hersheyZ25

Is there a level of too thin?

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After attending the Saturday evening performance, I was a bit shocked as to how thin the new principle in Concerto Barocco looked. Being an avid fan of New York City Ballet for many years, I have become accustomed to the small frames of most of the dancers. But lately, I have been questioning, how thin is too thin?

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I didn't notice that Megan Johnson looked too thin. In my opinion, Wendy Whelan is much too thin. It is actually unpleasant to focus on her torso in roles where she wears a body suit. On the other side of the spectrum, some of the men have looked heavy (Nilas Martins, Albert Evans- although he looks like he lost some weight this season).

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I actually thought that Megan Johnson also looked very thin -- it was especially striking to see her next to Abi Stafford, because she made Abi look heavy in comparison! I don't know if it's just a matter of having different body types, versus being too thin, though. In fact, I thought Megan and Abi were a bad match in Barocco because they look so different. Wendy and Rachel Rutherford match up better in dance style and look. Wendy has a very prominent rib cage, but again, that might just be a body type issue versus being too thin.

Agreed that Albert is looking fitter this season, and it's definitely an improvement. Nilas Martins seems to be going the other way. And I wish Marcovici would lose some of the muscle bulk, especially as it makes him look like he has no neck (in the vein of an NFL linebacker).

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I agree that Megan Johnson looked very thin, but upon looking through opera glasses, it appears she is very slight of frame and has a very narrow ribcage- similar to Sterling Hyltin. She did make Abi look a bit big, but of course she is not. It's actually taken me a while to get used to Sara Mearns- who is very thin but has a wide ribcage, and so can look bigger than some of the other girls. I also find it hard to watch Wendy Whelan sometimes, because not only is she thin, she must have zero body fat and her muscles are so defined that she looks emaciated to me. Love her dancing though!

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I think this is a topic well worth exploring -- but please keep it to the IDEA of being too thin rather than discussing particular dancers by name or implication. Often we forget that THE DANCERS READ THIS BOARD. We have a Forum version of the Golden Rule -- Post About Others as You Would have Others Post About You :) There have been a couple of threads that are getting too personal, for this board, anyway, so the Moderators will be making reminders.

Thank you!

Alexandra

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Some dancers are under so much pressure to be reed thin. I think even more so today than ever before. If you view tapes of ballets from 20 years ago, which was not so long ago, the ballet dancers seem heavier and THEY were considered very thin.

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I cannot even get past Wendy's body to enjoy her dancing. I cannot watch her in Swan Lake. The only time I have enjoyed her was in "After the Rain". I am certain it was because of 1) Jock Soto 2) the music 3) the choreography.

I have the opposite reaction. The costume in Swan Lake, in my opinion, is not as revealing as the body suit in After the Rain. Therefore, the weight (or lack thereof) of the dancer doesn't have as great an impact in Swan Lake.

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Some dancers are under so much pressure to be reed thin. I think even more so today than ever before. If you view tapes of ballets from 20 years ago, which was not so long ago, the ballet dancers seem heavier and THEY were considered very thin.

A relative of mine was glancing through my book on Pavlova by Keith Money and remarked, "She's a little heavy, isn't she?" And of course, Pavlova was considered excessively thin (as was Sarah Bernhardt, who looks fine to us today).

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Do you think being extremely thin is a particular problem at NYCB, as compared to other companies? With one exception, the ballerinas at ABT do not seem to be excessively thin.

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Some dancers are under so much pressure to be reed thin. I think even more so today than ever before. If you view tapes of ballets from 20 years ago, which was not so long ago, the ballet dancers seem heavier and THEY were considered very thin.

I actually have the opposite reaction, fairly adamantly. I would say the 80s-90s were the height of pressure for thinness in ballet. Looking at ABT at least there are many dancers, some with great success, who are not bone thin. No one comments (sorry to name names, but i mean NO offense) on the fact that Gillian Murphy has a womanly body. It is accepted. She is a beautiful dancer with a physique that enables her to achieve great technical feats. But in the late 80s-early 90s when Tina LeBlanc was a star with the Joffrey, reviewers routinely commented on the size of her breasts and how they were unballetic.

I would say the trend, on the whole, has been for the better.

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I actually have the opposite reaction, fairly adamantly. I would say the 80s-90s were the height of pressure for thinness in ballet. Looking at ABT at least there are many dancers, some with great success, who are not bone thin. No one comments (sorry to name names, but i mean NO offense) on the fact that Gillian Murphy has a womanly body. It is accepted. She is a beautiful dancer with a physique that enables her to achieve great technical feats. But in the late 80s-early 90s when Tina LeBlanc was a star with the Joffrey, reviewers routinely commented on the size of her breasts and how they were unballetic.

