Considerable Pressure

Considerable Pressure

Today I am sharing an essay I wrote this week titled, Considerable Pressure. This topic is close to my heart as it’s all about ballet and the hidden pressures that so many dancers, including myself, have gone through.

Considerable Pressure

Becoming a professional ballet dancer was all that I could envision for myself. In the year 2011 I began to dance in my hidden sanctuary commonly known as a bedroom. It was my calm, private space that I felt free to create it. I loved the rhythm of classical music, the graceful, elongated movements of my body and the sense of artistry that I felt while creating. The four years of ballet instruction I was given, was a beautiful time of my life as well as one of the hardest seasons I’ve ever encountered.

Body image plays a vital and some say necessary role in the dance industry. When females first began to participate in ballet during the 18th and 19th century, it was during a time where most women were lithe and modest. This image became the ideal weight for a female ballerina. Pressures on pointe can be found everywhere same as weeds in a meadow. Jenifer Ringer, a past dancer with NYC ballet, said in an article, “The reality of the competition brought the anxieties out.” The anxieties led her down a dark path that consumed her emotional and mental state of being. I’ve delt with my fair share of weight insecurity and body image scrutiny. I understand what it’s like to be apart of a lifestyle that places weight, eating and image on a pedestal as if it’s the most important characteristic of a dancer. Stories are on the rise demonstrating the threats made to professional dancers claiming for them to “Loose the weight, or loose your job.” Dr. Nadine Kaslow says, “Even when dancers know that they’re in a situation that’s bad for their health, they’re often scared to stand up to a director for fear of losing roles or even their job.”

In a world that pressures individuals to look, feel and act a certain way, this type of mentality and confusion can definitional be found at the elite and beginner levels of classical ballet training. Considerations need to me made pertaining to a dancers emotional and mental health when criticized about their image and told to loose weight. Misty Copeland in an interview stated, “When you think of things like an eating disorder, these stereotypes, they happen everywhere, I would say that from my experience, 1that it’s really difficult to actually perform and have a lasting career if you have an eating disorder.” A professional dancer says that an eating disorder makes it difficult to perform and continue in a career. I guess that creates the question of, why are so many dancers asked to diet then? Teachers may feel they have the ballerinas best interest at heart yet all they do is tear your emotions apart. When it was suggested to me to consider loosing ‘X’ amount of weight, it hit my life like a thousand bricks at once. My world became fixated on body image instead of artistic technique. The joy and creative aspect of dancing was removed and replaced with fitting a mold. In the sad case of Heidi Guenther, a prima ballerina of the Boston Ballet, died in 1997 from heart failure after being ordered to lose weight by her artistic director. Weighing only 93 lbs. at her death, Heidi used laxatives and turned to binging and purging to reach what was considered an ideal weight for a ballerina.

Malnourishment in aspiring dancers results in a lack of kinetic energy that is needed for them to perform, rehearse and train well. A lack of nourishment can also lead to injuries and not enough strength that would be needed for long term healing. Society is slowing adapting to a new normal and embracing the change of women’s bodies in the 21st century. Understanding why instructors place pressure on appearance may help us see why eating disorders are so prevalent in the ballet community. Allowing dancers to seek advice from qualified nutritionists who can accurately determine a balanced diet for an individual dancer could be a viable option and common ground option between all parties. I wish technique could become the focal point of all classical ballet training so that we could see more aspiring dancers living a healthy and joyful life, full of the gifts of dance and free from misery and heart-ache.

Love, FitTeen Maddy

1 Comment

  • Mari Golden October 25, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    This is a great essay Maddie!


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