Leigh Witchel

Tattoos and Piercings on Ballet Dancers?

Tattos and Piercings on Ballet Dancers:   108 members have voted

  1. 1. What's your opinion?

    • Love 'em!
      4
    • Hate 'em
      86
    • Couldn't care less.
      18

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132 posts in this topic

Seriously, ballet dancers need to take extremely good care of their bodies, tattoos and piercings are unnecessary health risks, distracting, and ugly. I think if we put tattoos in ballets, it would ruin the elegance and make the ballets seem much more modern.

However your reasoning causes me to want to respond. For one thing, tattoos are less "modern" than the extreme extensions that are seen in ballet today (tattoos have been around in western society since the 19th c at least).

As far as I know, visible tattoos are more modern on a ballet stage than the extreme extensions we are seeing. Suzanne Farrell had some extreme extensions in "Bournonville Divertissement" (certainly extreme for Bournonville), but Balanchine would have had a heart attack if she had showed up in the studio with a visible tattoo. Semenyaka didn't limit herself to 90 degrees in the "Raymonda" from the 1980's.

As for ugly, that's merely your aesthetic judgment. For one thing, not all tattoos and piercings are the same. Some are ugly, some are strikingly beautiful. Just because you find them ugly doesn't make them so. Unless you fancy yourself a universal arbiter of taste.

I think we'd go bankrupt from the bandwidth costs if everyone pre-faced every opinion on this board with "In my opinion" :dunno:

Polls like this one solicit aesthetic judgements. We would be a very small discussion board if we agreed on everything.

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But to my mind the ballet vocabulary always reflects its aristocratic origins. Tattoos come out a different culture and aesthetic, and to my mind they clash.

This made me think of the cavalier-porteur. In recent performances of the aristocratic first movement of Symphony in C, part of Roland Sarabia's tatoo was peaking out above his collar line. Half a tattoo is, for some reason, even more distracting than a complete one.

On the other hand: aristocracy doesn't always mean pure, undefiled skin. Aristocrats in the 18th century had lots of disfiguring skin markings owing to diet, worse bad personal hygiene, and even syphlitic sores. These were often sometimes covered up with patches or thick layers of cosmetics. Aristocratic ladies in the Belle Epoque and the pre World War One era got small tattoos to add a little spice to life. But never, of course, on parts of their bodies that were visible in public. :dunno:

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On the other hand: aristocracy doesn't always mean pure, undefiled skin. Aristocrats in the 18th century had lots of disfiguring skin markings owing to diet, worse bad personal hygiene, and even syphlitic sores. These were often sometimes covered up with patches or thick layers of cosmetics. Aristocratic ladies in the Belle Epoque and the pre World War One era got small tattoos to add a little spice to life. But never, of course, on parts of their bodies that were visible in public. :dunno:

Very interesting, Bart. Thanks.

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People will disagree on whether a bod mod is beautiful or not, but the fact remains that the are modifications of/to the body, its skin of a rather permanent nature.

Ballet as a genre seems to include the platonic notion of a perfect human form in formalized motion. In that sense it is rule based and somewhat "rigid". I don't see how body modifications fit into this sensibility. And I believe most ADs and dancers agree and cover them with make up. They are meant to express something, but that expression is largely or almost exclusively directed to non ballet expressions.

This topic became current when I and several others observed tattoos on classical ballet dancers who obviously were not concealing them and obviously felt that concealment was not in order. Seems as if most disagree with that decision.

I observed a tattoo on the hip of Vishneva at her Beauty performance which was outside the auspices of the ABT. The performance was modern and so a tattoo was less jarring, but it was distracting. Although I didn't care for much of the performance the tattoo grabbed too much of my attention and shattered my illusion of "the classical ballerina". It got me also thinking about Anna Netrebko, a modern diva goes clubbing and partying like other women of her age and how we DO put these artists on some sort of pedestal where we expect them to conform to "classical expectations".

In a sense we in the audience don't "know" our dancers except as we see them in performance and read, perhaps, the occasional press release about their lives. But most ballet dancers seem to lead private lives sheltered from their public. I am not advocating more light, because they deserve their privacy. They give us so much with their artistry.

I suppose it's when the private (bod mods) appears in their artist public life that it may be disturbing or to some thrilling. And when we hold an opinion of something like bod mods it can color how we view these artists in the future. I don't know why, but seeing Ms Vishneva's tattoo makes me see her in a different light on stage.

The odd thing about any personal styling choice is that we are all very different to begin with so what's the big deal? I suppose this applies within a narrow range. I see tatts as a fad and can envision when they are out of style. What then?

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So the Poll's questions are somehow tricky. "Love'em", "Hate'em" and "careless" seem to be options regarding tats likeness or not in general, not specifically to be applied only to stage time. For once, I was one of the "Love'em" voters, thinking about tats per se. Now looking to some posters clarifications and faced with the possibility to see a Giselle or a Sylph with one my choice could be probably a different one.

