Notes on Body Types…

Firstly, before I start my long, and much-needed blog update on body types, I want to say, “Thank You.” The amount of support and followers and all of that has been mighty overwhelming. I am pleased to also say that this week I got to send out eight checks to students around the US to go off to their summer programs. I am not going to list the students out of respect to their financial situations, the fact that they are minors, and the way others will view them at their summer courses. Scholarship applications will be open again January-March 2017. Hopefully, with all of the sales throughout the year, I will be able to help more students!!! Thank you. To help support this scholarship fund click here. I have been really overwhelmed by the amount of e-mails I have been receiving and promise to get a better handle on the influx of emails. My friend Edgar has jumped in to help me at the warehouse, so I have more time to answer emails. Also this week the shop is going to have 8 new shirts added… Kind of excited…. So, a big thank you. Also sorry that I am going to have to start watermarking like crazy… people have been stealing and trying to sell my work… sooo everything is going to have these SUPER UGLY watermarks from now on…

proportions of ballet

Now, onto Notes on Body Types…

I have talked about the ideal body type… (click here to read that one) and height stuff… (click here to read about that) and how body type effects casting… (and this one)

Now it is time to really talk about body type and how this all factors into the big picture of ballet. Classic body proportions in art has been determined by 8 heads, the idea that if you take the height from top of the head to chin, the rest of the body proportionally you add seven heads… In fashion the standard is 9. The body of the female ballet dancer follows that of a fashion… but more compact… While the ideal female model is 5’9″-6’1″, the ideal female ballet dancer is 5’4″-5’9″; but with the same proportions.

ballet body types

In ballet, however, we make exceptions to the rules of proportion based on height… So here I have drawn this random, kind of awful sketch of body types…

A. The ideal body type in ideal proportions. Usually includes hypermobility in the joints,a narrow pelvis, an average torso and long extremities. (basically, like every Russian girl) They can be any height, they just carry the ideal proportions of ballet…

B. The shorter torso girl in ballet, is usually on the shorter side, and their body type is slightly more athletic, this body type was more common, but unfortunately we are seeing less and less of it. These bodies are still in proportion but compact.(aka, Ashley Bouder, Leta Biasucci etc)

C. The tall girl… They usually have elongated torsos, but are on the taller side of life. (aka Teresa Reichlen, pretty much everyone at PNB, etc)

D. The broader body type, there is room in ballet for a wider body type and we see it on women like Carrie Imler, Kathleen Breen Combes, Sara Mearns… By no means are these women fat, or large- their body types or bone structures are just broader. This body type is actually one of the more common American body types.

These four body types are the most common in ballet. Very rarely do we see a body type outside of these four. Does this mean that if you don’t fall into one of these categories you will never be a professional ballet? By no means, it just means you have to find the right company for you. This means you have to find companies who have your body type in the corps.

Now, within these four body types there are tons of variations… High arches, hypermobility, a meatier arch, long toes, the list goes on. That is the wonderful side of individuality and genetics… But unfortunately, there are some curses when it comes to ballet. The first is flat feet. Without the arch, it is harder to complete a line… It isn’t impossible. You can cheat bad feet with bangin turnout, or really strong toes. It isn’t impossible. Just means you have to work differently. Another curse in ballet is being knocked kneed.

knees and ballet

a. Knocked knees, this is a really hard curse to overcome in ballet. It changes the line of the body, and changes the shape of the muscles.

b. Hypermobility is key in ballet, but can also be a curse if overstretched and not properly trained.

c. Bowlegged… pretty common in ballet, because it is usually combined with hypermobile knees. It just means you have to be more in tune with your body while landing from jumps.

So, with all this talk about body type… There is a reason behind it all… BODY LINE

notes on body line

All of these factors really only come to play when talking about body line. The line of the body is the key to ballet. These lines are created by the negative space of the body. It creates the shape of arabesque, attitude, and even the space between the fingers… It is all relevant. It is probably why teachers yell to keep the focus of your eyes, because even that completes the line. Everything in ballet is determined on body line. For example, if you point your foot parallel to the ground and were to draw a line from your ankle, through… the line should un-waiver and hit at your big toe, or your toes should be below the line… It is how you can determine whether or not a student is ready for pointe, or if a student might be more successful en pointe. The wing in a foot creates a more curved line, and a more flexible instep creates another curve. The longer the foot, the more length it gives a dancer in their legs… The list goes on… The more curves your body makes, the more lines and the more interesting negative space can be created. Dancers with hypermobile backs, or hypermobile hips allows for endless possibilities when it comes to shapes.

Now, the body type can also be altered by muscles as well… If your body is prone to building muscle, then it can change the shape of the body. If your body is in perfect proportions, but you have tight tendons and closed hips (no rotation or turnout) well… that is going to be another obstacle to get over.

If you are a thirteen-year-old girl, and you are freaking out because your body is changing, don’t worry- every girl in ballet goes through it. It is one of the scary things in ballet, is that nothing is ever certain… just like injuries… So… I can now answer questions that have been written in (condensed a bunch as well):

Q: My body has changed a lot now that I am sixteen, and I don’t have a “good” ballet body, what should I do? I don’t know how drastic your body has changed, but if your body type isn’t the ideal ballet body, and you aren’t getting into summer programs, and you want to dance there is are hundreds of dance careers out there… Teaching, choreographing, writing, production, administration, and development/fundraising. You don’t have to give up on ballet altogether. Additionally, there are other genres out there… ballroom… contemporary… modern… post modern… broadway.

