A question we get asked all the time, “Do I have a good body to pursue ballet?” This is usually followed by, “What makes the body good?” We have talked about this in the magazine and on the blog, but today I wanted to take the time and focus on different types of bodies in ballet, how they work inside of this crazy world, and some of the challenges that a body type will face.
Ballet does have tons of different body types that work because no two bodies are identical. And while the “ideal” body is often described as elongated, thin, and waif-like, the reality is, most ballet dancers don’t look like that. And while a lot of principal dancers do look like that, there are other principal dancers who don’t look like that. This is where casting comes into play.
For me, there are five “common” body types that are in ballet, and while anthropologists will tell you there are three body types (ectomorph, mesomorph, and endomorph), ballet breaks it down a little more than that. However, I would say that ectomorph body types usually will have an easier path through ballet.
Now, girls have it bad in ballet. They really don’t know what body type they will end up with. Puberty can be quite awful. Some girls will have the most beautiful body and proportions when 11, and by 15 the body type will have completely changed. This is just one of the realities. As women you are usually grouped up into random foods or shapes… strawberry body, apple, pear, hourglass, rectangle, and again, while dietitians and fashion designers use this as a way to focus on “problematic” areas, the reality is again…. ballet is much more complicated than that.
For me, and I have said this time and time again, that it is about proportions and how you use them. And while everyone has different proportions, the one thing that is hard to argue is being “thin.” Thin is thin. But, when it comes to proportions and body type, musculature, and builds, for me, there are five bodies outside of the Russian ideal that are very employable, especially in America.
- Long Torso– For these girls, with a long torso, meaning torso as long or slightly longer than the inseam. There are a lot of women employed in ballet that have longer torsos. A plus side to having a long torso means more back range and usually a very beautiful arabesque line. I think if you have a long torso, one of the best things to do, is don’t hide the fact you have a long torso. When you slouch or have poor placement in the core and spine, it is even more obvious. Don’t slack on the conditioning and make sure your core is strong enough to support your spine.
- Athletic– Girls who develop muscle extremely fast, and are usually seen that develop more muscle in the quads. Athletic girls can be tall or short, but usually, I find that they are on the shorter side. When having athletic builds in ballet, I always tell them that you better jump and turn so you can do all of the powerhouse soloist roles, and eventually become a bravura principal. If you are on the more athletic side, cross-training in yoga and pilates is a good way of keeping the musculature long and lean.
- Tall Girl– Girls who are above 5’6″ – While thinking ballerinas are usually tall, most are in the 5’3″-5″6″ range with good proportions. Tall girls herald in like amazons and usually are given a lot of adagio roles. The problem is that when a kid grows too fast, they become tight, so flexibility coaches might work to your advantage.
- Short Girl – Girls who are under 5’3″. There are tons of short girls employed in ballet, and it usually revolves around short male principals. This idea that short girls can’t work, is crazy. While it is harder to fit them into the corps de ballet, they have a good shot of skyrocketing through the ranks if there is a boy to match the talent.
- Womanly -I think we forget, that ballet really does flatter the female body, and so many people out there are extremely critical of girls who have curves. Truthfully, I rather enjoy seeing a woman on stage looking like a woman, especially if they have long legs. I think there is something rather “idyllic” about this body.
I think the biggest thing for me and body proportions is facility. Making sure the turnout, legs, and feet are there. Then looking if the technique, placement, and position is clean. Finally looking at musicality and artistry, because if if you can dance well, both artistically and technically, then anything is possible.
Remember, that body type and body preference is unfortunately a part of any sport or physical art. You can’t be 5’3″ and go into the NBA, or be 100 pounds and be a line backer in the NFL. And if body type, self-esteem, and anxiety are issues, please seek medical professional help. Also remember, that it is okay not become a professional ballet dancer, and that ballet can be just a very intense and focused hobby. It looks great on collegiate applications and is a way to make friends, network, and experience the art without having the insane demand of social media/and the pursuit of a professional career.
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