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Ballet as a genre seems to include the platonic notion of a perform human form in formalized motion. In that sense it is rule based and somewhat "rigid". I don't see how body modifications fit into this sensibility. And I believe most ADs and dancers agree and cover them with make up. They are meant to express something, but that expression is largely or almost exclusively directed to non ballet expressions.

Very well put, SanderO. Thanks. The audience looks for self-expression, but self-expression achieved through the discipline that serves the art form. Anything else is a distraction.

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My reaction was the same, Cristian. I was a "love 'em" person, thinking in general terms, but I don't want to see them on stage unless they fit the character and period! I think that tats would be great in "West Side Story", and so would piercings. But unless it's a modern view of the classics, my vote would have to be no to wearing them onstage.

I'm curious about those tiny nose piercings, though: Are there many ballet dancers with them?

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vagansmom, I know a number of dancers with nose piercings. It's interesting how that is the one piercing that I don't see removed for performances. Mostly they are so small that they can be dabbed with a tiny bit of makeup or I've known one dancer to put a tiny wax-like substane over it so that it wouldn't sparkle in the light. But with a nose piercing, even if it does shine alittle it simply looks like a tiny glisten of sweat.

I think all other piercings I see removed and tattoos covered with either makeup or "Elastoplast". And most purposely have their tattoos where it is easier to cover them when need be.

I'd have to agree with the general consensus that I wouldn't want to see a tattoo in any classical ballet, ever. But I think in most modern ones too, depending on the size and location of it. If it is a small ankle tattoo it probably wouldn't bother me. But a tattoo of the state you are from across your ribcage (I've seen this) would be distracting to me. I just know I would spend most of my time trying to figure out what it was than actually watching the piece unfold.

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Over the course of a career, a dancer has to play different types of characters and express the whole gamut of emotions. It's hard to imagine a tattoo that would be appropriate for every role.

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I would be shocked if a ballerina has a tattoo, and would not like to see any signs of tattoos on stage especially when it comes to Classical Ballet.

Why would someone who learns classical arts/ dance want a tattoo?

To me, a tattoo is something modern or contemporary.

However, if the tattoo is on somewhere that can be covered up by costumes, and does not show any signs on stage, I would not think it matters for me.

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A role that requires a tattoo does not preclude any dancer from that role. They can apply a tatt as make up, which is what a tatt is, a kind of permanent make up.

With ballet being so much about perfection in form and movement of the human body, it's hard to understand how many tatts could be considered as part of that goal.

I see them as "fashion", despite them being rather permanent, and ballet as being more timeless and classic. I suppose some with tattoos see them as just part of their skin while others see them as something rather different. I find them a distraction and more so in ballet and so I would hope that they dancer and the AD would have the good sense to cover them. Otherwise it's a king of improvisation which appears to step over the line and disrespect the established traditions.

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A role that requires a tattoo does not preclude any dancer from that role. They can apply a tatt as make up, which is what a tatt is, a kind of permanent make up.

With ballet being so much about perfection in form and movement of the human body, it's hard to understand how many tatts could be considered as part of that goal.

I see them as "fashion", despite them being rather permanent, and ballet as being more timeless and classic. I suppose some with tattoos see them as just part of their skin while others see them as something rather different. I find them a distraction and more so in ballet and so I would hope that they dancer and the AD would have the good sense to cover them. Otherwise it's a king of improvisation which appears to step over the line and disrespect the established traditions.

I totally agree with you on the "disrespect the established traditions" part.

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As far as tattoos are concerned, I agree with the general consensus of this Board, that in performance of the classical rep, it could be a distraction. (Somehow I can't see Aurora in her pink tutu, and Desire in 18thc. court costume with tattoos, but Carabosse and her minions might not look too bad. And except for the fact that Odile is supposed to be the image of Odette, Odile with a tattoo, like Bourne's use of black leather, would certainly provide a not-so-suble intimation of her/his character; that is, if we didn't start analysing what the tattoo we saw actually was--and so distract ourselves from those 32 fouettes.)

As for piercings, I have seen some health issues, that should be considered...

(Assuming it is removed during performances or miniscule in size.)

It is difficult to keep the pierced area clean with a constant influx of stage makeup and sweat, so I've known at least two dancers who abandoned them because they developed minor infections . And does anyone know what causes keloids? I wouldn't think those were very attractive either.

Also, I've had many dentists/orthodontists tell me tongue piercings have caused several young people to require major reconstructive work done or even false tooth/teeth up front, because the constant tongue clicking (a temptation/habit hard to stop) had cracked the enamel and/or teeth themselves.

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Most contributors agree that visible tattoos are an unwelcome distraction. The critic Arnold Haskell obhorred nail varnish: " ...when a work and a company are both so well-known that carmine-coloured nails, objectionable at all times, can in Les Sylphides, by cutting off abruptly the fine line of the fingers and substituting bloody stumps, produce a feeling of profound irritation..."

