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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2001 7:05 am 
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Ms. Bentley is a good writer. I read her book "Winter Season: A Dancer's Journal". But I am not sure how much she understands anorexia. Saying the blame may lie with a child's "family of origin", rather than in ballet or pointe shoes seems to show a limited understanding of an extremely complex problem. I read recently online that new studies show there may even be a genetic component to anorexia (!)<BR>Her point about the mistaken "political correctness" of the female dancer body size issue is well taken, however. If female ballet dancers were allowed to weigh "whatever", where would we find the male dancers to lift them, folks? I know that sounds goofy, but there you have it. A lot of ballet is about partnering (at an advanced level), lifts and counter-balancing weight. What about the "rights" of the male dancers who have to lift women who may weigh as much or more than they do???Hmmmmm!?!?!?! I am not saying all dancers have to be rail thin; not at all. But...............?<p>[This message has been edited by trina (edited April 16, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2001 7:35 am 
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There is also another issue - that was raised in the Keefer Thread....there are many times in the classical ballet where it is necessary that the dancers be similarly constructed.<P> The Kingdom of the Shades scene from La Bayadere is a good case in point (pun fully intended). It is the very similarity that mesmerizes. And that almost hypnotic effect is part of Solor's dream.<P>Now whether that similarity of shape is necessarily of advanced slenderness, is another matter. But even if all the shades were required to be obese, we would then have the same argument, but going in the other direction.<P>And partnering was brought up in the Keefer thread - but there is certainly a range of acceptable size. It is also very important how much the woman "helps" her partner with her living weight, as opposed to her dead weight. That is why it is acknowledged in the sequence of the parts of the grand pas de deux, that the woman still does most of the work.<P>Even then however, as Trina says, the men can and do suffer back and neck injury from partnering.<P>I tend not to agree with Ms. Bentley about Balanchine not wanting very slender dancers. I think he did. And the atmosphere for whatever reason, was very competitive and that was part of the competition, in my opinion.


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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2001 10:35 am 
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I really don't understand why this topic seems to be discussed in extreme terms of very-thin and not-thin, and with such paranoia as though the creeping evil fatties are going to take over any day. Like we're just going to wake up and the world's finest stages and ballets are going to be suddenly absconded with by people who are terrible dancers and absurdly large (which contrary to popular belief ARE separate ideas).<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>"If affirmative action triumphs and ballerinas become increasingly short, round and inflexible, their partners will have chronic back pain and the theaters will be empty."<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>Is that not alarmist? And using the word "Heftier" in the title - how dumb - how about "Healthier"?<P>Maybe this "inevitable decline" of ballet has to do with the lack of nutrition going to performer's brains and bodies. (I'm only kind of kidding.) Perhaps men should get bigger too in order to accomodate their ballerinas. MAYBE, just maybe there could be a range of sizes on both sides and you'd match 'em up right so the little guy ISN'T lifting the heavier woman. This back injury argument is putting the health needs of a small (always griping there aren't enough male dancers), specific group dancers before the more general health needs of women, and I don't feel comfortable with that. No, I don't think guys should be forced into situation that are harmful - absolutely not. I just see the ballerina aesthetic as being more powerful, prevalent, and with greater potential to do more harm to more people. <P>No guy is going to start carrying heavier women around to hurt his back so he can be like the other guys in tights. But women and girls all over the world are carrying around the idea that ballerinas are beautiful, graceful, and extrememly thin - whether they're dancers themselves or not.


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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2001 2:24 pm 
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I specifically mentioned the male partnering/lifting question because my husband was a dancer. (now a physical therapist). So we should try to look at everyone's point of view. Also, yes, anorexia is a problem, but as Ms. Bentley points out, not solely relegated to the ballet world. And not always "caused" by ballet. <BR>I'm curious...can some of our friends in Europe help us here..is body types such an obsessive thing in European ballet world?ie, thiness? I guess we discussed this before (sorry). On the other side of the coin, interestingly, I read a Center for Disease Control report that says that obesity (I'm studying to be a personal fitness trainer and am reading a chapter on nutrition)in the United States, in women AND men, continues to increase. Hmmmmm? If we are so "obsessed" with body image, why are we less and less people able to control this issue? I realize that's probably a rhetorical question, but definetly makes one think. In my opinion, I think "anorexia" is only one side of the coin of a very complex, societal problem with food, self-control and control issues in general. To fit it into the slot of "women's issue" or "ballet world issue" is superficial and stereotypical, in my humble opinnnnnion!!!<P><p>[This message has been edited by trina (edited April 16, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2001 4:04 pm 
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Anorexia is neither my primary concern OR solely the concern of the ballet world and I never meant to give that impression. I also attempted to make sure it was clear I do care about the health concerns of male dancers. <P>Surely obesity is a problem in the U.S., but so far I haven't heard anyone advocating accomodating obese ballet dancers. This is another extreme example when what seems more the issue is "perfectly normal" girls thinking or being told they should be thinner in order to dance.<P>Yes of course we should consider different points of view - that's precisely why I'm interested in seeing bodies of various types in dance, representing the variety in humanity.<P>This is a complicated topic bringing together social issues, dancers' issues, and artistic issues, and is one we've brought up in various forms on Criticaldance. Rather than locating a solution, I am glad it is at least being discussed openly in all its implications - physically, choreographically, careerwise, cultural, etc.


