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Backstage at the Ballet

Pas de Deux: Sexism and the Gender Binary in Ballet

February 09, 2021

Classical ballet contains extremely strict gender roles, with men and women performing different types of movements and dancing very different roles. In schools, though everyone takes barre and center together, the boys will then leave for a separate “men’s class” while the girls focus on pointework. Dress codes are gendered as well — pink tights and black leotards for the girls, black tights and white shirts for the boys. This rigid divide leaves little room for flexibility or the inclusion of those whose gender identity don’t fit within the traditional cisgender roles on which ballet is built.

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Ballet’s #MeToo Movement: Power and Abuse in the Industry

November 24, 2020

Part of this is likely due to the fact that the industry is so saturated with dancers all vying for the very small pool of contracts available in any given year. There simply aren’t enough jobs to go around — and not enough money to support more artists, when contracted professionals are already underpaid. As a result, dancers are sometimes seen as disposable and are subject to mistreatment, leading many to feel as though they aren’t respected or valued as artists in their companies. Directors might not be straightforward in communications regarding things like contracts, or they might overwork their dancers, and yet dancers are expected to be grateful that they’re dancing at all.

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Academia’s IQ Test is Flawed: The Importance of Arts Education

November 16, 2020

Choosing to come to Harvard was, for me, the easy choice: Going to college is what the world expects of its youth. College is the road most traveled, the societal norm, the path of least resistance. If I were a true artist, comfortable with sacrifice, shouldn’t I have been strong enough to stray from the norm and follow my heart? And though I love being a college student — my classes, my peers, and everything else — dance captures me in a way that academia never could. The pandemic, which moved us to online classes, granted me a second chance to attend a pre-professional ballet program and devote most of my days to training. But this experience — with one foot still in college and the other in the ballet world — has only reminded me of how difficult it is to pursue art.

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Ballet Body: On Body Dysmorphia and Kathryn Morgan’s Recent Video

November 03, 2020

This is nothing new or unique to my experience: Dancers so often hyperfocus on their bodies because they are the tools with which they create their art. In ballet especially, being extremely thin is the aesthetic standard, something that developed over time similarly to the industries of fashion and modeling, and was perhaps concretized by the advent of the Balanchine aesthetic. Thinner lines, better art. Staring into mirrors all day critiquing positions and movements, too, contributes to an obsessive focus on one’s body, all of which is incredibly damaging both physically and mentally. Ballet typically requires that one start training at a very young age. Thus comments from teachers about how “I can see your lunch sticking out!” (a line I’ve heard countless times) as well as the general pressure of the industry and the world come during formative years and shape our thoughts and perceptions. Those kinds of thought processes are difficult to break; friends who have long since quit dancing still tell me how much they struggle with their body image, unable to escape the mentality drilled into them.

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The Pandemic Has Radically Changed Dance — Maybe For the Better

October 17, 2020

As dancers’ primary purpose — to perform, to tell stories, to bring joy — has been almost entirely stripped away, we have, alongside the rest of the world, found ways to evolve. Like those of many other industries in the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these adaptations have turned out to be positive developments that we should carry forward. One of the most beneficial shifts has been increased accessibility for students and audience members alike.

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