While I usually idolize Balanchine, I do blame him for the body dysmorphia complex ballet dancers have as the modern day ballet body type for women was curated by Balanchine. Sure, nowadays we go to the ballet, and the standard for the ideal ballet body type is high. We have this idea that ballerinas are long, willowy, and bendy. From the documentary “Ballerina” the ideal body type of a ballet dancer is “ideally a ballerina will have a small head, long neck, long arms, long legs, slender figure.” Altynay Asylmuratova, Artistic director of the Vaganova Ballet Academy- 2009. And, well as that is the ideal, it is far from the truth. Maybe in Russia and France, ballerinas all look the same since they are hand-selected at the age of ten to become ballet students. So, with that being said, that is far from the American ballet body type. In the US, the body types of ballerinas vary, which should be celebrated. While ballet doesn’t really celebrate diversity, American Ballet Companies do hire different body types. It is hard to say, what the American body type is, but there are four common things that all ballerinas have:
hypermobility- flexibility in the hips, lower back, knees, and body.
Turn Out: the outward rotation of the hip joint. The goal is 180 degrees (90 degrees on each leg).
A low percentage of body fat: while thin physiques are ideal, there are athletic ballet dance bodies with beautiful muscle tone.
Feet- Feet that point beautifully and makes a shape.
I will give it to Balanchine though because he did make exceptions by creating roles for different types of bodies.
When it comes to the “ideal ballet” body type, it seems that American companies have created categories for women.
Tall Girls: These girls are usually tall, and mostly fit in the Russian ideal. When I say tall, I mean like 5’9″. The typical height of a ballet dancer is 5’4″. Normally these girls are excellent at Adagio. Balanchine made room for even taller women with roles like The Siren in Prodigal Son, the Tall Girl in Rubies, and the Dark Angel in Serenade.
Athletic Girls: Normally on the shorter side, and maybe a little broader frame, these women are usually jumping powerhouses and technical beasts. Like Ashley Bouder. If you have ever seen her in Dew Drop… The most ferocious.
Pretty Girls: This is going to sound bad, but then some girls particularly don’t stand out. They are pretty to watch with nice body types, and they blend in well. Usually, this makes up a corps de ballet. While the standards to get a corps contract are changing, these girls will always be in the corps.
After rereading that, I realized that doesn’t sound helpful, whatsoever. Okay, so the reality is, I was in the middle of this post when I was asked to go to a winery and have a drink. The perks of living near vineyards. So now, after a few drinks, and rereading this draft, I am like woah. This post might not have been the most helpful.
So, here is what I can say: When it comes to ballet body types, there is really only one thing that matters, and that is good technique. If you have solid technique, clean technique which also means you are flexible, you can find a job. It might not be at American Ballet Theatre or the Royal Ballet, but there are tons of companies out there. And I mean tons.
The idea of being a thin ballet dancer is kind of ridiculous since you have to be extremely strong and athletic to be a ballerina. You also have to be extremely neurotic and OCD to be a ballerina, but I already touched on that post. Does it help your career to be thin? Sure, naturally, if your body frame is petite and you have a high metabolism, that is an advantage. But there are other advantages to having: like natural-perfect turn out, extremely hyperextended legs, beautiful feet, a super strong psoas, a hypermobile back, even an extremely good ear for music, oooh- or just being smart and learning combinations quickly and taking corrections.
So, for everyone who wrote in asking about their body types- don’t fret. If you want to dance, and you have good teachers and a strong technique, don’t be discouraged. Go out in the world and find a ballet company that works for you and your body type. It might crush your dream that you might never dance at Lincoln Center, but if you truly love the art, and truly want to be a ballet dancer; then you will be happy dancing anywhere. I remember one girl from my ballet school who said if she couldn’t get hired at NYCB she didn’t want to be a ballerina. She went to SAB SI on scholarship for a year, and then the next year she didn’t get a scholarship and the following year she didn’t get in, so she quit. With that being said, I don’t think she was ever in it for the art, the work or the movement. I think she was in it for the prestige or the elitism. Not that I am judging, well I kind of am.
I hope everyone has a good Monday and enjoys my doodle. I have a 10 hour work day in 6 hours, so I probably should try to sleep.