Posted by: elisetaylor6588 | February 14, 2019

A milestone in the world of “perfect bodies”

I feel like we have discussed many topics in this course so far: intersectionality, oppression of women, and stereotypical traits of feminine leadership. However, when we discussed how females feel like they need to “be perfect” as discussed in the reading about college students in leadership, my mind automatically went to my passion for dance, and how this image to be perfect is so exacerbated that many girls will sacrifice their physical health. When dancing at the School of Richmond Ballet, I was extremely fortunate to have been trained under some of the best professors of ballet in the state. And while there are many lovely memories of my time there, several quotes have remained in my mind.

“You need to lay off the hamburgers”

“Elise, you have potential but your body isn’t right. You have the unfortunate attribute of large thigh muscles”

said to a friend of mine: “I’m not allowed to let you go en pointe until you loose some weight.”

“There is ONE sized tutu, and it doesn’t fit all …. “

While all of these comments are directly talking about body image, and may have sounded harsh to a thirteen year old, these teachers had reasonings behind their criticisms. In the 1960’s, a great choreographer and dancer, George Balanchine changed the face of ballet. He would only take girls who had slim features, long, lean muscles, and “a longer neck to emphasize “epaulment” or the general poise of the upper body. According to various sources, but particularly the Dance Magazine, Balanchine created this stigma of the “skinny ballerina” and “wanted to see the bones”. Having grown up in this environment I understand where some people are coming from when they say you need to loose weight. Dance first and foremost is about putting an experience on for your audience and hoping they are able to garner emotions from your dance. We dance for them, and then for us. If a person is too heavy to look graceful it may not be as pleasing. This sounds harsh and I disagree with the fact that their should be a weight limit, yet I am contradicted and confused about my slight understanding that the corps de ballet, or the dancers who dance cohesively in a group must look similar for artistic reasons. When my friend was told she was too heavy to go en pointe, it was not because they refused to teach her, but because biologically her bones could not support her and she would have injured herself.

How does this relate to women in general? I think this speaks to the fact that to a certain extent, all females are influenced by the media, or by the love of their sport, to have a “perfect body”. While men certainly feel this pressure as well, male dancers in a ballet company have much more flexibility with how they may look. They can have big muscles or lean muscles – it really doesn’t matter. Why do you think this is? Maybe because the males don’t dance in a corps de ballet but are instead almost always partnering with the prima ballerina? Society has come a long way in accepting various body images, yet the ballet world seems to be stuck in the past. Until Misty Copeland arrived.

Misty Copeland is not only the first African American female principle dancer, but she has defied the “skinny dancer”. Yes she is fit and thin, but she has muscles that are seen as far too large and defined. The question of whether Misty Copeland is a “leader” or simply a hallmark of success is debatable, but what she has done for young dancers who have been discouraged by harsh words or reality, is astounding. Not only has she unknowingly and maybe unintentionally started a remarkable movement in the ballet world, but she herself deals with intersectionality. She was criticized for her race as there had “never been a black sugar plum fairy”.

This brings me to several questions. If you become the “first” of something and overcome all odds, are you a leader or a role model? I think her leading exhibits the “behind the scenes” leadership as she speaks out against prejudice and works to bring dancers mental health and individualism to the table. Do you see the current ballet world as dangerous, or understand (even partially) where choreographers are coming from when they want a cohesive look for their corps de ballet? Finally, and maybe the most important topic regarding this class: why aren’t male dancers held to the same standards as females?

https://youtu.be/zWJ5_HiKhNg I encourage you to watch this – a young girl is reading a rejection letter from a ballet academy, yet Misty Copeland, with her “wrong body” is dancing and showing the world that labels and supposed requirements can be defeated with passion and determination.

Image result for corps de ballet
a stereotypical corps de ballet: long legged, thin, delicate frames. Caucasian

https://verilymag.com/2017/11/misty-copeland-ballerina-ballet-dance-barre-class

https://mistycopeland.com/

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Responses

  1. This article is very interesting to me. I didn’t realize how strict the qualifications were for dancers, especially professional. This does make sense though sense you have to be able to move a certain way and hold yourself up on such thin shoes. However , I think if you can dance and are meeting the qualifications of a good dancer; then you should be accepted no matter what you look like.

    I was thinking about my past coaches and my most recent coach tends to recruit similar looking girls. I notice this more every year; they all fit a certain look and leaves me with many questions.

    I also think that male dancers are held to the same standard as female dancers. They too all look lean and thin, because during a show it is more appealing if they all look the same. There are not usually big men performing ballet, so that is why I think they are held to similar standards as women.