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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2001 4:04 pm 
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I've tried as a choreographer to have a wider range of acceptable weight for my dancers, but I find it interesting that some of the most caustic comments I have ever heard about dancers' weight in my company did not come from fellow dancers or balletomanes, but from the non-dancing audience and these were not balletomanes with a fetish for thinness. And the complaints weren't leveled at dancers I considered unacceptably overweight, either. A demand for thinness pervades our society, it isn't just ballet's problem.<P>I think there must be some sort of adult compromise between Segal's vision and Bentley's. It seems to me the underlying issue (and in the Keefer case as well) is how egalitarian one thinks ballet ought to be. I don't think extreme thinness is a necessary ideal for ballet, but as perfect a physical and dance instrument a dancer can make her or himself is. The question of course, is to define that. But for myself, I'm happy to hire a female dancer with curves (I like them, actually; I don't like female dancers to look like boys) But I'm not going to hire a dancer without an arabesque or whose feet sickle, or who isn't musical. . .or who I don't think of as pretty. Art is subjective; it's important for a dancer to realize that what might not be right for me might be perfect for another director.


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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2001 4:46 pm 
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And what attributes would you look for in a male dancer before hiring him, Leigh? <P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>"or I don't think of as pretty"<HR></BLOCKQUOTE><P>that seems to me as even more subjective than weight.<p>[This message has been edited by Basheva (edited April 16, 2001).]


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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2001 5:04 pm 
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For a male dancer? Availability!<P>More seriously - almost the same, line, intelligence, musicality. . .including looks. If I don't think a dancer is beautiful (in whatever way) I tend to avoid hiring them.<P>It is extraordinarily subjective, and not fair, Basheva. But it's also not something I would change. I'm not talking about a textbook concept of beauty, I'm talking about what Twyla Tharp said - something on the order of "I have to fall in love with a dancer to hire them." I agree with her on an aesthetic level. A choreographer needs to become infatuated (aesthetically, not emotionally) with his or her dancers. I once explained why there were so many promenades in a pas de deux to a dancer. "I want to show that you're beautiful from every angle." And the dancer I said that to was in a workshop; she was my first choice for my cast and it was relief to the other choreographer, who did not want her at all. <P>I think one of the most liberating things a dancer can do is realize that beyond a reasonable level of professional competence, all the rest is subjective. Look for the choreographer or director who will like you as you are.


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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Mon Apr 16, 2001 5:14 pm 
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Ah fairness Leigh, not in life - not in anything except perhaps in the hereafter.<P>And infatuation I can understand - but you have to admit - and I think you did - that infatuation is a bias. Don't assume, my friend, that bias is wrong. Bias is something we breathe, no matter how much we care to deny it. We are all complicit.<P>But fairness is also accepting someone else's ideas, fond memories, and humanity - as valid and honoring it. As I do yours. As I would hope for, in return.<P>


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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Thu Apr 19, 2001 10:28 am 
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Why do we keep saying extreme thinness? <P>When I look at dancers onstage I see bodies that look similar to the one's I saw on TV in the Olympics. What we do as dancer's necessarily makes our bodies look a certain way, like runners or rugby players. <P>We make all these same arguments about female gymnasts, but it comes down to this: Can she perform what is necessary to succeed? Excessively thin and weak ballet dancers don't succeed. They get injured, quit out of frustration, get buried in the corps or never even get hired. The dancers who can't keep their weight down go through the same process. Many of these dancers we cite as too thin are naturally very thin to begin with. They are also naturally turned-out and flexible. And that is what the Keefer case is all about. Natural propensity is what is tested in auditioning an 8 yr old.<P>As for dancers onstage...I think the present trend is toward athletic dancers. Do we criticize professional athletes for having low body fat and eating to optimize their performances? I think we are looking at a double standard here.


