How much should a ballet dancer weigh
Changing the Perception of the Ballet Body – WorldWide Ballet
Written by WorldWide Ballet Shop
Posted on October 17 2015
Hoping your October is so far so great, Haha, today we have the honor of hosting an amazing writer which I instantly fell inlove with her writing - Alessandra Ortiz!
Her words speak for themselves, so with no farther intros - Enjoy this one!
Alessandra Ortiz (@alessandra_ortiz)
My name is Alessandra Ortiz and I am 18 years old. I am currently a student in the Pre-Professional Division at The School of Pennsylvania Ballet in Philadelphia. I also train privately with Erin Stiefel in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. I am the former Director of the Ballet Department at the Anna Marie School of Dance located in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. My goal for the immediate future is to receive a second company contract with a professional ballet company. I would like to thank Worldwide Ballet for inviting me to write for their blog!
I have been told “to diet” and “to watch what I eat” because, as a ballet student who used to weigh only a mere 105 lbs, to have a physique considerably less than ideal is not good enough to receive professional company contracts from top-tier ballet companies around the globe. The ballet world’s obsession with body image continues to negatively impact ballerinas and male dancers of all ages. Although school and company directors continue to preach, “It’s not just about weight; it’s about extension, proportion, height, [and] all the genetic stuff,” (Paul Vasterling, Artistic Director of Nashville Ballet), when it comes down to casting a performance or auditioning incoming dancers, weight plays a huge role. “Choreographers, certainly, come in and say, ‘I will not cast that dancer because he or she is too big.’ In auditions especially, we all become critics. I have to pare down a group of 350 pretty quickly, and the first thing I determine is which bodies are right for us,” (Dorothy Gunter Pugh, Artistic Director of Ballet Memphis). The expectations surrounding ballerina’s bodies are well-defined; skinny is favorable, overweight is not-acceptable, but where the line becomes ambiguous is determining how skinny is too skinny. Negative body image mentality is an epidemic in the world of ballet and is leading to severe physical and mental self-harm. This issue must be stopped immediately.
To define a classic ballet body, one must imagine a dancer with very specific proportions. A small head, long neck, short torso, slender arms and legs, and beautifully arched feet. This “look” is said to have the ability to create perfect, balletic lines and expressive movements on stage. The average height of an American ballerina is about 5 foot 2 inches to 5 foot 8 inches. In correspondence to height, weight would ideally range from 85 to 130 lbs. Just by analyzing those numbers, ballerina’s body mass indexes are expected to be considerably less than the average women’s BMI. Dancers fully understand these requirements, so much so some become consumed with the thoughts that in order to succeed as a ballerina, one must meet these impractical demands, no matter the physical and mental constraints. Dancer thin is not like thin on the streets; about 15% below the ideal weight for height which is basically an anorexic weight.
Personally, as an 18 year old woman, who is 5 foot 8 inches tall and currently weighs 113 lbs, my BMI is recorded at 17.2 which is considered to be underweight when compared to the normal weight range of 18.5 to 24.9. Even the tallest (5 foot 8 inches) and biggest (130 lbs) dancer would barely meet the mark of a normal weight at 19.8. Because these requirements are so strict, creating an influx of underweight ballerinas, eating disorders are often linked to the ballet field.
Just how perfection in ballet technique does not exist, perfection in the ballet body does not exist either. Despite this fact, dancers still consistently strive for the technique and the body. Perfection is perhaps the key term that ballet is centered around. It is the nature of ballet i.e. perfect balletic lines, perfect angles of the body, perfect movement quality and so on and so forth. Perfection is expected of ballet dancers more so than of any other profession because dancers are supposed to be able to do what no one else can; they are sublime, airy, and spiritual like ghosts. Also, because ballet is meant to entertain audiences, the performance must meet specific standards. The audience’s demands are not easily met, and critics will tear apart a dancer if his or her body inhibits their ability to perform well. Because of this semblance, dancers generally feel out of control for they know no matter how hard they work, perfection will never be fully obtained. So, one way to feel in control and, as an added bonus, as some say, a way to benefit their career, is to control their food intake and become thin.
Self-critique, which can play along with the “pressure to be perfect” aura, is one attribute that dancers carry around with them day in and day out, whether it be in the studio, on stage, or at home. Repetition of negative messages from instructors and directors can transform into repetitive messages from one’s own voice, causing blurred perspectives, not only of the physical body, but of the mental and spiritual as well. “It is very easy for dancers to justify an eating disorder because it is so normalized within the profession…It has been very difficult to treat dancers in particular because they almost inevitably have to choose between their career and their health,” (Baker).
