The “Ideal” Ballet Dancer… and then some…

the ideal ballet dancer

There is this thought process that every dancer goes through at one point in his or her life, and this thought process is encouraged by parents, teachers, and other dance educators. The problem with this thought process is that it is a lie we have bought into. Everyone has bought into this idea, and now it has become the standard or expectation of the ballet norm. The thought process is revolves around the question we ask ourselves, “Am I right for ballet?” The lie starts at the top… When you hear artistic directors answer interview questions, they are always politically corrected because that is a part of their job, to keep everyone happy. Ironically and in all actuality, they are hired to shape the overall look of the company and decide on a company’s repertory. And when you hear their answers, they are half honest… politician honest. By most standards in ballet, we have come to the agreement based on the “Balanchine” body type which was shaped by Tanaquil Leclerc and then reinforced by Suzanne Farrell and Gelsey Kirkland… These ideal body types then became the standard for all ballerinas, and we hear the same old answers on what the ideal body type is… But in these descriptions, you never hear them talk about race or gender…  I mean, you would be quite daft to go out and say, “I only hire white dancers” or “I am looking for that one token black dancer who can pass off as white in the corps”… I mean like that would be all over the news… But the sad reality is, that is what they are really thinking…

You see… when we talk about the “ideal” ballet dancer, we really only talk about the “ideal” body type… No one talks about what is really required of a ballet dancer… You see, when we are talking about the ideal ballet body… people say this:

what do they look for in a ballet dancer

But when we talk about the actual “ideal” ballet dancer we are actually talking about this…

what is really happening in ballet

Not to mention age… I apparently left that off my list…

You see, this is what they really want out of a dancer… It is sad but true…
So, what is really the ideal ballet dancer? Because no offense… There is not one ideal way to become a ballet dancer… Or get a contract… everyone kind of carves out their own path in finding a job… The ideal dancer as a whole is this strange concept that we have kind of let ourselves go into…  Myself included… For example… I am extremely ageist when I watch ballet… Like when I see a 40 year old Juliet I am like *side eye* Or when I see a principal dancer whose body won’t let her do the full technique I think, “Retire already”…  I am also extremely biased against inflexible dancers… I like em long lean and bendy… Like I watch arabesques on stage and see a 90 degree arabesque in Bayadere and I am like… “lame”… I also prefer to watch dancers who are extremely long and tall… I like my women to look like Amazon warriors… Drew Jacoby is BAE… Actually, all of the women at LINES are… Maria Korowski is like GOALS!  Now at the same time, I watch men do a million tricks and I am like… but were they musical, were they charismatic… was it even nice to watch? There is a lot to consider… There are a lot of preconceived notions I have in my head when I go see a ballet performance, which is horrible since I am supposed to be helping the world of ballet… I’m working on it.

Someone recently criticized that I draw my illustrations extremely thin… Which is true- it stems from fashion illustrating… and I should change my hand at that… They also criticized that when I make an ethnic dancer, that I should change their muscle tone… But if you compare photos of professional “ethnic” dancers and professional “white” dancers… Their muscles are developed the same… The problem is that most ethnic dancers are always photographed without tights which displays their muscle tone versus dancers in tights that hide muscle tone… The problem is also finding tights for ethnic dancers and shoes for ethnic dancers… The news covered this recently… Recently, I had a thought to just take away tights period. I mean… besides holding in sweat… What’s the point? If the point of tights and ballet shoes being pink is to extend the line, wouldn’t it be better to just have everyone pancake their shoes and show muscle… I mean no on is actually pink or European pink are they?


One response to “The “Ideal” Ballet Dancer… and then some…”

  1. (This was supposed to be a brief comment, but got really, really long. I’m putting my apology up front: Sorry about that.)

    You’ve got an awful lot of very sound thoughts here (also: kudos for being willing to write about the ways in which your own work is, perhaps, reflective of one of the problems we’re facing in dance).

    It will be interesting to see how the democratizing potential of the internet influences how we envision what the word “dancer” means.

    I guess that what I’m reaching for is that humans gravitate towards the familiar, and for the past few generations, circumstances have prevailed that have meant that the Balanchine aesthetic was what was familiar*.

    Now, we have an unprecedented ability to reshape the familiar through the video cameras contained in our phones coupled with inexpensive video-editing software — and, as you illustrate (no pun intended), through the drawings in our blogs — and perhaps in time that will trickle up as people with broader exposure become artistic directors and so forth. It will be interesting to see where this historical moment takes us.

    *Come to think of it, I suppose it makes a great deal of sense that the predominance of the Balanchine aesthetic arose just at the time that the mass media were really taking off.

    On a less-serious note:
    When I read: “I mean… besides holding in sweat… What’s the point?” I sort of chuckled to myself, because the topic of sweat management is near and dear to me — I may well be the sweatiest dancer in the Greater Louisville metropolitan area — and then I remembered that sweat makes me incredibly slippery when some poor soul has to counter-balance me or whatever.

    So, at any rate, I suppose tights can be helpful for partnering, on the basis that sweaty humans are slippery, though I’m sure there are other ways to deal with that problem.