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Ashley Bouder on Body Shaming


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My heart goes out to her. I have to admit, my favorite dancers have always been - how should I put this - voluminous. And luminous. And so many of them have faced nasty criticism or had their careers cut short. I'm thinking of Jenifer Ringer, Sara Mearns, Kathryn Morgan, Monique Meunier, Veronica Part, Darcey Bussell, Carla Korbes. And there have been male dancers as well. I know with ballet there's the very real issue of partnering and lifting. I hope ballet can do better in supporting its dancers. Also, Bouder touched upon post-COVID/LOCKDOWN issues. This is something that ought to have been on companies' radar. 

Bouder mentioned several times the urgency of knowing she's in the latter part of her career and not wanting to lose time; how much she still loves to dance (and her pointe shoes and tutu!). I hope she gets to enjoy that time. 

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I want to be sympathetic and I composed a message to her on that Instagram live feed.  But then I thought better of it and deleted the draft. 

The sad thing is that nothing you can say will make her feel better.  She is in a bad place in her dancing life and career.

The fact is she is dancing like somebody who is coming back from an injury and came back too soon.

What she wants to be doing and what her body can do at this point are two different things.  

Injury, COVID-19, getting close to 40 and a two year plus layoff are all real factors here. 

But the fact that this isn't her fault and she has suffered reverses doesn't make her able to perform like the Ashley of five years ago.

Even if she has been body shamed or suffering age discrimination, the problem is what her body can and cannot do right now.

What makes me unsympathetic is that she is focused on blaming others and accusing them of body shaming and age discrimination. 

But that doesn't make her in the right physical condition to dance demanding technically challenging classical ballet roles.

She is competing against herself before the pandemic, and the comparison isn't flattering.

This past Fall season, Bouder was scheduled and attempting to dance pieces like the First Movement of "Symphony in C." (corrected)

If she was being objective and listening to her body, Ashley should know she is not equipped to handle her old rep at this point.

I was going to say that she should consider changing her repertoire to less demanding roles and plan a slower road to full dance form.

But I suspect that isn't Ashley and how she rolls, no compromise.

I also don't know when or if she can get back to pre-pandemic shape.

She deserves support.  But the problem isn't other people, and it's not all her fault.

But it is what it is.

Edited by FauxPas
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The issue with Morgan is that she has a chronic condition  - underactive thyroid - that unfortunately makes weight gain difficult to control, even with medication.   This is  a completely different circumstance  than weight gain caused by an orthopedic injury and time away from the stage.   When Maria K. had an orthopedic injury, she too was already late in her career, but she made sure that she did not return to the stage until she had returned to her prior form.     

 Personally, I never thought  Jenifer Ringer, Sara Mearns, Monique Meunier, Veronica Part, or, Carla Korbes had any issue with weight.  However, I must say that Bouder's current weight is, in my opinion, a negative distraction.  She is not anywhere near her old level of technique, and weight is a factor in that.   It's also not fair to her partners.   I would have thought that over time she would lose the weight, but I guess we'll see how it goes in January when NYCB returns for the Winter season.

This isn't about age discrimination or "shaming".  NYCB's standards have always been known to these dancers.  NYCB isn't  the Mark Morris Dance Group.  

The only question is why is the standard applied more to women than to men in the Company.

 

Edited by abatt
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Her body shape is distracting because we're not used to seeing a wider frame at NYCB (Sara Means I also find a bit "distracting", I know that's 100% bone structure).  I personally was very impressed with her dancing when I saw her in September, and I'm not even a big fan of hers.  She's not overweight.  She's just not underweight like most of the company.  And by underweight I don't mean unhealthy; It's just very typical for elite athletes to fall under the "normal" BMI weight range.  Everyone has their favorites and enjoy some performances over others.  Unless you physically are unable to dance the steps, I think we as an audience are way too narrow-minded when it comes to the way dance "has" to be performed.  I'm 100% on team Bouder when it comes to this topic.  

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1 hour ago, abatt said:

She is not anywhere near her old level of technique … I guess we'll see how it goes in January when NYCB returns for the Winter season

We’ll see sooner than that. She is scheduled for Sugarplum on Dec 2. I think everyone would be glad to see her at or near her old level of technique. 

