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Subject: "Shape" Archived thread - Read only
 
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #2608
Reading Topic #2608
Flight

02-04-02, 09:53 PM (GMT)
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"Shape"
 
   Because I am myself a ballet student, I have distorted views about body shape - especially ballet dancers'. I am not suggesting that all ballet students share these views, I am simply saying that they are the ones I have, although I try very hard not to have them.

I would like to know whether or not the thin-ness of a dancer influences 'normal' people in their appreciation of the dancer/ performance. Do you view a thinner dancer as superior to a less thin one? Do you think that some dancers are *too* thin? Do you even notice?

Thank you for any comments!


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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: Shape Viviane 02-04-02 1
     RE: Shape Flight 03-04-02 2
         RE: Shape AEHandley 03-04-02 3
             RE: Shape Flight 03-04-02 4
  RE: Shape alison 03-04-02 5
     RE: Shape katharine kanter 04-04-02 6
  RE: Shape Caz 04-04-02 7
     RE: Shape Helen 04-04-02 8
         RE: Shape katharine kanter 04-04-02 9
             RE: Shape MAB 04-04-02 10
                 RE: Shape Paul A 04-04-02 11
                 RE: Shape alison 04-04-02 12
                     RE: Shape Helen 05-04-02 13
                         RE: Shape AnnWilliams 05-04-02 14
                             RE: Shape Paul A 05-04-02 15
                             RE: Shape alison 05-04-02 16
                             RE: Shape Flight 05-04-02 17
                             RE: Shape Flight 05-04-02 18
                             RE: Shape Rym Kechacha 06-04-02 19
                             RE: Shape Caz 08-04-02 20
     RE: Shape AEHandley 08-04-02 21
         RE: Shape Flight 09-04-02 22

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Viviane

02-04-02, 10:11 PM (GMT)
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1. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #0
 
   Flight,
I want to see 'healthy' dancers. A dancers-body need to be 'strong'in the first place.
I don't like to see skeleton-like communication-tools.
And you have to judge dancers in movement...not in pictures.
Have to say it was a relief to see SFB last summer...free a last of that thin-ness syndrom !


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Flight

03-04-02, 09:37 AM (GMT)
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2. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #1
 
   I didn't see SFB, but the girl on the front of the Dancing Times looked quite thin to me!

When I was younger, I saw Viviana Durante for the first time on a video of 'Beauty', and I remember being shocked at how thin she was, but not really thinking that much else about it because she was such a wonderful dancer. I did think that she was *too* thin, though.

Do you think that nowadays thin-ness in dancers has less to do with the dancing and more to do with the fact that ballet is such a competitive proffession, full of perfectionists? I mean, in class people want their developpes to go higher than the girl in front, their insteps to be higher than the girl behind, their jump to be higher than everyone elses...some evidence is, perhaps, that girls in the corps are the ones that become anorexic because they are the ones dancing all the time in a group and still striving to be better than the others, Principals are usually 'fatter' (!!!) than the corps, because they are already receiveing attention for their dancing, and they already know they are better than most. More to back up the theory that anorexia is an attention-seeking state?

I'm sure that when Makarova arrived from Russia, audiences found her figure quite shocking when they compared it to Fonteyn's. So Makarova set a trend and all the other dancers followed. But once they were all as thin as Makarova, younger dancers had to be thinner than *them*, and then we had no more soft Fonteyn-esque lines, only hard, rigid ones.

I am just basically twaddling on about nothing in particular her, in case you hadn't already noticed!


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AEHandley

03-04-02, 10:46 AM (GMT)
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3. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #2
 
   >When I was younger, I saw
>Viviana Durante for the first
>time on a video of
>'Beauty', and I remember being
>shocked at how thin she
>was, but not really thinking
>that much else about it
>because she was such a
>wonderful dancer. I did think
>that she was *too* thin,
>though.
>
I first saw Viviana before that video came out, and my response was the same as yours (I'm a Collier fan - to me that's what a dancer should look like, just to put my cards on the table!). Arms like coathangers, unattractively skinny, wouldn't want to see her in the classics, I thought. THen I saw her Giselle - and she blew me away. Still didn't want to see her in Petipa - then watched the vid and her shape didn't matter, she was so radiant. I avoided watching Sylvie for many years - you probably don't remember the TV documentary about her when she was a new discovery of Nureyev, but all I really remember about it was how ugly her body was. Legs like a newborn foal, all skinny with knobbly knees. When I had to start going to ballet on dates that were convenient, rather than choosing my cast, I saw Sylvie in Bayadere and realised that she is in fact a good dancer - but I still wouldn't choose to see her. Her Manon I just find unpleasant to watch because of what she does with her body. Darcey IMO has one of the most attractive shapes in the company - because she's taller she can also afford to be better covered and she has beautiful legs. Extreme thinness IS unattractive in body terms and allied to the hard physical work that dancers do leads to stringiness (have you seen the televisation of Firebird? Don't look too closely at Leanne's neck, it's scary!)