Haskell, Arnold L., Balletomania, p.15. Victor Gollancz, London 1934

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The critic Arnold Haskell abhorred nail varnish
I can see this with Les Sylphide, as with swans, Shades, wilis, the ladies of Serenade, etc. But how about ballets in which painted nails are consistent with the character? -- Manon? the various versions of Lady of the Camelias? the Coquette of Sonnambula? the Striptease Girl? the dance hall girls in Western Symphony? Odile?

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I would think discreet pale pink nail polish would be fine for most ballets and although no one not up front will care it’s nice to see dancers, male and female, with well kept hands. Haskell was surely right to abominate red nails in Les Sylphides. I suppose it would be all right, though not necessary, for an amusement like Western Symphony or Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (indeed it would be odd if the Strip Tease Girl didn’t have brightly colored nails). Courtesans were showy but I don’t think Jungle Red nails would be appropriate for Marguerite or Manon unless it’s in line with the custom of their times, and I’m not sure about that.

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I can see this with Les Sylphide, as with swans, Shades, wilis, the ladies of Serenade, etc. But how about ballets in which painted nails are consistent with the character? -- Manon? the various versions of Lady of the Camelias? the Coquette of Sonnambula? the Striptease Girl? the dance hall girls in Western Symphony? Odile?
Maybe for those seated in the front few rows of the orchestra, but for most of the house, you do get the stunted line of the hand. There was a period in the late '70s-early '80s when some NYCB dancers wore nail polish. Especially with the "Balanchine hand," it flattered no one, but even soft hands look blunted unless the polish is no darker than the natural nail.

I read somewhere once that ABT prohibited nail polish, even clear. Maybe clear can catch the light and sparkle inappropriately? :)

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I read somewhere once that ABT prohibited nail polish, even clear. Maybe clear can catch the light and sparkle inappropriately? :)

A clear gloss might indeed catch the light inappropriately if the gloss is too high. A skin-tone polish without a high top coat of gloss would be all right, I should think.

Brightly colored nails don't usually blunt the hand, however, unless they and/or the hand are badly shaped, though - generally colored longer nails enhance and emphasize longer fingers and elegant hands and often they are used to draw attention to those qualities. Even for women with shorter fingers a well shaped nail, colored or not, can extend the line of the hand and not blunt it. But onstage they don't have that effect, they're just a distraction.

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We were never permitted to wear nailpolish for performances- I guess too much of a distraction. For Swan Lake-(Off Topic) red lipstick was forbidden-you could only wear a warmer tone- as under the blue lights, the red lipstick would turn your lips almost black.

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For Swan Lake-(Off Topic) red lipstick was forbidden-you could only wear a warmer tone- as under the blue lights, the red lipstick would turn your lips almost black.
:o I never thought about the lighting issue. Black-lipped swans -- sounds more like wilis in a Giselle production especially influenced by Wes Craven. :)

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Brightly colored nails don't usually blunt the hand, however, unless they and/or the hand are badly shaped, though - generally colored longer nails enhance and emphasize longer fingers and elegant hands and often they are used to draw attention to those qualities.
The first time I noticed nail polish was when dancer's strange looking hands caught my attention from the fourth ring. I raised my opera glasses and saw that the dancer (initials JF), who usually had lovely hands, was wearing coral nail polish, a shade or two darker than her skin. That contrast, from that distance, was enough to cut the continuity of the line of her hands. In life, we seldom have reason to create a line from head to neck to shoulders through arms and out through the fingers. :)

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Just wanted to add that we may have the opportunity to see for ourselves in the next three Olympic figure skating events. The ladies generally polish their nails, and some may choose dark colors. I couldn't help but notice one of the ladies in last night's Compulsories had dark nails. Not a big deal when one hand is holding the partner and the other is held by him, but during the Original and Free Dance, and during Pairs and Women's, maybe we'll see what I've described.

I beg for readers' forbearance if I've become too insistent. Also, I am not unaware that nail polish is not the topic of this thread. However, it is a form of body ornamentation, even if it is temporary.

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This article is primarily about how opera singers' tattoos are concealed although it does mention dancers as well:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/blogs/operavore/2012/aug/02/how-opera-companies-singers-tattoos/?utm_source=local&utm_media=treatment&utm_campaign=carousel&utm_content=item1

I didn't realize how much more work it would be to conceal them for HD broadcasts, of which there have been more recently for dance, primarily thanks to Emerging Pictures.

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I notice when performers have body art, but it doesn't affect my opinions one way or the other. I knew that I was seeing more tattoos in the last few years, but had no idea it was 1 in 5 adults in the US!

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Tattoos seem to be a permanent solution to what may turn out to be transitory desires. Given the increasing call for bare torsos and legs in ballet and opera, perhaps consumer demand will lead to improvements in cover-up technology that can meet even HD standards.

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