Eating disorders in the world of ballet are secretive; no one likes to talk about them. Thin is the desired look, but is it possible to achieve “the look” and remain healthy in all aspects of life? Is it worth it? The next set questions that must be asked are: What drives dancers to believe that the only solution for success is to become rail thin? Who is to blame, if anyone? And what are the warning signs of eating disorders among ballet dancers? Each dancer’s situation varies, and not all dancers deal with the feelings of inadequacy resulting in a harmful eating disorder or another psychological disorder, but when a dancer is in danger of harming themselves, action must be taken immediately.
On the other side of the spectrum, some believe that by no means are school and company directors purposefully shaming young dancer’s bodies, forcing them to lose weight and to have an awful mentality about their body image which causes the beginning stages of anorexia nervosa and related disorders to develop. These directors are simply doing their job; trying to remodel their own performing company to make it the best in the nation and, in return, raise more money. It is unfortunate that this can cause so much pain for dancers who are more vulnerable and easily affected by harsh words and criticism. “If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career,” (Macaulay). Alastair Macaulay is correct in making that statement because, by nature, ballet is first and foremost about appearance, but even if it is nature’s way, that does not mean one must radiate such negativity to dancers, forcing them to choose between their career and their health. My argument is not to change the ballet body, but to change the way we perceive it.
During the first few months this year, I was in and out of New York City auditioning for summer ballet programs, professional ballet companies, and college dance departments. I remember specifically auditioning for a company in the South. Standing in a room with 25 other girls and 2 boys, I felt confident for this was a smaller audition than most. I enjoy small-sized classes; they are easier to gain the director’s attention. I realized right away that the company director had been watching me at the barre. I was executing each movement correctly, trying to show my clean technique and passion for dance. As we moved into the center, I stood in the front line, first group. Every combination came naturally to me and I was really enjoying the class. At the end of the 2 hour audition, the director announced that he would like to speak to a few students about traineeships and potential spots in the second company. As he called out numbers, I could only think of mine. “Number 6. Please call number 6.” He only called five numbers. The five girls chosen all had the same physique; arched feet, extreme leg flexibility, dainty, and very thin. Unfortunately, I was not one of those girls.
As an upcoming dancer searching for a job, I understand to not take it personally when I am not chosen for a company position. It is not me, I simply do not fit the image the director was looking for, but this outcome did not only happen at this particular audition. I found that each company is looking for the same body type. Now, these dancers that are being chosen at the end of these auditions are not necessarily the best dancers in the class, but because they have the correct body type, directors feel that they can be easily molded and groomed into the dancers directors want for the future. This outcome struck me and after getting many rejections, I honestly began to think, “Would I have a better chance of getting picked up by a professional company if I was thinner?” And that thought is the most dangerous. Linda Hamilton, a licensed clinical psychologist who formally danced with the New York City Ballet (NYCB), stated, “If your career is on the line, if the roles are on the line, whether or not you reach that ideal, you will do practically anything,” (Dying to be Thin). I know that am not the only dancer coming out of company auditions empty handed wondering “what can I do to receive a company contract? What do those girls and boys have that I don’t? Besides the technique and passion, could it be a better body?” Definitely a possibility.
While the negative body image mentality is not yet a dying trend in the world of ballet, dancers are more aware than ever of eating disorders and other health problems. Stated in the NOVA documentary Dying to be Thin, “Eating disorders are too prevalent to ignore today. Dancers at the New York City Ballet attend a seminar on health issues.” Almost every major ballet company has a nutritionist and NYCB provides dancers with annual bone density scans in order to determine the amount of bone loss, if any, has occurred which can lead to injury.
There are many precautions taken today with helping struggling dancers, more than there have ever been before, but in order to achieve successful results in reducing the amount of dancers dealing with anorexia nervosa and other related disorders, the ballet world’s perception of the body must be changed. Directors must practice what they preach and focus on other factors that play a more important role in determining what makes a great dancer. Perfection in all aspects of ballet, despite it being a common goal, is not possible to achieve. Changing the perception of the ballet body, on the other hand, is a possible goal which must be made common to the entire world of ballet. Skinny is favorable, and too skinny should not be.
Baker, Ken. “Heidi Guenther’s short, tragic life – and death.” SFGate 4. Apr. 1999. Web. 11 Jan. 2015.
DiPalma, Lynette. “The Ideal Weight for a Ballerina.” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 15 Mar. 2011. Web. 20 Jan. 2015.
Kargman, Bess. “First Position.” 2012. 4 May 2012. Documentary
Keleman, Stanley. “Your Body Speaks Its Mind.” 1981. 28 January 2015. Print
Macaulay, Alastair. “Judging The Bodies In Ballet.” The New York Times. 3 December 2010. 2 February 2015. Website.