Sorry if my bluntness here has offended anyone. In short, a lot of dancers are too thin for safety and FAR too thin to look good.


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Flight

03-04-02, 11:30 AM (GMT)
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4. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #3
 
   LAST EDITED ON 03-04-02 AT 11:42 AM (GMT)

To me Durante is more shocking than Guillem because she is such a small dancer. Logically smaller dancers (like me at 5'0-ish) should be fatter than taller dancers, like Guillem at 5'8 (not that I am comparing myself to her, at least not in terms of dancing). When she first came onto the stage in 'Beauty', I was mesmerised by her legs. Now that I am older and more worldly (!!!) I just wish that I looked like that,or even thinner.

I have seen photographs of Durante when she was thirteen and if there is any difference between then and when she was at the Royal, it is that she was actually thinner while she was in the company. Quite scary!!!

Darcy I think has a sensible figure (I cannot say that I think it is one of the nicest in the company because to me her shoulders are too broad). If one was to look at a the video of her in the 'Pagodas'act three pdd when she was 19 or 20, her thighs reassuringly have some fat on them, not just muscle (shock horror!!!). And I remember that the first time I saw her dance live, I wasn't shocked by her thin-ness.

I have yet to see Ms Guillem live (Romeo and Juliet in may with le Riche! Hurrah!!!) but I have seen the video of her in Nureyev's Cinderella and her body is quite fascinating and to me very enviable. She wasn't wearing a tutu then, though.


Collier had a much more attainable body which made her more likeable and much more warm on stage. She looked like a person, a real, healthy person. Her princesses were not starved, skeletal, waif-like princesses, but 'proper' princesses.


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alison

03-04-02, 10:17 PM (GMT)
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5. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #0
 
   Personally, I generally can't stand "pipe-cleaner" dancers, the type who have such thin limbs that you think they're about to snap at any moment. In fact, there are a few who shall remain nameless who make me feel slightly nauseous when I watch them. I think that the figure of someone like Bussell is probably far healthier, although she's had her share of injuries too, so I don't think you can necessarily correlate injury-proneness with thinness - Durante never seemed to have many problems as I remember.


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katharine kanter

04-04-02, 10:03 AM (GMT)
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6. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #5
 
   We are, at the present time, in a civilisation of the ever-open, instiable EYE. What people think of as "beauty" today, is conditioned by film, television, photography and video. There is a particular type of face and figure that "projects" well through such media.


Any theatrical artist will tell you that the stage adds about 10, perhaps 15 pounds' weight, in terms of the optical illusion, while the above media pile on a good 20 pounds.

Extreme thinness in the female sex became fashionable once the ideals of the "silver screen" spread out into the general population. This was further accentuated by the thirties fashion for bias-cut clingy silks and satins that "hide no sins". Jean Harlow and the film stars of that era, were absolutely rake-thin, compared to their contemporaries in the theatre.

That extreme figure-type was - and is - maintained, as so many biographies attest, by various forms of self-abuse that cannot be discussed on a family Web-site.

Now, were that excess confined to the 0.001% of the population who star in films and become multi-millionaires thereby, well and good.

But it has no business spilling over into the theatre, where actresses, singers and dancers live and work under completely different constraints. Contrary to a film actor, theatrical people must be highly, highly technical. They must be able to project a character for several hours (Coriolanus !) . They must be strong. They must have stamina. They must be able to call up reserves of brio even when physically exhausted. And, unlike film actors, they are not paid nearly enough to recuperate for weeks on end on beauty farms in the Maldives.

There is such an enormous investment, in terms of coaching, training, technical skills, into a theatrical artist, that everything must tend towards keeping that person on stage as long as possible.

Under such constraints, to demand of a theatrical artist to be bone thin, is cruelty. Where was the SPCA when we needed it ?

