Ballet… What’s the skinny? 5 Misconceptions about women in ballet.

Photo by RJ LUNA. LINES.
Photo by RJ LUNA. LINES.

(So, after going a month without publishing a blog post, and watching how the month of November would shape up in terms of readers, a lot of people asked me to talk about body types… In specific the female body type.)

Here we go, another fun five facts about ballet: 5 misconceptions about the women in ballet.

With iconic movies like Center Stage and Black Swan, it seems that when it comes to ballet dancers, the world associates it eating disorders. Sure, as flattering as that may be, associating ballet with skinny… Well, lets just look at the reality of ballet…

1. Anorexia and Bulimia… the eating disorders. Myth. Whoever just eats a salad all day and has to dance a three act ballet must have magical muscles or some sh!t because, a salad would barely get me through rehearsal, yet alone a performance. Most professional ballet dancers are far from anorexic, they can’t be. With the amount of energy burned while dancing, if they didn’t eat… they would end up dead in the middle of a ballet performance. Now, if we are talking about students… that is a different story. It is hard for any child, male or female to be in ballet. And somewhere around age 11, everything start to build up. From ages 11-14 you are told that this is your moment to make it into a professional school. With the pressure and anxiety of parents, and teachers pushing girls into the workforce so young, bulimia becomes a way to control something… I mean their careers aren’t in their hands. In addition, their bodies are changing and when they were constantly told that is just baby fat, and it doesn’t go away… and then chests develop… well, young impressionable girls take it to the extreme… and boys for that matter. Eventually, as puberty ends, and adult bodies begin to take shape, more dancers get a control of their body and understand what foods work and don’t work for them. What makes them feel bloated and what makes them feel good and energetic. Also the reality is, dancers have to be in top condition, which means they have to have extreme muscle toning. Asking your leg to go up super high and hold it in a la second is hard, but doing that while hungry and while your muscles are deprived from the proper nutrients… good luck…

2. Ballet dancers are tall. kind of a myth. Most female ballet dancers are between 5’3″ and 5’5″, and if you dance for NYCB or older PNB… then you might be 5″7-5’9″… the majority of ballet dancers both male and female are on the shorter side. It is why tall men are celebrated, because that means tall women can be employed. What makes ballet dancers look so tall is he ability to isometrically move, and moving on the diagonal. It is like that optical illusion with a diagonal line and a horizontal line the exact same length, but asking which one is longer. It is why balanchine over crossed for the sake of aesthetic, and why efface is so flattering in arabesque. Probably why students aren’t allowed to have pictures on the diagonal.

3. Ballet girls are stuck up prudes… maybe a myth. I don’t know about you, but this idea that all ballet dancers are these wholesome ethereal creatures… I don’t know what summer programs you went to, or what year round schools you went to… buuuuut give a ballet girl the chance to get turnt… she’ll take it. Which is why I endorse not sending your kid to a professional school till sixteen, kids definitely need more supervision these days. (I work at the school district… I know.) As far as the stuck up part goes, I don’t know if it is because ballet is privileged extra curricular, I mean the costs are obscene… So, it could be that upper middle class attitude? Then again what teenager doesn’t get turnt up these days?

4. Ballerinas are black swan crazy. This might just be a little true. Everyone in ballet has to be a little OCD… I mean they are killing themselves doing the same thing over and over and over… trying to be perfect, knowing that it is impossible. That is just self punishment. Will they go kill themselves in the middle of a performance via Natalie Portman status… probably not. Will they go all Maureen on us and disappear minutes before the curtain goes up… doubtful, especially if you are the lead.

5. Ballerinas are fragile, delicate princesses. Not true. Women in ballet are just as ferocious as the men in ballet. In fact, they are probably more ferocious. Women in ballet attack performances, fearlessly and push through injury, women in ballet are fierce. If you look at their muscle tone, they are crazy ripped, and probably could fall of their bike, and still dance swan lake.

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The Boston Ballerinas

Boston Ballet sometimes gets overlooked when it comes to referencing iconic Bostonian things… What this historic New England town boasts in historic landmarks, American history, the ICA, Harvard Yard, their baseball team, and the home of the current season of Top Chef. What people forget about is their ballet company. While, New Yorkers and Bostonians have a long time rivalry, and with Boston Ballet recently making their appearance at Lincoln Center… Boston Ballet proves once again to be a standing rival against the New York Ballerinas. Not to mention ABT’s studly James Whiteside was a former principal with Boston Ballet. Now what people tend to forget is that currently, Boston Ballet boasts a roster of principals to die for. Of these principals, 9 of them I have seen dance live, and they are all mind blowing. While their men are fantastic, dynamic and to say the least were all prodigies… Their women might just be the most dynamic primas in the US.

