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Ballet Body image?


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#1 Guest_Balarina_*

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Posted 23 April 2001 - 04:14 PM

I was just wondering if anyone knew who started the "skinny" ballet image. I know that the ideal image used to be much larger, but do not know when or by whom the much smaller image was started. :D

#2 Alexandra

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Posted 23 April 2001 - 04:47 PM

Heather, I'm not sure anybody started it. Movie stars and fashion models used to be much more curvey long ago, before the 1960s. That seems to have been a time of change in body types as in everything else. You had movie stars like Audrey Hepburn -- very slim and elegant -- models like Twiggy -- very thin, trendy, and with a boyish build -- and TV stars like Goldie Hawn (sp?), also very very thin.

The fashions at this time looked better on very thin bodies, too.

Choreographers in the 1950s -- Balanchine, but Ashton, too, and others -- were very interested in line, in a long, elegant look, and this goes along with trends in visual arts too -- painting became all about shape and color (the "bones") rather than telling a story.

I think it's these two things coming together.

Other theories?

#3 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 23 April 2001 - 07:25 PM

Heather -

I agree with Alexandra that ballet is reacting to the world around it as well as its own internal tastes. The first ballerinas I can think of with that elongated look were Olga Spessivtzeva and Felia Doubrovska in the 20's. I think the look fit in with the fashion of the time, the more athletic woman, the "flapper". I think that look also influenced Balanchine's taste in ballerinas.

#4 Alexandra

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Posted 23 April 2001 - 09:05 PM

Sybil Shearer once wrote in Ballet Review that Balanchine was stuck for life in the model culture of the 1920s :D

What's interesting about Doubrovska is that she was thought of as an unusual body type, I think. The Ballet Russe (especially Massine) used the unusual -- a modern dancer here, a Spanish dancer there. She wasn't the norm. One of the greatest French ballerinas was Guimard (forget her first name, sorry) who was extremely skinny -- and mocked for it; very nasty cartoons.

Also, now we're getting a different look -- Audrey Hepburn never lifted weights (or at least, if she did you can't tell) but after Wonder Woman, I think, the ideal female body is changing again, from Twiggy to Ms. Muscle.

#5 dirac

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Posted 24 April 2001 - 02:30 PM

I remember reading somewhere that "Wonder Woman" was one of Balanchine's favorite shows.

Doubrovska didn't really fit in because of her height, I think, and those super-long legs. Flappers were slim, athletic, and flat-chested -- bazooms were out and didn't really come back till the forties -- but not especially tall (think Louise Brooks or Colleen Moore).

As for today, it's kind of hard to tell. The fashion magazines say things like "curves are back" but by "curves" they seem to mean chiefly breast implants on the same skinny girls. The Fifties may not have been the most enlightened era for women, but at least A. Hepburn was not expected to have a big bust and be a rail everywhere else, while girls who did have a big bosom, like Marilyn, were allowed to be expansive elsewhere as well. Pardon the editorial.

#6 Mel Johnson

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Posted 24 April 2001 - 07:31 PM

For an idea on where this all began, take a look at the Nicolai Legat caricatures of his colleagues! Pavlova is depicted as a sort of scrawny little thing, despite Mrs. Keefer's protests, complete with scarf, and ready for the "toilet paper" variation in Bayadere! Caricatures can tell us so much more about people sometimes, than even photographs!

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 24 April 2001 - 07:42 PM

I agree with Mel's comment on caricatures -- all we have of Guimard are paintings (where she's very thin) and caricatures (where she's so thin you want to throw her some doughtnuts).

I also loved dirac's comment about the new curvy woman being the old skinny one with breast implants (forgive the inelegant paraphrase). Maybe we really are working towards Barbie: breast implants, removing a rib or two to fake a waist where there isn't one....

#8 Mel Johnson

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Posted 25 April 2001 - 06:14 AM

Why am I having visions of the Return of the Full Corsets? ;)

#9 Guest_Balarina_*

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Posted 04 May 2001 - 03:42 PM

Thank you everyone for replying! this has helped alot.

#10 Guest_dance4ever_*

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Posted 04 May 2001 - 04:20 PM

I agree with everyone here. i thought it was Balanchine. If you look at some dancers before his time most of them didn't have what we call,"The perfect body."

#11 BalletNut

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Posted 05 May 2001 - 06:47 PM

Actually, I don't think blaming Balanchine is the way to go at all! There are many, many factors that are behind anorexia nervosa, a potentially life-threatening mental illness, such as low self-esteem, psychiatric imbalances, and family problems, to name a few, and blaming a single person [ie Mr. B] for widespread anorexia in ballet dancers is oversimplifying things. Besides, it would seem to me that an anorexic body is not as strong technically, and what choreographer in his or her right mind would want their dancers to be weak?

Hope that wasn't too harsh. :D

[ 05-05-2001: Message edited by: BalletNut ]


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