Q: I am very hypermobile and don’t know what to do? It means you need to take tons of pilates classes and cross train in a pool. Don’t stand in first with your ankles apart, and don’t grip the hypermobility as well. The majority of dancers out there are hyperextended in the knees… it just means you have to work smart.

Q: I have short legs, will I still be a dancer? Ummmm… no one can say if someone is going to be a dancer or not be a dancer… It is very hard… and the ballet world is very fickle… If you have short legs and a long torso that is hypermobile, you actually might have a stellar arabesque line…. So, there is no answer to that…

Q: I diet, I cross-train, I dance every day but can’t lose weight… what should I do? So, if you are doing all of those things, but you aren’t losing weight… it could be that you are overdoing your body and you’re are exhausting your body. Sometimes, dancing every day is a bad thing… especially for young girls who are pre-teens. During puberty your body is already going under a lot of stress because of growth plates and tendons… add over stretching and constant physical demands of ballet… your body might be exhausted. It might just be best to take a break for 10 days, let your body readjust and start again… Also, you could be starving your body… which is TOTALLY NOT GOOD… dieting doesn’t mean starve yourself…. despite popular belief…. you actually have to eat quite a bit as a dancer, but you have to be fueling your body correctly throughout the day to prepare you for the dance load you have that evening.

Okay then… hope you enjoyed… don’t forget to follow me on facebook and instagram… This week’s instagram theme is: BAD GIRLS OF BALLET: kicked it off this Sunday with Carabosse from “the Sleeping Beauty”

carabosse costume design


Should You Hyperextend?


The obvious answer is yes. Anyone who tells you otherwise is ridiculous and silly. Everyone goes on and on about if you should hyperextend your knees or if you shouldn’t hyperextend and blah blah blah. The answer is pretty obvious at looking at any ballet photo or video. Now, to be a little more precise, there is a right way, and there is DEFINITELY a wrong way to hyperextend.

The Pros of Hyperextension:
Hyperextension makes for prettier lines
Makes the leg look higher in extensions
More precise shapes.
The Cons of Hyperextension:
Prone to injury in weaker dancers
A smaller center of gravity

So, for a quick look at hyperextension: usually in ballet, when talking about hyperextension it is usually talking about the knees. Hypermobility usually refers to the back. Hyperextension occurs when the knees are pushed too far back, usually from over-stretching of the ligaments. Because of this, the Posterior cruciate ligament is prone to injury. The PCL is the strongest ligament in the knee and is pretty crucial for a ballet dancer. Hyperextension also causes weak external rotator muscles, which can cause rolling and if your are rolling in your foot out of a jump, you can sprain your ankle or hurt your knee. With that being said, anything in ballet can cause an injury.

But, hyperextension is sought after in post preprofessional dancers. Companies and school directors look for potential body types, and hyperextension is one of those things.

If you are gifted with hyperextension, don’t look at it as a curse (trust me, girls would kill to be hyperextended). There are plenty of ways to maintain and control hyperextension. When over stretching, don’t overstretch by putting pressure on your knee. Like putting your leg on a chair. Lay on gymnastic mats or anything lifted 8-12 inches off the floor and stretch on your back. Yes, your arms have to do some of the work, but let gravity take you backward instead of gravity pulling your body weight onto your knees.

Get into pilates twice a week. Whether you are doing it on your own for 45 minutes or getting into mat or reformer classes, pilates will be your maintenance.

At the barre, avoid locking back and shifting into the back of your knee. Keep your weight pressed forward in the balls of your feet and maintain that throughout barre exercises.
Lengthen don’t grip. Hyperextension usually causes dancers to lock back in their legs, causing the quads to grip. If you the weight is shifted properly and the energy is spiraling down through the leg, it maintains the support the knee needs.

There is a point of too much hyperextension, and until you are Misty Copeland or Lia Cirio and have mastered the control of your legs, avoid working in an over extended first position. In fact, avoid it. When you have the hyperextension like these two ladies, you have to become extremely aware of your legs and your rotation.
I’ve also noticed girls with hyperextended legs wear their legs out quicker throughout a class. Work smartly. Be conscious of when you are working, as you must constantly be working on maintaining the tension in your legs and they aren’t just flopping around, and you use your quads to compensate.

Finally, girls with hyperextension usually have a harder time trying to turn. In these situations, don’t hyperextend, even if you feel like your knee is bent. When you hyperextend your standing leg, the bend causes your center of gravity to shift. So, you have to move your pelvis and center of gravity over the arch of your foot. By strengthening this idea, and putting it onto your body will allow for a stronger, more heightened sense of where your center of gravity.

Hope this helps & here are some videos of gorgeous hyperextension of ballet…

Meet Lia Cirio… & her body

Misty Copeland…Under Armor

Michaela Deprince

Sylvie Guillem, Queen of legs.

Svetlana Zakharova, Princess of Legs4Days