  2. I really love your blog post, and I like all the questions you pose about this topic. The one that really caught my eye was “If you become the ‘first’ of something and overcome all odds, are you a leader or a role model?” I think that if you are the “first” of something you’re posed with a choice; do you speak out about being the first and be an active role model to people that may be similar to you and are inspired by you, or do you more so just blend into the crowd? I think both kinds of people can be leaders in different ways, and it’d be interesting to analyze how these types of people lead effectively.

    The bind that ballet dancers experience is a unique and challenging one to navigate. I come from a sport where there are so many body types that are accepted and encouraged, but dieting and eating poorly still exist. I can only imagine that the issues are magnified in ballet. Despite this, Misty Copeland has proved that you don’t have to fit this unhealthy standard to be successful. Whether she leads from behind the scenes or not, I feel as though she simply leads by existing; her presence and stature sets an important example for other ballet dancers and may even change the tide in the world of ballet. Maybe choreographers won’t always search out the thinnest girls but rather the fitter and healthy ones.

  3. I loved this blog post. The video that you included with it was so simple but so powerful. I love the question you posed, “if you become the ‘first’ of something and overcome all odds, are you a leader or a role model? When I first read this question, I immediately answered with the simple word, “both.” I will use Misty Copeland to justify my answer. In regard to her story, or more simply what I have learned about her from this blog post, I would say she is at first a role model to so many women around her. She is also a role model to many of the girls in today’s society that are interested in becoming dancers yet are maybe not that “image” that ballet used to demand of girls. However, I also believe she serves as a leader to those around her because of the obstacles she overcame. The reason I would consider her a leader as well is that she made it to that extreme level. Her professionalism and skills have led her to become one of the best of the best, and it again just so happens that she was able to inspire those around her while she did it.

  4. I always found this topic interesting. My mom many years pointed out that The Rockettes would have different sized heals in order to make them all the same. This is an example of how we can be so inclined to make everyone the same. Unfortunately in the dance industry and ballet in specific, has created the ballerina to be skinny, tall, and white. I believe this is an important issue to discuss because not only will it discriminate against many women, but it can cause mental health issues as well. This can be compared to how we have made the face of a CEO of a company a strong, fit, tall, white male. These discriminations can create doubt in people which can develop into serious self confidence issues.

    I would consider someone who becomes the first or defies all odds to be a leader and role model. I think all leaders in theory should be role models to their followers. If someone is fighting all the obstacles in their way and choosing to persevere I think that can be considered leadership because those actions will create followers. Not only are those actions worth modeling but it allows for a group of people to come behind and be supportive followers which will eventually help break down stereotypes and issues such as these.

  5. Misty Copeland is very inspirational, because she opens the door for ballerinas who are not super-skinny or tall to be more accepted in the ballerina realm. Typically, for each sport, we do have a body image in our head that matches the sport. The stereotypical athlete in each sport fits the mold because that is proven to have the most success in each particular athletic field. Ballerinas are typically tall and skinny, allowing them to go on point and give the elegant demeanor for the performances. Wrestlers are typically larger people with huge muscles, swimmers have built shoulders, runners have strong quad and calf muscles. All of these things help the athlete succeed in the sport. However, when someone like Misty goes and defies the odds, it is awesome to see someone doing what they love, even if questioned, and being successful.

    You mentioned in your post how it doesn’t seem to matter for the shape of a male’s body as much as a female’s in the dance world. I think this is because people are more focused on the fact that there are male ballerinas, and are not necessarily looking at their body image. With females, there is constant comparison to the next girl, because they are all females and all on the same playing field. Once a male is thrown into the picture, people are simply fascinated by the prospect of a male ballerina.

  6. I really liked this post. The video was amazing and it is a really interesting topic to think about. On one hand it is terrible that the dance industry is discriminatory against different body types and tells you you need to be skinny and tall which causes a lot of mental health and eating disorders, but on the other hand it also makes sense for the look of the dance. The question of if you are the ‘first’ of something are you a leader or a role model and I definitely would say you are more of a role model. Someone who beats the odds and becomes the ‘first’ of something is setting an example for everyone else who want to accomplish something similar that you can do anything you set your mind to. I wouldn’t necessarily call them a leader because they are acting much more as a role model to those who will come after them.

  7. I think you bring up some excellent points in your post, including the dynamic between artistic preference and body shaming, as well as the potential distinction between role models and leaders. As such, I will elaborate my thoughts on those two points. While I think it is important to recognize the significance of artistic visions for ballet pieces in reference to the preferred body type, I find it to be extremely limiting and potentially harmful to implement those ideals on young girls. Though dance is about your using your body to tell a story, I don’t believe the physical appearance of someone’s body is not a determining factor in their ability to be a beautiful dancer. By communicating that negative stereotype to young girls, they become disincentivized to pursue a passion of theirs, a habit that could translate into other facets of their life as they continue on their journey of personal and professional development. One of my favorite things about my dance studio back home was that we offered a dance class specifically for disabled children; I found the concept of the class to be extremely inspiring, as it showed those dancers, as well as other who watched them perform, that social identities that some would consider to be limiting were actually incredibly empowering and motivating. Those are the lessons that we should be teaching our young girls, so that they can move onto bigger ventures and opportunities feeling empowered and competent from past developmental adventures.