NOVA. “Dying to Be Thin.” 2000. 2 February 2015. Documentary.
Sacker, M. Ira, Zimmer, A. Marc. “Dying to Be Thin. ” 1987. 28 January 2015. Print.
Shoker, Sandish. “Ballet and Eating Disorders: Unspoken Competitiveness’ Adds Pressure to Be Thin.” BBC News. 27 June 2013. 2 February 2015. Website.
Truiet, Trudi Strain. “Eating Disorders.” 2003. 28 January 2015. Print.
Vasterling, Paul, and Dorothy Gunter Pugh. “Too Fat? Too Thin? Too Tall? Too Short?” Pointe Magazine 1 Apr. 2011. Print.
*This is an informative research paper. All schools, companies, and colleges have been kept anonymous.
Thank you Alessandra for being that awesome and writing for me! If you'd like to read more from her ( and I bet that you do ), make sure you check out her blog - https://alessandraortiz.wordpress.com/
Until next time,
Oct 17, 15 • By WorldWide Ballet
The Ideal Weight for a Ballerina
The ideal weight for a ballerina depends on the ballet company and the individual ballerina. Ballet has attempted to move in a more modern and sensitive direction by accepting larger dancers, but there is still a certain body type that is considered most appealing on the stage.
A classic ballerina body will ideally have very specific proportions -- long, slender arms and legs with a small head, long neck and a short torso. This body shape is considered optimal for creating lovely lines and expressive movements on stage.
Do You Lose Pounds or Inches First?
Your height plays a significant role in determining your ideal weight. Most ballerinas are between about 5 foot 3 inches and 5 foot 8 inches tall. With this height range, weight is ideally anywhere between about 85 and 130 lbs., and depends heavily on muscle and bone mass.
Ballerinas are expected to have a rather masculine but elegant shape with broad shoulders, small hips, small breasts and buttocks. The idea is to have the body create straight lines and smooth curves while dancing. Women have more fat tissue than men because of breasts and fatty tissue around the hips and buttocks, but since ballerinas are expected to have a less feminine shape, their weight may be slightly less than that for the average woman.
How to Tell If Your Legs Are Mostly Muscle or Fat
Both male and female ballet dancers are expected to have a very high shoulder-to-hip ratio, meaning that the shoulders should be wider than the hips. This ratio affects the structure and density of the skeleton, so has a bearing on your weight. This kind of build is valued more highly than being a specific weight.
Muscle vs. Fat
Ballet is strenuous and is extremely demanding on the body. As such, a ballerina will build up a considerable amount of muscle, especially in the legs and arms. Muscle is denser than fat, so a muscular ballerina may weigh a bit more. If you have been working seriously for many years as a dancer, you may weigh more.
- Ballet is strenuous and is extremely demanding on the body.
- Muscle is denser than fat, so a muscular ballerina may weigh a bit more.
The most important consideration when it comes to the ideal weight of a ballerina is whether your weight is healthy for you and your frame. The body needs certain nutrients, especially if it is expected to perform the rigorous exercise that is ballet dancing. If the body is not provided with these nutrients, it will eventually break as in the sad case of Heidi Guenther, a prima ballerina of the Boston Ballet, who 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. The bottom line is that no career or hobby is worth risking your health for, so if you find that you are not the ideal weight for a ballerina, you shouldn't go to drastic measures to change that. Work on your technique, which is far more important than weight, and keep on dancing.
- The most important consideration when it comes to the ideal weight of a ballerina is whether your weight is healthy for you and your frame.
- The bottom line is that no career or hobby is worth risking your health for, so if you find that you are not the ideal weight for a ballerina, you shouldn't go to drastic measures to change that.
There are no ideal parameters. Ballerina about her profession and beauty standards
Light, airy and beautiful - usually the spectators describe ballerina performances with such words. At the same time, few people know that dozens of hours of work in the rehearsal room, as well as pain, blood, sweat and tears, stand behind the seeming ease.
Prima ballerina of the Musical Theater Yekaterina Zhigalova, on the eve of her debut in the ballet A Thousand and One Nights (12+), told Omsk Here about the benefits of choreography, injuries and standards of ballet beauty.
- Where to study to become a ballerina?
- You can start with children's ballet studios. Such, for example, is located in the Omsk Musical Theatre, girls are accepted there from the age of 6. Having basic skills at the age of 10, you can enter ballet schools, where they study until the age of 17-18. There, students live in special hostels, combining school lessons with ballet classes. Many strive to get a higher education, so after college they enter the institutes of culture and the conservatory, the academies in Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, St. Petersburg, Moscow and other cities, where they receive a diploma as a teacher-tutor or choreographer-director.
