CriticalDance Forum

The Romance of the Monastic Dancer
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Author:  ari [ Mon Jul 31, 2006 2:01 pm ]
Post subject:  The Romance of the Monastic Dancer

Ok, here's one.

This is inspired by this thread and a lot of thought over time.

What does the art form of ballet gain by the romanticization of dancers in this way? The soft-focus legend of the monastic dancer drives me kind of bananas; it's romanticizing and I feel like even as that might be true, on another level it seems like it would add to the sense of ballet as this funny thing that people do off to one side from "real life" in a way that probably doesn't help sell tickets, etc, etc.

On the one hand, articles like this and like the article about pain meds linked in that same conversation -- especially in articles talking about the bad working conditions of dancers, which that pain med article only touches on -- does a service to the dancers, as it illuminates working conditions that need improving.

But what else is this doing? In the creation of this myth of ballet as a strange, abusive, and monastic life, is it an endorsement? Does the marketing of ballet rely on it? What would happen to the art form if it was no longer the case and dancers came in expecting not that kind of life but something else? If it was no longer considered the beautiful noble and artistically devoted thing to work through injuries or in bad conditions or for abysmal pay?

I have been thinking about this and how best to pose this question for such a long time and I am still not sure I am quite articulating this right but in light of these conversations I'm willing to throw this out. I hope I am being clear. If not, well, let me know, or tear me apart, and it'll all come out in the wash. :)

Author:  ari [ Mon Aug 07, 2006 11:55 am ]
Post subject: 

this is from,0,7058108.story?coll=cl-stage-features
(that article being discussed in the other thread):
Perpetual adolescence: Ballet of the living dead

It used to be that only slaves and children were known by just their first names, but with slavery long abolished, dancers seem to be the sole adults on the list. You can find this practice throughout the dance world: on the current TV series "So You Think You Can Dance," for instance, where judges and choreographers always get full identification but the dancers remain just "Donyelle," "Travis," "Heidi," "Benji," "Allison" and the like.

Thinking of dancers as beautiful children might seem harmless enough, but in ballet it's part of a system that denies young people any real choices in their lives. The best foreign training processes and company structures develop distinctive artists through career-long mentoring relationships. Ours, however, too often turn out obedient classical athletes by imposing rules about where to be, what to do, how much to eat, whom to believe in and when self-esteem is deserved or not. It's even worse for the ballet women who starve themselves to match a skeletal ideal and then stop menstruating for the length of their careers. Talk about arrested development.

For the audience, this system produces something well worth hating: dancers forever young (because there's always someone new to replace them when they age) who don't really know themselves but have learned how to move skillfully and energetically while thinking critically about how they're doing — not what. It may be a minority opinion, but a life lived by someone else's counts is the ultimate unexamined existence, and it gives an audience nothing when set to music.

Because this system works like an assembly line, automatic and unyielding, it also breeds choreographers skating over the contours of major scores as if only half-listening, along with ridiculously expensive high-culture events that speak more about the burnout of an art than anything else.

Those pretty maids all in a row may well satisfy an appetite for order, but that satisfaction comes at a high cost. We've given up conventional circuses because we don't want to subsidize the abuse of animals. Isn't it time we extended the policy to the dedicated young men and women at the barre?

and i feel like it also talks about this. i mean, there is a thread in the student questions forum that is asking about haircuts + if the wrong cut will keep her out of a top-tier ballet school. does that strike anyone else as completely antithetical to a challenging, growing art form?

Author:  Michael Goldbarth [ Mon Aug 07, 2006 12:39 pm ]
Post subject: 

Well, life isn’t fair. If you don’t like it, most of us live in a democracy, and hence can go find another line of work. Often when you do something you love, you have to make sacrifices. Unfortunately, ballet dancers don’t make 2% the salary of the average pro athlete. Pro athletes often take pain killers or play hurt to compete. The sad truth is a TTC bus driver with tenure makes more than NBoC principal Heather Ogden.

In this day and age, most people have to always be prepared for a career change. You won’t be doing the same thing your entire life. Ballet is tough and so are a lot of other professions. Life is tough. We live in an Enron world.

Author:  ari [ Tue Aug 08, 2006 9:52 am ]
Post subject: 

While what you say is true -- life's tough! buck up! -- I think it's also fair to say it doesn't answer the question being posed.

This point of view is exactly what I am talking about. Why does high-level professonal dance -- ballet? -- seem to require making ENORMOUS sacrifices that in many ways infantilize the dancers who make them? What is that doing to the art form? Is the right answer really "well, if you don't like it, piss off"?

Author:  Michael Goldbarth [ Tue Aug 08, 2006 10:26 am ]
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Sorry that’s the best I can come up with. Even if you have a union, as we learned with Washington Ballet, the company can hardball its dancers. The problem is essentially the cost involved to present a ballet program is too expensive for the paying public. So, let’s say the average cost of a ticket is $100. It costs $200 to produce the ballet. The other half has to come from donations or the government. When you have that type of situation it affects every facet of a ballet company. For example: A company may not have a program to deal with dancers with weight issues. Or, they may expect a principal to dance injured because they have no apprentice that is ready or fear they may lose ticket sales if the principal can’t go.

If you have money all your problems will go away. The sad reality is if you are not happy with how you’re being treated in a company, you almost have to give up a career in ballet. There is not that much movement in dance unless you’re a principal or rising star. Most companies promote from within their farm system.

Bad behavior develops when there is no competition for services in a marketplace. If an AD has a problem with a dancer, he /she may decide not to renew their contract. If a PRO baseball player is unhappy how he’s being treated, there are many teams who will bid on his services – assuming he is talented. Democracy in a marketplace is good for employees. Communism creates a bad working environment.

Author:  Michael Goldbarth [ Wed Aug 09, 2006 10:31 am ]
Post subject: 

I just want to add one more thing commenting on haircuts or styles for dancers. Dance is very much like acting in that you are expected to adapt to a director’s wishes. For example: For the movie ‘Castaway,’ Tom Hanks had to grow is hair long, grow a beard, take off weight and put it on. I personally thought he should have won an Oscar for that film but that is for another website. If hairstyle is very important to you, you may consider researching schools and companies and find out what their policy is.

In regards to working condition issues like pay, working hours, etc…I believe there should be standards set fair to the dancers.

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