Don’t get me wrong, there are stunning women in every company. And if this was the oscars and we were nominating for the best prima in the US, many women would dazzle us in the category. But, after a lot of thought and many hours on youtube, the women of Boston Ballet have won me over. Specifically, Kathleen Breen Combes, Lia Cirio, Ashley Ellis, Whitney Jensen and Misa Kuranaga and here is why.

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Ironically dancing the tall girl role in Rubies, she is only 5’4″ #legsfordays

Kathleen Breen Combes, she is has to be the epitome of a ballerina. Everything about her says BALLET. With legs for days, and pale skin, glowing eyes, makes her mesmorizing. She was already hailed as one of the great American Ballerinas, and I couldn’t give her enough praise. From soft romantic roles, to full length classics, to her technical rigor in Balanchine ballets. She possesses something charming that I think would inspire most young girls. As her ballet career has been followed closely from her 2003 win of The Lefkowitz Award for Special Achievement, which she won after being eliminated from the competition, to her time at Washington Ballet, to her contract with Boston Ballet and skyrocketing through the ranks, to her injury, she is everything. Standing at 5’4″ but looking 5’10” on stage, she is everything you think of a classical ballet dancer. 

Lia Cirio in Jose Martinez’s Resonance.
Lia Cirio in Jose Martinez’s Resonance.

Then there is Lia Cirio, who I think is the epitome of what a modern day ballerina is. With her fierce intensity, and ferocious attack, she gives me life. Her attention to detail, her performance quality and her well… those hyper extended legs make everything. With an arabesque for days, and her athletic physique it makes for a combination of modernity and classic ballet. While her acting skills are praised highly, her technical ability is flawless which makes for the perfect combination on stage. Her jump is for days, but matched with passion. Another ballerina with a high profiled career, Lia Cirio is definitely one who will not be forgotten. As she continually grows as an artist, pushing herself, it makes me excited for BB’s Swan Lake Reviews.

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Ken Browar & Deborah Ory for NYC Dance Project.

Ashley Ellis. Mmmm, my first memory of her was in Southern California, and I was training at South Bay Ballet. She had come to take class while still at American Ballet Theatre. Having watched videos of her, her reputation preceded her having won the Spotlight Awards. (Side note, Lia Cirio’s reputation was echoed everywhere at CPYB, but never saw her there but once, and not in class.) So, in class her beautiful legs extended into the air and I died a little. So, after stalking her while at American Ballet Theatre, I often wondered why she was never promoted… Then, she moved to Angel Corella’s company and was a soloist, but I feel like that wasn’t a fit for her. Then she came back to the states and flourished at Boston Ballet. I think everything about her dancing changed, and this new and different maturity came out in her dancing, and I fell in love all over again. She has this simple sincerity to her dancing that is ever so enchanting.

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Whitney Jensen… So young, so talented… We know her from well, everywhere. From her win of the hope award at the YAGP at 11, to her win at Varna… she was definitely one to watch and well… it paid off. From a very young age she showed control and constraint, as some young dancers get into the moment and whack everything… But she has always been in control. Known for her technical ability to turn… and turn, she is beyond exotic in the face but has come into her own. As she has grown at Boston Ballet her unique charisma has grown to be intoxicating, always leaving you wanting more.

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So, a while ago… a friend of mine was going to Harvard and said he had just saw the sleeping beauty and one of the faeries stole the spotlight. I assumed it was going to be Lilac, but when he said canary… I asked how could a 30 second variation steal prologue? He said her name is Something Kamamasdfadf something. Now, everyone knows her name. Finding the perfect partner in Jeffrey Cirio, Misa Kuranaga has grown to flourish in everything. From her graduation performance at School of American Ballet, to growing with Boston Ballet, she has become everything. With her luscious turn out, gracious technical ability, ridiculously precise musicality, and her understanding of character roles, she becomes a different dancer in every role all while giving us arabesque.

So, that sums up these dynamic women who I can’t give enough praise to. Merde as they take on Swan Lake!!