The ballet physique:
A ballerina could start her training as early as four years old and through the years that she comes out of being a toddler
to becoming a school girl into adolescents she notices many things.. She will see a lot of changes in herself. Some of these
are good, boys become cute, her breasts start to grow, hips widen, her menstrual cycle begins and she becomes taller. Some
things about growing up are not good. For one thing there is the problem in a ballerina that her breasts will grow too big
to conform to the figure of the perfect small ballerina. Hips start to fill out and the "ballet bum" begins to lose
its shape. Girls see that all of the famous and really good ballerinas are the thin ones, with no breasts, no hips and no
stomachs. Why is this shape the desirable shape for the ballerina?
The origin of the dance figure was in the eighteenth century. A young dancer by the name of Marie Camargo became a prominent
figure on the stage. She was light footed sure of her steps and shorter than all of the male dancers on the stage. Her timing
for her career was perfect. This was about the time that it became fashionable to go to the ballet. Camargo became famous
and every young dancer in the world wanted to go to the same dance company so that they could share in her lime light. The
company would not let any new dancers in who were taller than their star performer. As girls reached five feet five their
dreams would be smashed at the realization that they would never have Camargo's figure. This new dancer also redefined the
shape of the classical ballet dancer. Before her debut on the stage the ballet dancers were not traditionally small, but due
to her popularity, the new figure became mandatory to succeed in the world of ballet.
The look of the dancer is the "genre of the veritably, length of spine, the open stance and the lean look" (Street,
1994). This is derived from the court dance which attempted to portray a regal demeanor.
Why dancers have such a high incidence of the disease:
A ballet dancer is very aware of what her body looks like. At each practice she attends she wears skin-tight clothes and
dances strenuously in front of large mirrors. A dancer has to look at herself for many hours in a day and this can cause a
realization in the dancer. The general public may look in the mirror for a few minutes a day, hardly aware of what they really
look like, but a dancer has no choice but to stand in front of a mirror and compare herself with others in the room. Seeing
others thinner than she, could prompt a dancer to lose a few pounds to look as small as the other dancers in the room. As
each one does this the room of dancers becomes very small. Anorexia seems like the best way to become the smallest dancer
in the class.
Another reason dancers would want to be small is that they have to jump high, spin fast and balance on their toes for
extended periods of time. If a dancer weighs much or her weight changes frequently these steps are difficult to execute. A
dancer has to know her body weight and be able to balance with no exterior problems. "Extra weight changes the balance
of the body. It takes more strength to get up in the air, more time to do the move, and it's harder to land." (Chiu,
1996) A dancer also has to be conscious that a man has to be able to carry her for extended lifts and holds. Knowing she can
dance better with a smaller weight convinces a dancer that she must stay thin at all costs.
A dancer is usually seeking perfection in the steps that she executes. If she does not she will never reach a professionals
level. Because a dancer is a perfectionist, she has to be flawless and better than her peers. A young anorexic dancer, when
interviewed stated that, "she had something that other people wanted. They wanted to look like her and it was a sense
of power, control and accomplishment that she could be like that." (Dyson, 1995) This also gives the dancer a feeling
that she has an edge over the other dancers and sometimes this edge is important.
The ultimate goal for a dancer is to become a professional. The truth is as stated by a dancer, "In the real world
people who are not thin do not get jobs." (Emily Martin, personal communications, December, 1995) In the dancing world
this is true. All dancers know that to get into a dance company of choice they have to look like the other girls in the ballet
world so that when they get on stage they all look the same. The dancers know this and before applying for a dance company
make sure that their bodies conform to the ideals of the dance company. The edge (being smaller than all other) that is gained
through anorexia may be what gets them into the dance company. Those girls that do not have the figures have to find something
else to do with their lives. For some this can be too much and that will drive them to anorexia to get into the company the
Dancers are usually from a moderately high socio-economic background. As discussed previously, the children from the high
socio-economic background have a higher incidence of getting anorexia than any other group. With the pressures of their family
life and of dancing these girls are at a higher risk than any other group in society (of getting anorexia).
The primary reason that a dancer will develop anorexia is traditionally a ballet dancers are slender. When it is known
throughout the world that the best dancers in the world are thin and only the thin ballet dancers get jobs, it is easy for
a dancer at a young age to think that anorexia is the only way for them to become and stay thin. To a dancer the pressure
to be thin is very great. Before anyone looks at the way they dance or the way they move, the way they look is the first thing
noticed. "An ideal has been set in place in the dance community which reflects the general publics desire to see thin
women on stage." (Dyson, 1995)
Although eating disorders can affect everyone, the incidence in dancers is almost one hundred percent as estimated by
the CAAWS. "Most dancers have been through some kind of eating disorder, it's just that we don't see it. We don't discuss
it." (Kehree LaCrosse, dance teacher, personal communication, January 1996) The ballet dancers in our society have been
told by the general public that if they are not thin then they will not be considered ballet dancers. Because of pressures
put on a dancer to be thin she will find her peace in developing an eating disorder. These disorders can cause many disturbances
in the body sometimes resulting in death. Why do we put one elite group in our society through such emotional and physical
turmoil? Do we really need to have thin, frail girls dancing across a stage? Our society is killing a group on individuals
because of the traditional way we view the ballerina.