, that more "types"are acceptable but I guess that it is not the ART that ballet is...

And in ballet the body is the brush, I guess...and the dance is the painting...?

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Yes - that's a good analogy!


I wouldn't presume to say that a dancer was necessarily underweight - you simply could not dance, or undertake any physical activity of that intensity without enough calories on board. That said, if 'Odette' had presented to me as a patient, I might have wanted to do a few tests to check her nutritional state!


Some people are just built very slightly, but I suppose I do wonder if, in some styles, that very very slender physique is 'encouraged,' so to speak? I'm not really sure what I'm trying to say here. Its certainly not to criticise - its not as if I am qualified to! I think I am just trying to square what I love about ballet with elements which I feel very strongly 'opposed' to. That's not really the right word but there it is.......


I'm not sure about faces - I was sat quite near the front yesterday, so I could see! - I think if you think about the body as a 'brush', maybe I look at the paintin gmore than the individual figure? Or is that pushing the analogy a bit too far?!

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Much of the 'beauty' is about performance. Dancers are performers, first & foremost, who are trained to be expressive in a way that we have been taught or socialised to think of as "beautiful."

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I don't want to name any "ugly" dancers, because that is a matter of opinion and it is a public MB. I have, however, seen a few not so aesthetically beautiful in the face dancers - but then again, their ability and body really make up for it (as does the tons of make up and bright stage lights and relative distance of the audience). Still, beautiful looks is part of the package, otherwise the requirements for many companies wouldn't still be prefaced with "Headshot (looks), first arabesque en pointe (technique), Echappé 2nd (feet & legs)".


I like that in the ballet world, we're becoming more open to casting against look. Kitri does not always have black hair anymore, Odette does not always have to be a white/caucasian female, and Aurora & Cinderella aren't blondes. I look forward to more open casting in the future, but as for looks - it is an important factor of many performing arts (not just ballet). I also am iffy to say that looks alone will get one dancer cast over another - in my experiences, it's usually dancer-type. I've heard AD's saying things like, "Oh... it's an allegro heavy part. I think this dancer is better for it because she's more of an allegro dancer." Jumping dancers, turning, adagio, extension gifted, fleet-footed-allegro-type dancers... this is how I've normally heard casting decisions get broken down. Rarely do I hear about look. Fitting a costume, however, is still a very common part of casting. It's common when a dancer is still in the corps to be dancing a role because the "shoe/costume" literally fits!


If it helps, male dancers also are required to be good looking as well. We can always put prosthetics on a dancer's face to turn them into a Carabosse, Rothbart or Step Sister, but to look princely or princess-ly is a little more difficult. Again, there are a few rare exceptions that I'd rather not name, but their dancing is so amazing and they really still look gorgeous from afar - Like a Monet. :P

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You are right about the male dancers. Usually the prince is a tall and elegant dancer. Shorter males are hardly ever the prince. I had smaller framed male dancers who complaint that they never get the roles of the prince or the hero. One of my ex-teachers is one of the most expressive dancers I have ever seen but since he is rather short and not super muscular he is casted more in neoclassical and contemporary pieces. In classical pieces he gets to do corps parts or the friend of the prince.

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Height for a male has got to be a seriously difficult issue. I mean, can you imagine a shorter male partnering an Uliana Lopatkina height dancer? Women who are tall are already far taller due to the added height on point alone. So many factors! Aesthetics and athletics included!

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But of course there was Barishnikov (5'6") :)

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Thank goodness Ms. Kirkland was tiny compared to him, eh? :D

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I find it a little weird that the topic is in the adult forum. Seems more appropriate for a more general audience.


Anyway, I view choreography as akin to painting and dancers akin to paint. The choreographer has something of an idea as to how he or she wants the end product to appear. The painter works with paint. The choreographer works with dancers. In both cases it's how the end product works.


To bring it all back to adult ballet, a wonderful thing about adult ballet is that it doesn't matter what you look like to be a nice ballet dancer. Probably not professional, but having nice execution and most of all enjoying what you do. In 99% of the ballet world, it's up or out. Either you advance to a higher level or are out. Statistically speaking everyone fails eventually. Adult ballet is nothing like that. You have the freedom to experiment, to find enjoyment for its own sake, and if someone doesn't like it, tough %#*^.

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Bravo, garyecht! I think that's a very important thing about ballet study for adults to remember.


This thread has got me wondering about when the stereotypical look of a "ballerina" (which is nothing like the actual real-life look of working ballet dancers) became so fashionable? And the fashion for dance-wear as fashion wear? Of course, sych fashions have little to do with the actual working life of the professional dancer, but they can lead to harm -- specifically, untrained people wanting to be "like a ballerina" and wearing pointe shoes when they really shouldn't.


As far as I'm concerned wanting to "be a ballerina" is something one leaves behind at the age of about 7 or 8. But then I grew up in a performing arts family and so grew up the reality, rather than the fantasy. That's why I'm a professor, not a dancer! :whistling:

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