    When discussing the difference between being a role model and being a leader, I argue the two can be synonymous, especially if the leader is a public figure. In most contexts, having a public presence means you have a platform from which to speak and influence, and hopefully advance social good. Misty Copeland has served as excellent example of this because, though she did not intend to be thrown into the role model position that she is currently in, she was and that has amplified her ability to leads others dramatically. When you are a leader that has defied the odds, gone against the grain, and still came out on the other side successfully, I believe that you have a responsibility to advocate for others to be able to do the same, thus putting you in the position of being a leader and a role model.

  8. I really enjoyed reading this post! I am from Carlisle, Pennsylvania which is home to Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, and we have youth from all over the country coming to study at the school. You hear stories all the time of how harsh these ballet instructors are in their comments towards young girls. Occasionally, I’ve run into older women, now mothers, who once studied at CPYB and are still talking about the criticism spoken to them because of the way their bodies looked. Now I’m not saying that CPYB or ballet is all bad because people do love their experience at the school, but this harsh criticism is real. Last semester, I took a ballet class here at CNU and I did a little research assignment on Misty Copeland. I am in no way, shape, or form a dancer, but I found her story inspiring.

    Like those who have commented before me, from your post the one question that really stood out was “if you become the “first” of something and overcome all odds, are you a leader or a role model?”. When thinking about this question, I was thinking about other women who may be in this position and I thought of Ellen DeGeneres and the article we read last week. Ellen was also pursuing her passion for acting and comedy similar to how Misty Copeland pursued her passion for ballet. When Ellen came out as gay, she became the first person to star as an openly gay character on prime-time TV similar to how Misty Copeland became the first African American female principle dancer. They both had their struggles, received criticism, but overcame the odds and are very successful in what they do today. I would say both of these women are role models, but I would argue that they are also both leaders. They are generating change from the way things use to be, creating vision and mission for the fields they are in, and paving the way for other women like them.

  9. I enjoyed reading your post because you really highlight a culture that can potentially be extremely toxic for young women, especially when they are in the wrong environment with bad leaders. Ballet dancers typically begin their training extremely young, and being taught messages about how they should look, weight, and act can be very detrimental to their mental health and well-being. I love Misty Copeland as an example because she is so far from the norm of ballet dancers yet is amazingly graceful and strong, at the same time. Based off your question about whether she is a role model or a leader, I would say that she is both – she is a woman that many young girls can look up to in that she is a wonderful dancer and confident in herself and her abilities, and is also a leader by leading the idea that ballet dancers do not have to look a certain way to be successful. Also, I feel as though male dancers are not held to the same standards because from what I know, there are fewer of them in the professional world, so oftentimes, there may be a “good enough” approach to their presence in dances? This is just a quick guess but I feel as though I don’t know enough about ballet to be sure, but overall this was a cool read!

  10. I think this is a very interesting topic to approach because it definitely is hard to navigate when you talk about expectations and requirements for body image in this context. As an athlete, I do see how it is important for there to be some sort of standard for your physical traits in anything where your physical abilities are relevant, though I think it is much different in a setting like ballet where it is not just your abilities that matter, but also the aesthetic (in soccer, it doesn’t matter if you look good as long as you can get the job done). While I know that it is a hard pill to swallow, especially for aspiring dancers who may not fit the ideal body image, I think it is fair for aesthetics to be considered in assessing a dancer. I think you explained it well when you said that dance is largely for the audience; it is an art form that is meant to express something beyond what is right in front of you, and I think that can sometimes require you to look a certain way in order to accomplish that goal. To your question of “is it dangerous,” I think in some ways it very well might be, especially in our culture nowadays that has become so sensitive to everything. There is a movement where people claim that “micro-aggression” should be considered hate speech, punishable by the law. If this is true, then refusing to teach someone ballet based purely on how they look can be taken very offensively, even if it is a valid refusal. Then, young girls who already have so much pressure on them to be beautiful, are being faced with rejection and the idea that they are not beautiful enough, and I think this can be dangerous to them. But I don’t think that makes the choice to deny them any less valid. Maybe it’s just an effect that we need to be more aware of in general. In terms of why males are not held to the same standard, I think that just has to do with the aesthetic you discussed. There is a different expectation for how men are going to look, so I think there is more flexibility in what is acceptable. I’m not convinced that there is anything wrong with that (though I understand how that is frustrating for girls who get rejected for reasons that male dancers don’t have to be concerned about), but I think that’s just the nature of ballet. Lastly, I do think that Misty Copeland can be considered both a leader and a role model. She can be a role model because she has accomplished great things and is inspirational to others, but she is also a leader because she helped pave the way for others, and she started a new conversation. It reminds me of Shonda Rhimes saying that she didn’t have to break the glass ceiling on her own, but that she could only do so because of all the women who went before her and sacrificed so that she could succeed. I think that in the dance industry, Misty Copeland is one of those women, paving the way for other girls to follow in her footsteps.

