Does the identity of ballet rest on presenting a certain image of the ballet dancer?
After a visit to almost any art gallery you may find that artists have been making fat an issue over the course of thousands of years. Artists like Rembrandt, and Renoir were two of the first with their creation of nudes of women with beautiful curves that to today’s standards no longer fit the “ideal” image of beauty. Perhaps a far more fundamental question than the one posed above is, out of all the various forms of human exposure, which art requires complete exposure of the human body, besides the nude in painting, sculpture or photography?
Ballet, without a doubt. Ballet dancers although, to some degree masked by the layers of costume, tutus, and tights- make themselves some of society’s easiest targets of bodily scrutiny. Dancers open their bodies up in the geometric contoures, shapes, and various movements of precision that ballet has systemized. Ballet commands sacrafice in order to achieve the immediate dance community’s acceptance, as well as fit society’s widely held ideals of beauty. Historically, these ideals are the unfortunate causes of many women, men, and ballet dancer’s battles with deadly eating disorders. It is the professions that demand the bodily attention that regrettably result in some of the most dangerous eating disorders, ballet’s being anorexia. Models, dancers, and most anyone in the public eye are constantly being put under pressure to represent a certain image. In ballet there is a definite image a ballerina must present that exemplifies allt hat ballet is. Ultimately, it is the ballet dancer’s performance that embodies what people may take away with them after a performance, and in doing so identify the art.
When a dancer has even the smallest of imperfections there can be no hoodie worn to replace the corset, or sweats to replace the tutu. To be an overweight dancer does not mean the dancer is automatically a bad one. I know of some pretty incredible heavier performers who have beat all odds and leave audiences amazed by the ingenuity of their dancing. The flaws, however small they may be are unfortunate to have to point out, and the size of a ballerina is perhaps the most controversial debate in ballet today. However, the flaws of the artists are also a part of the identity of ballet, and the ballerina as well. It becomes the dancers resposibility to thus transcend their flaws and be the greatest dancer that they can be.
The size of a dancer is not only a modern ideal but, rather an obsession that can be traced to ballet’s origins and some of it’s earliest starlets. Today, there are many female, and male dancers with obvious flaws, who have surpassed all expectations and made far more lasting impacts in ballet than those dancers who possessed bodies that were “ballet-perfect”. But, then again this is their task: “in an Apollonian art that requires purity of line, precision of execution and harmony of appearance, dancers with less than ideal shapes must bring other qualities to bear”. Many dancers have, and will continue to do so, with or without the perfect “ideal” ballet body. I would say that although the body in ballet may not be irrelevant, a dancers body isn’t everything. While a dancers body is the subject of the most obtuse observation, and at times blunt discussion, at the end of the day it’s all about the dancing, and overcoming the standards of the profession that bind.