- How is the nutrition of students in choreographic schools monitored?
- For this there is a special table with the ratio of the height and weight of the student. In the school, the nutrition of children is varied, but if a ballerina has problems with weight, she must limit herself in order to be in shape. For example, with a height of 170 cm, a girl should not weigh more than 50 kg. Someone subtracts 120 from height to get the correct weight indicator, someone 122.
Weight restrictions are also necessary because duet dance begins at the courses, and the load on the partner’s not yet strengthened skeleton is strictly controlled: they cannot be lifted ballerina weighing more than 50 kg. Because of this, tall girls can have problems.
- Is it hard to keep fit?
- I don't follow any diets, but my diet is always different. But if I can skip lunch, then I will never miss an evening meal that is sure to end with a sweet dessert.
- Tell me about your regular daily routine.
- In the morning we have classical dance lessons in the theater - a necessary exercise for any ballet dancer. Further schedule is compiled according to the current repertoire.
- What are the benefits of choreography for a child?
- First of all, it is useful for general development: musicality, rhythm appear, the muscular frame is formed correctly. In the future, the child may leave ballet for other dances or sports, but he will already have a certain physical fitness. Even if a child does not go further into this profession, he will know from childhood that there is such an art form as ballet, and, perhaps, will be interested in culture in the future. The child needs to be occupied and developed so that he does not sit for days on social networks, but joins art.
I have been in ballet since I was 5 years old, but I can tell by myself that this is an unconscious age to start classes. Now there are private schools where children are brought at 3-4 years old. I don’t really understand this, because the children are still very young and do not fully understand what is required of them. Of course, they are not forced to do batman tandyu, they do exercises for coordination, rhythm. For professional ballet classes, a child must be brought to the group no earlier than 7 years old.
- Is there competition among ballet dancers?
- There is and should be competition, because each artist needs personal growth, and such a competitive moment always spurs on. Only not with envy and malice, but with interest. I think that going to performances is very useful, not only for my colleagues, but also for performances of other genres, theaters, where, believe me, there is a lot to learn.
- What is the reason for the gender bias towards women in ballet?
- Initially, this art was female, and the dancer was just a partner for the ballerina. Now, in addition to the classical traditional repertoire, there are many modern productions in theaters, where a man and a woman come out on an equal footing, both have solo parts. But, despite this, there are really fewer men in the profession. Perhaps this is due to the fact that ballet, as many believe, is not a completely masculine art form, that it is more suitable for girls. People have a stereotype that a boy should go in for swimming, hockey, choose more brutal activities. I fundamentally disagree with this. If a man has a beautiful body and moves great, why not show it on stage? People who are not familiar with the backstage, do not know what is happening in the rehearsal class, do not imagine that this is the hardest work. How many times you need to repeat the movements to achieve this ease, no one sees.
- What are the current beauty standards in the ballet world?
- Shorter, stockier dancers used to be in demand, but the standards have since changed. Perhaps the first in this regard was Anna Pavlova, who, in comparison with her peers at the school, was tall and thin. Now there are no certain parameters and standards that would be ideal - both tall and small ballerinas are needed. For example, in the ballet "Swan Lake" there is a dance of small and large swans, and for this, girls of different builds are needed. Along with this, there are ballet companies that recruit dancers with a height of at least 170 cm for women and 185 cm for men. This is done so that the team during the performance looked more harmonious and impressive.
- Is it true that dancers often get injured and their body wears out faster due to high loads?
- It all depends on this very load throughout the career - how regular it was, how often and what kind of injuries were. All ballet dancers have their own methods of recovery: swimming pool, bath, sauna, massage. Sometimes it happens that you wave your hand, they say, it will hurt and stop, but in fact, even a small injury can develop into a serious illness. Therefore, ballet dancers need to take care of their health, because the body is an instrument.
- How does a ballerina relax?
- After work, I prefer to take a walk in the fresh air, then have dinner and be sure to read before going to bed. I rarely go to the cinema, because I prefer the theater. The theater is a living organism, the same performance is never the same, it is always something else, and in the cinema you can do a thousand takes, and all the magic is lost for me personally. And worthwhile pictures come out not so often, just a few times a year.
- What do ballerinas do when they retire?
- The dance age is not long - ballerinas retire after 20 years of experience. If a ballerina stops dancing, she often goes to work as a tutor in the theater - she works with dancers, participates in staging new performances. She can also become a teacher at a ballet school or dance studio. Many begin to work with athletes - with figure skaters, gymnasts, because they also need choreographic training. Someone goes to other areas, graduate from universities and begin to master new professions.