  11. I remember watching an ad Misty Copeland was in a few years ago, sharing her story about being too muscular for the world of ballet and overcoming those critiques. Being a role model for young girls and women whose bodies are not biologically made to fit the “ideal ballerina” is extremely important. We have had many readings in our course that discuss how seeing one person be a role model or mentor can encourage many others to go outside of their comfort zone and accomplish something they never thought was possible.

    After reading your explanation about why choreographers prefer the long legged, skinny white ballerina I thought “hmm maybe they have a pointe” (ha, ballet joke). Uniformity is something that choreographers believe contributes to giving their best performance to their audience. However, I think that the “ideal ballerina” is an unhealthy and unattainable reality for women who spend hours a day dancing, always mindful of maintaining their bodies.

    Unfortunately, this can lead lots of young women down the path of eating disorders and detrimental health issues. I have read articles and seen stories of ballerinas who struggle with eating disorders due to their professions, which is so sad. When I was a child, I remember obsessing over a ballerina book that had gorgeous young women that were extremely slender, making me sad that since I wasn’t super skinny I would never have a chance. I watched tall thin girls in my dance classes transition into doing pointe, while the rest of us were stuck behind watching. Little girls grow up watching “the Nutcracker” and other shows with ballerinas, who are beautiful and slender. Is this contributing to the growing cloud of “perfection” that every woman fights with? How much should we be worried about the unhealthy idea this puts in developing womens’ heads?

  12. This is a very interesting topic Elise. We have talked about a lot in class but not quite this yet I do not think. Ballet is a profession that is typically “female” I would say and being a male and never a dancer I do not have the most expertise on this topic. However, I do have opinions that I feel would be useful in stating.
    First, I believe that if you are the first of something you are both a leader and a role model. When somebody is the first of something they have a very peculiar role. They not only have to be perfect in the way that they perform their “first” they also lay the groundwork for the same type of people that come after. Copeland, reading this from your article, has this job. She not only is the first “not skinny” ballerina, she also is laying the groundwork for others to follow her.
    Second, this opinion may come as a shock and it may be because I have never been subjected to this but I do not believe ballet is too harsh. The thing I can relate this to (a little bit) in my life is sports. If you were not good enough you did not make the team. While this has nothing to do with appearance, sports do not take into account appearance as much as ballet does. From my limited experience with ballet, I would say appearance is high on the list for being “good enough.” It is a very visual thing, you have to be precise, lithe, limber and look like a ballerina. I do not condone body shaming, like some of your teachers did to you and your friend, however I do think that dancing is a much different arena than life in general. It is the aesthetic that makes it beautiful and the way dancers look greatly contribute to this aesthetic.
    Third, I do believe men are subjected to the same body image in ballet. They may be allowed to have bigger muscles but that is due to the fact that they are often lifting their female counterparts in the air and twirling them around. They still cannot be fat or uncoordinated. They are just allowed to have bigger muscles because they need it.

  13. I really, really enjoyed this post! As someone who is in no way athletic and knows nothing about dancing or ballet, it was really interesting to hear about it. That being said, it makes me sad that the idea of the “perfect” woman is imposed onto girls, even young girls, who have a passion for something and want to pursue it. The idea that young girls can be shamed for not being “perfect” or for things about themselves that they cannot control is an unfortunate reality here. We should not be limiting young women at all-we should be doing everything that we can to inspire them and give them confidence, as they are the next generation of leaders. How can we call ourselves leaders if we can’t inspire others to do the same? How does the rising prevalence of media and the constant need to compare oneself to the physical appearance and lifestyle of other people influence the younger generation, especially since they are a generation that has been raised to know nothing but technology and interconnectivity. How will the idea of the “perfect” body, clothes, and lifestyle affect generations in the future? Will the comparing only get worse? I like how you touched on whether or not men are subject to the same comparisons or obligations to meet the standard of “perfection”. I am reminded of our class discussion when Matt said that they are, but don’t vocalize it. I can’t speak for myself on whether or not that is true for ballet dancers, but maybe it is!


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