"Fat" Ballerinas & The Black Swan Diet: Don't Let The Times Set the Tone
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When Alastair Macaulay wrote his review of the New York City Ballet's production of The Nutcracker, he did what mainstream media critics have always done: He made up the rules. In this case, he commented on what ballet dancers and ballerinas are supposed to look like:
This didn’t feel, however, like an opening night. Jenifer Ringer, as the Sugar Plum Fairy, looked as if she’d eaten one sugar plum too many; and Jared Angle, as the Cavalier, seems to have been sampling half the Sweet realm. They’re among the few City Ballet principals who dance like adults, but without adult depth or complexity.
Critics make up the rules! Right? RIGHT??
I'm not so sure the critic gets to decide.
Even worse, angry fans wrote on chat boards, Ringer has been public about struggles with eating disorders earlier in her career, over which she triumphed to become one of NYCB's most popular dancers. How cruel, then, to criticize her body now.
I've written about my struggles with anorexia here at BlogHer, and my own daughter just performed in a local production of The Nutcracker. According to Macaulay, I should probably yank her out immediately for fear that my genetic code and the art of ballet will inevitably drive her to destruction.
There is evidence that I should. Natalie Portman, who is thin normally, lost 20 pounds to play a prima ballerina (albeit an obsessive-compulsive, losing-her-mind one, from the trailer and what I've read) in The Black Swan. In order to be convincing, she dieted on top of dancing 5-8 hours a day.
Natalie, however, has said that director Darren Aronofsky -- known for putting his actors and actresses through extreme measures -- encouraged her to lose the weight. She said, "Darren claims he never said this, but he definitely was like, 'How thin do you think you can get without being sick?'"
Natalie comments on her diet and the "fat ballerinas" jab in The New York Times in this ABC News interview:
In the wake of all this unwashed non-critic opinion, Macaulay defended his position by basically saying, "hate the game, not the playa."
Some correspondents have argued that the body in ballet is “irrelevant.” Sorry, but the opposite is true. If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career. The body in ballet becomes a subject of the keenest observation and the most intense discussion. I am severe — but ballet, as dancers know, is more so.
He seems to think his hands are tied, it's just the way ballet is, it's not his fault Ringer doesn't look the way he wants her to. Okay, Macaulay. You're right. Ballerinas should be skeletal or their art is not worth watching. And basketball players have to be eight feet tall and writers should be old white men and musicians should never, ever be deaf. Poor Macaulay, you see, he's just doing his job.
We, the audience, have the power to change this concept of the perfect ballerina.
Yes, Macaulay is the ballet critic of The New York Times. So what? Is he buying all the tickets? Is he paying Ringer's salary to ensure she still dances? Is he raising your little ballerinas?
Women don't have to accept social constructs of beauty.
We can change the conversation.
We have keyboards.
We have ticket money.
We have daughters and sons who will be part of a new generation that is already less tolerant of social mores than mine was growing up.
This week on BlogHer, dancer Heather Meyer wrote:
As I got older, my relationship with my body changed. I internalized the subtle message that as a woman I should quietly take up as little space as possible. These thoughts changed how I moved, and dance became a self-conscious, self-critical experience, which was a bigger reflection on how I lived life and viewed myself within it.
It has been a lengthy process of reclaiming movement and dance. And, myself.
A ballerina should be a good dancer. If she is a good dancer, we want to watch her, because her spirit shines through and captivates us. So no, Macaulay, I don't think ballerinas should avoid ballet as a career if they're anything less than stick-thin. I think ballet dancers, readers and ballet enthusiasts should avoid ballet critics who cling to an ideal that makes increasingly less sense as women begin to own their beauty.
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