- Is it difficult for a ballerina to build a personal life, because actors are in the theater almost all the time?
- Most often, couples form in a team. If outside the theater, then there must be a person who will understand you and accept your profession. The ballet dancer works until 9 pm, arrives home at 10. It is important that the other half appreciates what you do, and does not think that ballet art is not a profession, but entertainment.
Photo: Ilya Petrov
“We have a formula for weight, and underweight is also welcome.” Slutsk girl told how she became a ballerina of the Bolshoi Theater • Slutsk • Newspaper "Infa-Kur'er"
Slutsk girl Yana Koipish works as a ballerina at the National Academic Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre. She dances in the corps de ballet. The girl talked about how she got into the profession, what difficulties she encountered and what ballerinas eat.
Jane Koipisch 23 years old. She studied at school number 10 named after. S. F. Rubanova in Slutsk and went to the "Dolphin" for rhythmic gymnastics. At the age of 10, she entered the ballet school in Minsk, where she studied dance for 8 years.
How I started doing ballet
“When I was doing gymnastics, I had no interest in ballet. At the age of 5 she dreamed of getting into the circus. She admired the gymnasts, imagined that they were superhumans. They work at great heights, which is very dangerous,” says Yana. - When I started doing ballet, it went away. I know, we have a girl who, after the ballet school, worked a little in the theater, and then went to the circus.
Found out with parents about the school where ballerinas are trained. It was unusual to go to another city alone at the age of 10. I tried it and I liked it. We immediately considered Minsk, because it is closest to the family. There were moments when I wanted to audition for the Academy of Russian Ballet. Vaganova in St. Petersburg, but in Belarus everything went well. It's one thing when you send a child for 100 km, and another for 1000. My parents wanted to see me closer. I don't regret not leaving.
About the hardest and the easiest thing while studying
At first it was hard without parents. You live in a hostel from a fairly early age. You are still just a child. Then you get used to it. For me, it was such a “summer school camp” that lasted 8 years.
Later it was difficult to keep fit. It is more difficult for girls to cope with this at a transitional age. I liked to study, I was directly sick of ballet.
How I ended up in the theater
At the graduation course, we take state exams and artistic directors come to us, look at girls, boys, and then take a certain number of people to the theater. It's like distribution. In addition to the opera and ballet theater, there is also a musical comedy or creative groups. The Bolshoi Theater is considered the highest level where you can be assigned to work.
At first it was very difficult to join the team. Plus a very large repertoire, many performances. All this must be learned, which is also difficult.
We have 3-4 performances a week. For each - one or two rehearsals. If you don't know, you need to learn quickly and dance. It is one thing to know the order and the text, and another thing to dance it in character.
Now it's easier. I know most of the performances. In a team, I find it easier to find a common language. I work without constant shaking. You have already shown yourself that you can.
The most pleasant thing in the profession
The most pleasant thing is that I do not sit in the office from 8 am to 5 pm. The creative profession is very interesting. Each performance is a new image, a new costume, beautiful makeup. If I have any personal problems, then when I dance, I forget about everything. It relaxes me to some extent.
It's good that there are tour performances. You can see different countries, cities. Although not as much as we would like, it is still work. But there are always free hours, you can walk around the city.
It's very nice when you meet new people and they find out that I'm a ballerina, to hear such a phrase: "I've never known / never met a ballerina." People are interested in you, admire you. Such a pleasant feeling, as if you are not like everyone else, special.
The most unpleasant thing about work
Injuries that happen are unpleasant. These are pains in the body, especially after heavy performances, such as krepatura (pain in the muscles that occurs several hours or days after an unusual or intense physical exertion of the body. - Note ed. ). I had a knee injury, a torn meniscus, a torn ligament, and a bone displacement in my ankle. I do not know a single ballet dancer who did not have any kind of injury. They are due to stress or if the muscles are not well warmed up, due to improper work.
It is not very convenient that the work schedule does not coincide with my family and friends. I work on Saturday and Sunday. Day off only on Monday. Sometimes you have to get out, see each other in some breaks.
Favorite performances and music
I have been working for the fifth season. She was busy in almost all performances. I love classical ballets - "Swan Lake", "Sleeping Beauty", "Giselle". From music lately I listen to techno, house. They make me very relaxed.
What are the requirements for ballerinas
If we take the appearance, then there should be a natural hair color - no red or blue. There should be no bright nails. How can there be a "swan" with red and black manicure? Unwanted tattoos. If done, then in inconspicuous places.
We have a formula for weight - 120 is subtracted from height.