As I - and others - have discussed elsewhere on this Website and in published form, there are other, more technical reasons why ballet dancers should NOT be thin. The low technical standards amongst present day's female dancers (to my mind, thwacking one's ear with a spare foot does not qualify as technique) are, in large measure, due to the fact that female dancers have no brio, no deep energy levels, compared to those of 25 years ago, because most are severely underweight.

Young people today are far more attractive, physically, than we were thirty years ago. They are taller, they have agreable proportions, their legs are much longer and slimmer. Automatically, the average dancer today looks much better in a classical short tutu, than we ever did.

But a dancer is not a Barbie doll, or a fashion model. In an era where even a pianist or violinist is expected to be handsome enough to sell records - and I am not exaggerating - that message is not an easy one to get across.



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Caz

04-04-02, 10:20 AM (GMT)
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7. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #0
 
   From a purely visual pov I prefer taller, slimmer dancers - female dancers anyway, I like male dancers to be a bit chunkier
(Sylvie is my ideal dancer shape - don't think I'm ever likely to attain quite that shape meself though...)

When I was a small kid the British dancers' shape was still the shorter, slightly dumpier kind and I always preferred the American dancers with their long legs and wild extensions.

I don't think I'd really like to watch a dancer as thin as some of the women on the catwalks at the moment though - now they are thin.

Btw, I agree with Flight about Darcey. Her wide shoulders always make her look more like a swimmer than a dancer to me.


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Helen

04-04-02, 11:51 AM (GMT)
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8. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #7
 
   I don't like dancers, particularly female ones, to look too like athletes. I know they have to be athletic, but it doesn't have to show. I suppose I am talking classical ballet here. It really doesn't help if a romantic heroine, swan, sylph, princess or whatever looks as if she's about to enter for the Olympics. (I'll conveniently ignore the fact that in Britain we have a princess, Anne, who did enter for the Olympics - I'm not talking about reality.)

Though it's a different subject really, I also think that faces matter, and that's something that's rarely discussed for fear of offending. The face is part of the picture, and I can think of quite a few excellent dancers who never quite made it to the top because they had the "wrong" face. Very hard on them.


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katharine kanter

04-04-02, 01:45 PM (GMT)
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9. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #8
 
   One of the reasons that faces have "gone", is precisely the cult of extreme thinness. Until the age of 20 or so, people have a bit of puppyy fat in the face, that disguises this flaw. After that age, most female professionals today look absolutely haggard. I once overheard someone saying after a rehearsal, with shocking frankness: "I hadn't realise how AWFUL the girls look close-up without make-up and costumes. Their face and neck is emaciated."

Think about Indian classical dancers, who weigh, on average, 20 to 30 pounds more than a professional dancer in the West. Their faces are highly expressive. Why ? Well, first of course, their facial muscles are better trained, because they make great use of mime, but also, because that musculature is supported by some FAT. That is what catches the light and makes it possible to project an expression across the footlights.

FAT is of course a very relative concept. No professional dancer, anywhere in the world, in any classical discipline, is going to be truly FAT, compared to the man in the street...


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MAB

04-04-02, 03:19 PM (GMT)
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10. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #9
 
   At a time when obesity is reaching epidemic proportions, it seems strange that dancers are not reflecting that trend and reverting to the well upholstered figures of 100 years ago, but turning into stick insects instead.

One point to always bear in mind though, people come in all types of body-shapes. When I was young (before healthy eating had been invented) I could eat three fry-ups a day and snack on chocolate bars and still weighed seven and a half stone and was nagged for being skinny. So it is highly likely that many ultra-thins aren't anorexic at all. They are just built that way.

Yes we are all growing taller, but we are definitely growing fatter too. Except at the ballet. As someone who started ballet-going in the '60's I'm convinced they all looked better then, much more feminine and alluring. But I suppose there is no need for femininity or allure if you're dancing Forsythe.


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Paul A

04-04-02, 04:06 PM (GMT)
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11. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #10
 
   Getting exasperated with this thread - and the smoking one too.

Is it anybody else's business how a dancer looks or whether they smoke?

Sure we all want to enjoy the longevity of performers - but let's resist being prescriptive about it. There's quite enough of that elsewhere in life.


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alison

04-04-02, 10:28 PM (GMT)
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12. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #10
 
   There's been a noticeable tendency among women to lose their narrow waists over recent years, and I think it applies to ballet dancers as well.