I would say the trend, on the whole, has been for the better.

I agree. I think the trend for thinner is better - no matter what, is in the past. I am not going to mention names, but there are many women in ABT & NYCB who have womanly bodies. Dancers now get lessons in nutrition and a lot more guidance in how to take care of themselves, than ever before.

I think that as the unitard ballet dawned, many women were misled into thinking skinnier was better. Some of the thinking was pressure coming from many directions, and some was self imposed. By self imposed, I mean there were dancers who thought "If only I were skinnier, I'd be a ballerina." Maybe this still exists to some degree, but I believe not as much as in the 80s-90. Even at that time there were many women who were stars, who were not super skinny - Suzanne Farrell, Cynthia Gregory, Martine Van Hamil.

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Some dancers are under so much pressure to be reed thin. I think even more so today than ever before. If you view tapes of ballets from 20 years ago, which was not so long ago, the ballet dancers seem heavier and THEY were considered very thin.

That may be an illusion of the medium. I've been watching ballet regularly in New York for over 35 years, and while there are individual exceptions, dancers in this city have never been thinner than they were in the '70s. In those days, there was little awareness of eating disorders, no appreciation of the great danger they posed. High profile cases like Karen Carpenter, Cherry Boone and Gelsey Kirkland helped raise awareness.

Megan Johnson is still a teenager, and one with a slight frame. Few teenagers of either sex have filled out to their eventual adult form, even if it's a thin adult form.

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..... With one exception, the ballerinas at ABT do not seem to be excessively thin.

I can think of many more than just one to except (or are you just referring to the ballerinas as opposed to the soloists and corps members?).

Dancers now get lessons in nutrition and a lot more guidance in how to take care of themselves, than ever before.

..... there were dancers who thought "If only I were skinnier, I'd be a ballerina." Maybe this still exists to some degree, but I believe not as much as in the 80s-90.

Despite lessons in nutrition and the saturation of public awareness in this area, far too many dancers still resort to the same old (harmful) methods of trying to keep weight off which get passed down generation to generation. New ideas are also invented and passed around in dressing rooms (for example, has anyone heard of eating toilet paper to attain a feeling of fullness? It's not only ballet students who do this.)

Most dancers -- male and female (especially younger and newer dancers) -- still subscribe to the erroneous belief that "If only I were skinnier, etc....) I'd say this does not only exist to some degree, but to a major degree! Things are no better these days, with today's competition for spots in companies, than they were a decade or two ago. I only wish someone could prove me wrong. :off topic:

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I think this is a topic well worth exploring -- but please keep it to the IDEA of being too thin rather than discussing particular dancers by name or implication. Often we forget that THE DANCERS READ THIS BOARD. We have a Forum version of the Golden Rule -- Post About Others as You Would have Others Post About You :) There have been a couple of threads that are getting too personal, for this board, anyway, so the Moderators will be making reminders.

Thank you!

Alexandra

Thank you for the reminder Alexandra- I am in the Theatre community and have gone through similar things with message boards and people posting about myself and good friends. I also went to school with many NYCB ballerinas and was well aware of any body pressure and eating disorders. I meant no offense "naming names"- I was actually defending the dancers. I was going to add that I was glad that there seemed to be many more womanly bodies in ballet now- which is a relief to me.

Also, being in high school with the girls from SAB was enlightening about the demands of Ballet on the body- the dancers dance SO MUCH that many can't put on weight if they wanted to. When girls would quit, their bodies would completely transform and mature.

Sandi

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As a dancer who's contract was not renewed due to being "too fat" at 5'6,108 lbs, I can personally atest that the pressure is still there. However, it also depends on the company. The one I performed with was extreme and one of the only, if not the only, one in the country that still performs weekly public weigh-ins. It does thrill me to see dancers like Gillian Murphy, who is thin, but also a woman. She doesn't look like she might snap in half. I also feel that many artistic directors put so much emphasize on thinness, without accounting for the fact that its disturbing to the regular ballet attendee. Audiences want to see a beautiful performance, not see someone struggling to dance because of being malnourished.

Moderaters please delete if you feel this is too personal..