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Bouder’s live chat came about because a board member told her “I don’t mind the extra weight on you but maybe it’s time to retire” or something like that.

nobody deserves to be spoken to like that post-injury, thus the body shaming emphasis.  
 

unfortunately, with ballet, I think this is going to not go away anytime soon.  I love the art form so much but it does project a body image that is unattainable for most people.  And yes I believe standards need to be met in order to do the work, but tact, grace and understanding should never be compromised.

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37 minutes ago, cobweb said:

We’ll see sooner than that. She is scheduled for Sugarplum on Dec 2. I think everyone would be glad to see her at or near her old level of technique. 

Interesting that she's been cast in Sugarplum. I too hope she makes a great technical comeback. One of the issues for her is she has been known for her athletic/bravura technique, and that's how people view her (myself included).

I listened to the talk and felt sad or her. She's been through a lot. Unfortunately, it seems some of her decisions, as understandable as they were, exacerbated things. She said with people eyeing her up and down, she felt too self conscious to take company class, and only came to the the theater for her own rehearsals. This continued her isolation from the other dancers. She may have found more encouragement or support if she spent more time with the other dancers.

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I did not listen to the talk.  However, I think the current Administration is much kinder and more gentle than the treatment Bouder would have received in the Martins era.   Under the Martins regime she would not have been permitted back on stage in the fall season. 

 

 

Edited by abatt
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This was an uncomfortable watch for me.

I don't think anyone on Bouder's feed is unfamiliar with the concept of bodyshaming in ballet and it is really not ok for a Board member to talk to any dancer that way, however Bouder seems surprised and shocked that at this point in her career she should be the victim of it. 

There is a long reading list for her. The memoirs of Gelsey Kirkland, Alkegra Kent and Lynn Seymour for example. Kent and Seymour also talk about the difficulties of being pregnant and having babies.

And I truly hope she doesn't do another reel on ageism in ballet. Is Bouder going to recommend to the next teenage up and comer that instead of jumping at the opportunity to debut at short notice, she defer to a more senior dancer??

There is such magic in live performance, especially in dance, but the risk is that you are continually judged and you are often only as good as your last performance.

 

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Just curious though - why was she cast in Symphony C if the casting directors thought she looked too heavy to begin with? She could have been spared the embarrassment of being replaced at the last minute because of her appearance. 

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I was so glad that Bouder spoke on some of her experiences regarding weight and body image because I've been so curious to know her version of the truth. Most of what she said was confirmation over my speculations about what has been going on over the past year. The silence from her NYCB peers is a bit surprising, though. 

One thing she doesn't realize is how extremely lucky she was to have had her career. Numerous exceptional dancers never did have much of a career due to poor timing, bad luck, lack of opportunity or resources, or serious injuries (to name a few). Furthermore, she seemed to think that because of her status in the company she should no longer have to look the way she had to in order to get to that principal position so many years ago. She doesn't appear to want to work as hard as she needs to (and has shown she is capable of) in order to look and perform like a principal dancer. It's very hard work and it only gets harder the older you get - your metabolism slows down, your body becomes less flexible, recovery time is longer, etc. To make matters worse, she had to endure the shutdowns and a serious injury. But that shouldn't excuse her from her duty to maintain her appearance and dancing. I don't think she is being body-shamed. There simply is a very real standard that must be maintained by every dancer in the company - not just her. Why should she be excused? 

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I feel bad for her. It's clear she's been through a lot and is suffering. And I think it's important to talk about these things to destigmatize the conversation around weight and body shaming. Sure, ballerinas have felt comfortable writing about it in their memoirs. But how many actively employed dancers feel comfortable speaking up about it? 

From the video, we don't have much info on how management handled her comeback to the stage besides the Symphony in C recasting. It seems like maybe there needed to be some frank but compassionate conversations about what she was ready to take on this fall. Weight aside, she was also working to come back from an injury, and it's impossible for us to know how ready or not she was to take on 2nd movement of Symphony in C. (By the way, I'm curious -- was she ever cast, and then pulled, from the performances of the complete Symphony in C this fall season? Or was she only cast in the gala performance of the fourth movement?)

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17 minutes ago, Rick said:

Just curious though - why was she cast in Symphony C if the casting directors thought she looked too heavy to begin with? She could have been spared the embarrassment of being replaced at the last minute because of her appearance. 

