Addressing the uniformity of body types in the ballet world
written by Madeleine Twyman
Is patriarchy to blame for the standard of beauty in ballet? Was it a man who decided that a willowy frame, long legs, a small head and short torso were the epitome of desire for a classical ballerina? Isn’t it actually quite antiquated to see a row of dancers all looking exactly the same? Does the shape of the foot, colour of their skin or even gender one was born with predetermine eligibility for a career in classical dance? Shouldn’t cultural organizations reflect the culture of the city and country they represent? Social media is flooded with sayings reminding us to embrace and respect our differences… except if you want to be a ballerina – then you need to fit a very specific mold.
There are definitely more and more classical companies hiring all different races, body types and aesthetics, and I frequently notice my non dancer friends are always more inspired by strong, athletic and unique dancers. Whenever I am at dance competition and see so many schools with students who all look exactly the same ‘cookie cutter’ mold of one another, each with the exact same solo, I think to myself, how? And more importantly, why?
With the dominance of social media and online representations of dance, the physicality of dance obviously reads easier than the artistry, meaning: it is much easier for video to capture ‘wow’ factor lines, jumps, tricks, synchronicity, etc than the vibrational energy transmissions of live performances. But weren’t many of the great artists in history celebrated more for their dynamic forces of energy and their ‘je ne sais quois’ beyond their technical merits?
Being an amazing technical dancer is a prerequisite, but it does not automatically make you an amazing artist, just as singers who can do a great cover of Aretha Franklin are still not Aretha Franklin. Look at painters, there are many skilled artists who can forge an exact duplicate of a great master like Picasso or Basquiet, but they themselves still do not have their magnetism, creativity or truth. To be able to inspire a real in-person audience requires so much more than technical proficiency. My question is, if today’s generation is being brought up to view art on a computer screen or on their phone, will they be able to discern the differences? Despite how amazing a performance may be/look/sound on video, rest assured it is always even better in a live viewing experience as that vibrational energy of raw emotion has to be felt. It’s much like explaining water in great detail to someone who has never felt the rush of diving into the ocean. Aren’t we all just spiritual beings having a human experience?
How many instagram videos of extreme ‘gymnastic’ ballet lines do we have to see before we are bored already? I always say to my students, what are you going to do when you are in a room with dancers and everyone can do the same amount of turns and all get their leg up? What is going to separate you from another good dancer? It is your authenticity, your truth. It is using every single experience life has taught you from the lens of your own identity and translating it into movement. It is everything instagram will have you believing you shouldn’t be proud about: your differences, your flaws, your unique nuances and artistic perspectives; these are your super powers in a sea of sameness.