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I'm sorry to hear about your contact not being renewed. Things like that are so crazy- I worked several contracts on a cruise ship and we had weekly weigh ins. And I'm not even really a dancer- I was the lead singer and still had to keep my "show weight". Very stressful, and led to some very unhealthy behavior from the younger girls- which I luckily put a stop to with my lecturing. ;-)

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The one I performed with was extreme and one of the only, if not the only, one in the country that still performs weekly public weigh-ins. ..

Excuse my ignorance but...what is that...?

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Excuse my ignorance but...what is that...?

That is when each dancer is weighed on a scale in front of the other dancers, by the ballet mistress or master or AD, and the weight shown declared out loud for everyone to hear.

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Good grief!! That is awful!

That is when each dancer is weighed on a scale in front of the other dancers, by the ballet mistress or master or AD, and the weight shown declared out loud for everyone to hear.

I danced back in the late 70s and through the 80s - it was not that bad where I was then.

There does appear to be more pressure now, though, and at many of the _schools_ (pro) there are weigh-ins, though as far as I know not always public.

-d-

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Do you think being extremely thin is a particular problem at NYCB, as compared to other companies? .....

Good heavens, no. EXHIBIT A: Kirov-Mariinsky Ballet. I won't name dancers but all of you who witnessed the recent DON Q tour in DC know of certain ladies who were prominently on view (both principal and debutante) who are seemingly being rewarded by the company's management in relation to their extreme thiness. The greater the protrusion of the clavicle bone, the faster the promotion.

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I was especially interested in SingerWhoMoves's point about the young dancers at SAB and, I assume NYCB as well.:

[T]he dancers dance SO MUCH that many can't put on weight if they wanted to. When girls would quit, their bodies would completely transform and mature.

This redirects the focus a bit -- towards the sheer quantity of physical work demanded of young dancers at the top schools and the most active companies. Does anyone know whether the leadership of schools/companies address this in a serious, committed fashion? Is there anything analogous to "work rules" to put limits the amount of time a student can spend in class, training, or a young dancer has to spend rehearsing and performing?

As an older person who works out a lot, including aerobically and a bit of ballet class, I've come to appreciate how important REST can be in a physical training program. I also remember how much sleep my body required as a young teen. Rest is a factor I would think that ever dance school and company should address.

[Moderator beanie on: Thanks, all, for for insights and for the considerate way you are writing about this important but highly sensistive issue. :)Moderator beanie off]

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Very emphatically -- YES. There is definitely a level of too thin, most certainly at a physiological level if not an aesthetic one. And it varies individually by dancer -- some dancers might be "too thin" for their own body type and injuring themselves and compromising their health while still appearing to be of "average" size (for a dancer); others can be quite thin and bony and not be unhealthy.

As one who knows, it is incredibly hard to sustain the level of activity and energy needed to dance well while attempting to reduce one's weight below a point that the body can healthily manage; I suspect that this is a problem for many dancers today despite the increased attention to nutrition etc. The thin ballet aesthetic is still firmly in place. We, too, had weekly weigh-ins when I was growing up (imagine placing 11 year olds on a scale and telling them to lose five pounds!). I, too, was rewarded with better roles when I was a thinner adult. It just happens.

I find it very distracting now to watch dancers who appear to be excessively thin for their frames. Wendy Whelan doesn't bother me, although she is quite thin (obviously), but there are others who are clearly not as healthy as they could be, in all companies.

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Also, being in high school with the girls from SAB was enlightening about the demands of Ballet on the body- the dancers dance SO MUCH that many can't put on weight if they wanted to. When girls would quit, their bodies would completely transform and mature.

I was in high school (and ballet school) with them, too, and I have two things to add--one is that in addition to dancing so much, they often would not eat much at all. Once they stopped dancing, they went off their diets. Also, teenagers are often growing, and so they can sometimes eat more without gaining weight. This would be different from the situation of an adult dancer.

Although I don't know what things were like in the 70's, it appears to me that thin is still in. Natalia makes a good point with the Mariinsky, and ABT is also very thin, although not to the Mariinsky extreme. Ballet dancers are always going to be thinner than average, but I think they are still thinner than really necessary.

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In all my years watching ballet in Cuba I must confess I never though about weight as such a matter of death or life issue. I guess that this also comes from the fact that body types view vary according to certain pre-established/cultural standards. See, coming from a place in which the most accepted/common female body type includes big hips, thighs and lower back, a la Jennifer Lopez or Beyonce-(EVEN WITHIN BALLET)-, it is certainly shocking to see some of today's ballerinas thinness. Now that I'm thinking about it, probably all of the dancers that I have written about from the Cuban Company would have been considered fat to this standards.

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