Oftentimes when dancers return to full-time dancing with classes, rehearsals, and cross-training, they lose the extra pounds and return to their former shape very quickly.  She didn't. 

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She was cast in 1st movement, not 2nd movement, of Symphony in C. She was supposed to dance the full ballet but was replaced by (I think) Megan Fairchild. 

Edited by JuliaJ
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2 minutes ago, JuliaJ said:

She was cast in 1st movement, not 2nd movement, of Symphony in C. She did the gala performance (finale only) and was supposed to dance the full ballet a week or so later but was replaced by (I think) Megan Fairchild. 

She didn't perform in the gala. She said so yesterday on Instagram. 

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14 minutes ago, Dancingdemon said:

The silence from her NYCB peers is a bit surprising, though. 

From what she says, it doesn't surprise me much.  She blames her fellow company members for "covertly look(ing) me up and down."  "It became difficult to take company class, so I didn't."  I imagine their perspective is different. 

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50 minutes ago, JuliaJ said:

She was cast in 1st movement, not 2nd movement, of Symphony in C. She did the gala performance (finale only) and was supposed to dance the full ballet a week or so later but was replaced by (I think) Megan Fairchild. 

She did not do the gala.  She was replaced by Megan Fairchild.  

The only roles she actually performed were Scotch and Voices of Spring in VW.  Those roles have costumes that have skirts to about the knee.  Bouder was not in shape to do a tutu role like Symphony in C.  I would guess that may have been why she was replaced.

If she felt uncomfortable in company class, there are myriad other options in which dancers employ private help.  She has been a principal forever and surely knows this. 

Edited by abatt
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26 minutes ago, abatt said:

She did not do the gala.  She was replaced by Megan Fairchild.  

She said she was asked to not dance that show because of the way she looked. Yet, she doesn't acknowledge that the way she looked, included her level of technique at the time. It could not have been an easy decision for management. 

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It's really sad that Ashley Bouder has come to this point. I think of her as having the talent and discipline to pull through anything. I have vivid memories of so many amazing performances, as well as an incredible video of her, very pregnant, doing fouettes. I assumed she could come back from anything. If she can get her technique to something approaching her previous level, where she doesn't look as stiff and effortful as she did during the Fall season, I don't think she will have any problems with casting. 

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I made the mistake about the 2nd Movement in Symphony in C in my post, knowing it was the first quick allegro movement Bouder was to have danced.

Often Bouder has been a squeaky wheel about matters that need to be addressed, other times her comments seem self-serving and ego-driven.

For example, when Peter Martins pulled her from the opening night of "Sleeping Beauty" some years ago, Bouder took it to the media saying that Martins was paying her back for supporting his ouster as director of the company.

The first night Aurora was Sterling Hyltin, an exact contemporary of Bouder's, who had been dancing the role beautifully for years and always passed over. 

Certainly, Hyltin was deserving of the honor which Bouder had been given for over a decade.

There was a time when someone like Darci Kistler or Jenifer Ringer found themselves supplanted by Bouder as first night Aurora - did they complain to the New York Times?

Bouder was supported in her ire by Jonathan Stafford who felt that Martins, who had casting approval, used it for political, personal reasons.

But it made the deserving Hyltin look like an interloper who got in with favoritism which wasn't fair and must have hurt her personally.

Also at that time Bouder was already over 35 and some noticed a hardening but not a diminution of her dance technique - more muscle and less grace.  

Last season there were at least eight retirements.  Bouder attended none of them, though she was recovering from injury, and made no attempt to support colleagues who she had danced with for decades.

That may be one reason for the lack of collegiality and supportive attitude with other dancers in the company.  She may be seen as being out for herself and not caring about the company as a whole.

One senses a certain undertone of entitlement in her complaints.

 

Edited by FauxPas
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Management at NYCB really needs to figure out effective and graceful ways to usher their aging ballet dancers into retirement without the dancer dragging on and on at diminished technique and body shape. Then the inevitable interview in the media where the dancer accuses the company and peers of body shaming and age discrimination and getting shut out of roles, etc. This has happened at City Ballet with numerous dancers in late years (including most recently Abi Stafford) and Bouder seems to be headed this way as well. There's got to be a plan in place for this all-too-common situation. 

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