Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Body Image and the Ballerina

A couple of weeks ago I posted about being "fat" in LA, about the media's obsession with perfect bodies and how it makes the rest of us feel. And let's please note that the media's definition of "perfect body" is far from what the average person would say.

In the dance world, particularly ballet, weight is a constant issue. Every ounce of flesh you have on your bones is paraded in front of strangers. Costumes are designed to cling to your figure, to accentuate long limbs and lean torsos. God help you if you happen to have a curve or two. George Balanchine, whom many consider to be the father of ballet in America, encouraged an ideal body type among his dancers: small round heads, narrow hips, impossibly long legs, short waists and nonexistent chests. That ideal is still fairly prevalent among most ballet companies and schools and even if it wasn't, the girls themselves perpetuate it. See below for Balanchine with his muse, Suzanne Farrell, whom all dancers at City Ballet modeled themselves after:

The fact is, you can't get away from your body when you dance. You are constantly aware of every muscle - whether it's in pain or tweaked or needs to rest - and for advanced dancers, each minute detail of their bodies affects how they perform. Add to this the display of one's body every single day during class and rehearsals. Who else spends hours of their days practically naked in front of a room full of mirrors?

And believe me, every dancer in every studio knows exactly where the "fat" and "skinny" mirrors are in the room.

Dancers are just like actors in that both groups are often judged - and hired and fired - based on their looks. I really really wish that wasn't the case. A graceful body is a graceful body, regardless of its size or shape.

And just to prove that to everyone, please take a look at The Big Ballet Company of the UK. Are they gorgeous and graceful or what? Completely non-traditional bodies. I love them!