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Helen

05-04-02, 08:01 AM (GMT)
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13. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #12
 
   To be fair, Paul, Flight asked a question which contributors to this thread are trying to answer. The personal prejudices that surface along the way presumably reflect audience opinion.


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AnnWilliams

05-04-02, 03:38 PM (GMT)
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14. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #13
 
   Well, speak for yourself, Alison (message 12) - I haven't lost my 'narrow waist'! Seriously, are you sure about this? I certainly don't think woment in general are losing that 'hour-glass' look, but I do agree that dancers (and athletes) are often rather shapeless in the torso region. Look at any of those Balanchine black leotard ballets you have on video - particularly 'Agon' - and you'll see what I mean. In fact, I remember posting on this site complaining about how shapeless the women looked in that particular ballet because the swimsuit look emphasised their lack of waist.

Katharine do doubt will be able to explain why this is all Mr B's fault.


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Paul A

05-04-02, 03:46 PM (GMT)
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15. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #14
 
   My wife ( a + size and I wouldn't have her any different) commented on seeing ABT at the Coli in the early 90s how thick waisted were the bayaderes: I only remember a leaden ensemble, more the performance I think than people's shapes.


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alison

05-04-02, 05:38 PM (GMT)
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16. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #14
 
   Lucky you, Ann - mine's vanishing fast. Yes, it is actually quite noticeable these days on a lot of women, even young ones. And I believe that a size 12 has gone up from 26 to 28 inches at some time over the past decade or so.


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Flight

05-04-02, 07:05 PM (GMT)
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17. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #16
 
   The thing about waists - dancers are becomeing thicker waisted becasue in fact they do not go in and out any more, just in.
The fashion for dancers at the moment is for them to be short- bodied and long-legged, and short-bodied people usually have thicker waists. There are still those of us with waists (mine is an 18 inch) but we are unlikely to be let into the major companies because we also have bottoms and breasts.


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Flight

05-04-02, 07:28 PM (GMT)
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18. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #17
 
   LAST EDITED ON 05-04-02 AT 07:29 PM (GMT)

And in reply to Paul - I think it is our business as balletomanes. Do we really want the advancement or even maintainment of technique to be inhibited by the fact that dancers don't have enough energy? And do we really want a generation of dancers to be terrified of weighing more than seven stone? And yes, I do mean terrified. What is more, it is not just proffessional dancers that we are talking about - the RAD Major examination results can be affected by whether a dancer is too fat/thin.


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Rym Kechacha

06-04-02, 06:39 PM (GMT)
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19. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #18
 
   I am also very preoccupied with my shape as I want to go into full-time training. I think that although an extremaly thin dance is ugly to look at, on the other hand so is a fat dancer. Most dancers are not fat, they are such perfectionists that they would not allow themselves to become fat. I think that we need to follow the "middle way" It is really depressing when you're standing there in class and ,to your own eyes at least, you appear to be the fattest one there. It makes you so low that you can't dance properly. All the girls are just trying to comply with what they think is expected of them, but not realising that they are taking it too far. If any female, medium height principal dancer was known to be over nine stone, then the critics would definately label her as fat. I think the perfect weight and shape is the one that you feel comfortable at, and when you feel you have an abundance of energy , to hell with everyone else. Unfortunately most of us don't have the strenght of character to do that.


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Caz

08-04-02, 03:35 PM (GMT)
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20. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #19
 
   Would the less narrow waists be anything to do with dancers' exercise having changed? Pilates for example works a lot on the obliques which would tend to build out the waist.


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AEHandley

08-04-02, 10:24 PM (GMT)
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21. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #7
 
   >Btw, I agree with Flight about
>Darcey. Her wide shoulders always
>make her look more like
>a swimmer than a dancer
>to me.


I've never thought that about Darcey, but Zenaida Yanowsky's shoulders always look very large to me - can look quite butch in a tutu. She looks much better in roles that don't have that type of costume.


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Flight

09-04-02, 11:52 AM (GMT)
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22. "RE: Shape"
In response to message #21
 
   I think dancers may have used to wear things similar to corsets -can Moira Shearer's waist have been that small? I expect pilates does have something to do with it.

The thing is that no dancer is going to sacrifice her career to break free from the mould of thin-ness (sorry to talk in cliches but it is as much as i can do not to talk in Spanish right now as the exam is in 23 hours - eeek! And then it will be French and German...).

Personally I would be interested to know what Lynn Seymour thinks about it all.


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