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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Thu Apr 19, 2001 12:19 pm 
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Food for thought, LMCtech....<P>I think athletes end up looking athletic because of the work they do - not because of aesthetics. <P>One of the finest baseball hitters of all time, Tony Gwynn, San Diego Padres, (a personal favorite of mine) is really quite heavy. Big paunchy stomach. But who cares? <P> He has won the title of National League Hitting Champ for a number of years. He has also won the Golden Glove as an outfielder for a number of years. He is one of the finest technicians and most reliable of hitters of all time - he's right up there with the most famous of the game. But he sure doesn't look the part. Who cares? As long as he hits.<P>I don't think it's quite that way with a ballet dancer. Aesthetics - whatever they might be in a specific time and place - does count. And that is also what can be changed.


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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Thu Apr 19, 2001 2:07 pm 
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I think we mention "excessive thinness" to describe excessive cases.<P>A director of a well-known company told a friend that she had to lose ten pounds before she could fit into a costume and go onstage. My friend was 5'5" and 96 pounds. She left the company.<P>That being said, I would say that the problem in excessive cases such as that isn't ballet, but the director (or excessive person).


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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Thu Apr 19, 2001 3:32 pm 
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Could some fault lie at the door of the critics?<P>Here is a phrase I saw in a critique posted in the Ballet Forum in the ABT-Giselle thread written by Sarah Kaufman, on April 16, 2001, for the Washington Post:<P>She is describing a wonderful performance of Julie Kent and extolling the virtues of this dancer and uses these words:<P> <BLOCKQUOTE><font size="1" face="Verdana, Arial">quote:</font><HR>Kent, who is tall and wisp-thin,<HR></BLOCKQUOTE> <P>now read those words through the eyes of a young impressionable pubescent teenage female who WANTS to dance.<P><BR>


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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Thu Apr 19, 2001 11:19 pm 
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Priscilla asked about the situation in Europe. I haven't seen enough of the companies around Europe to really comment, but I am sure that the situation will vary from country to country. Here in the UK, the Royal Ballet has a wide mix of shapes and for a repertory company that is a big help. Some dancers who are not wispy thin or outstandingly pretty have enjoyed rapid promotion for their dancing ability. Nevertheless the Royal has had a high incidence of stress fractures in the recent past which suggests problems.<P>About 5 years ago I was surprised by the uniform thinness and androgynous look of the dancers in a couple of German companies.<P>Personally I am always surprised by the different standards I bring to bear when I look at a ballet. I have seen dancers who looked a little thin on stage and then in the street I was shocked at how skinny they are.<P>It's only two years since Derek Deane said that English dancers were too 'titty and bummy' and in a TV programme the Head of a dance school said that companies didn't want thin they wanted 'skinny, skinny, skinny'.<P>A recent UK conference on health and dancers was called 'Your Body, Your Risk' and I find that a good perspective. The companies clearly have a role to play, but perhaps a key issue is empowering dancers to manage their own health, especially in the still hierarchical world of large-scale ballet where they are so used to being told what to do.


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 Post subject: Re: Weight and the Aesthetics of the Ballet - Lewis Segal of
PostPosted: Sat Apr 21, 2001 12:13 am 
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The UK May edition of the young women's magazine 'MarieClaire' has a serious article (not on the web) about eating disorders in dance and the pressures that young dancers face. I am told that this magazine has taken to heart an advisory note from the UK Dept. of Health and pictures of super thin models rarely appear in their pages.<P>The article gives some very scary pictures of ex-ballerinas who are facing serious health problems, especially a 34 year old who is under 5st and whose bone structure is 'equivalent to a 99 yearold' and regularly breaks bones. She states that she was always being told that she had to lose weight to get a job, '..so I began to feel that I couldn't dance with any food inside me at all.'<P>It is clear that attitudes are changing and the introduction of pilates to English National Ballet School and Elmhurst Ballet School is discussed. <P>Nevertheless, a 22 year old says that she was forced to diet throughout her adolescence, '..to take part in national ballet championships.' She continues, 'My dance teacher would strip me down in front of the whole class and say, 'You're putting on weight. Are you on a diet etc etc.'<P>Another 22 year old was told by her teachers, 'When you're hungry…..keep cold water and bowls of raw cauliflower in the fridge.' Both of these girls are now recovering from anorexia and are studying contemporary dance, about which the author adds, '…where strong athletic bodies are more sought after…and both girls are learning that they can dance and be healthy.'<P>I'm beginning to think that the ballet world has about 5 years to get its act really together before occupational legislation intervenes and law suits start pouring in. Without an accelerating rate of change in this area, ballet schools and companies run the risk of becoming as untenable on health grounds as cigarette companies will soon become. <BR>


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