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Ashley Bouder on Body Shaming


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I think it's important to separate thoughts on the standard (whether it be weight, injury recovery time, etc.) v. a company's process for dealing with deviations from that standard.  Regarding the process, companies should be dealing with their employees in a professional manner that gives employees a chance to turn things around, receiving support and encouragement through their challenges.  Even if things don't ultimately work out, the dancer and the company culture are stronger.  Too often this is not how weight issues are handled - dancers are routinely treated with derision or indifference - shame - in these situations.  It's entirely appropriate for her and her boss to be having frank conversations, but it reeks of an unhealthy culture that a board member would make comments she described.  Imagine if a board member at your job gave you an unsolicited comment like this over some issue you were working through?  I'm glad Bouder is calling out the shaming.  Getting out of shape after an injury is a routine situation, and dancers don't needed the added challenge of dealing with nasty people to get through it.  

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31 minutes ago, gigi said:

It's entirely appropriate for her and her boss to be having frank conversations, but it reeks of an unhealthy culture that a board member would make comments she described.  Imagine if a board member at your job gave you an unsolicited comment like this over some issue you were working through?  I'm glad Bouder is calling out the shaming.  Getting out of shape after an injury is a routine situation, and dancers don't needed the added challenge of dealing with nasty people to get through it.  

IMHO, board members are given far too much access to artists and are well-known for making offensive comments. They often do so unwittingly, as they live in a bubble or are from a much earlier generation. Or they feel entitled to involve themselves in the minutiae of a company when that's not their role. And then artists are expected to socialize and fawn over donors/trustees at galas.

I'm not sure about the dance world, but in the opera world at least, young artists are often housed in board members' homes for the duration of their gig or residency. This leaves them vulnerable to all sorts of bad behavior. There's been a recent movement to end this practice. 

I'm sure there are very many healthy and positive relationships between donors/trustees and artists, but if I were an artist, I would distance myself from the board as much as possible. Though I'm sure then you are seen as not being a "team player."

Edited by fondoffouettes
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49 minutes ago, Fleurfairy said:

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. 

All they have to do is not renew a contract for a dancer who does not meet standards and is given a fair opportunity to improve but does not.  The company should not lower standards.  The dancer has to rise to meet the standard.   Maybe less time spent complaining and more time spent focusing on what she needs to accomplish would go a long way toward helping resolve the problem.  Bouder used to be a model of accomplishment and discipline - paragon of technique.  Victimhood is not a good look on her.

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I feel really bad for Ashley but there was something self-destructive about the video.  Everyone now views her as a plus size ballerina who is unable to lose weight. The company will think twice about casting her in any role. And she has labeled all the other dancers as body shamers. 
 

i think a better course of action would have been to lose the weight, retire in a signature role, then write a book about the experience. 

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8 minutes ago, abatt said:

All they have to do is not renew a contract for a dancer who does not meet standards and is given a fair opportunity to improve but does not.  The company should not lower standards.  The dancer has to rise to meet the standard.   Maybe less time spent complaining and more time spent focusing on what she needs to accomplish would go a long way toward helping resolve the problem.  Bouder used to be a model of accomplishment and discipline - paragon of technique.  Victimhood is not a good look on her.

Agreed. I guess what I'm saying is that it shouldn't have to become a PR crisis for the company when a dancer retires. I know there are more uncomplaining dancers than not, but this is happening too regularly now. Even Whelan in her documentary went at Martins for perceived slights. I guess in the age of social media it makes it too convenient for a dancer to complain. Regarding Bouder in particular - This not the first time she's whined publicly in the course of her career and it's extremely unbecoming. 

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20 minutes ago, gigi said:

I think  Imagine if a board member at your job gave you an unsolicited comment like this over some issue you were working through?  I'm glad Bouder is calling out the shaming.  Getting out of shape after an injury is a routine situation, and dancers don't needed the added challenge of dealing with nasty people to get through it.  

There is a lot unknown about the situation. As is appropriate we don't know what discussions Bouder had with management about her the timing of return and casting possibilities. We also don't know what kind of relationship/friendship/familiarity Bouder has with board members or how the conversation came about. 

 

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Whenever I see articles of this kind I am drawn back many decades to a time when Irina Baronova was struggling to “get into shape” for  return to a ballet company.  She was taking classes at the Vilzak-Shollar

School on W.57 St (NYC) and we were very excited to learn she had slimmed down to 126 pounds and was fit to go!!

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2 minutes ago, Fleurfairy said:

Agreed. I guess what I'm saying is that it shouldn't have to become a PR crisis for the company when a dancer retires. I know there are more uncomplaining dancers than not, but this is happening too regularly now. Even Whelan in her documentary went at Martins for perceived slights. I guess in the age of social media it makes it too convenient for a dancer to complain. Regarding Bouder in particular - This not the first time she's whined publicly in the course of her career and it's extremely unbecoming. 

Bingo.  With social media, anybody with a gripe - valid or not - can create a storm.  Surprised we haven't seen a NY Times interview with Bouder yet. She seems to have a direct line to the paper.

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I also must mention that, unlike the situation with his sister Abi Stafford, Bouder has been given much room and opportunity by Jonathan Stafford.  The board member made the comment that maybe Bouder should think about another career but Stafford has given her stage time in a few of her old roles.  @abatt is totally on target that Peter Martins would not have let Ashley Bouder onstage in her current form.  Yet this past Fall season, Bouder got "Voices of Spring" in "Vienna Waltzes" and "Scotch Symphony" and the 1st movement of "Symphony in C" was assigned to her (and then withdrawn).  She is currently on track to dance Sugarplum next month in "Nutcracker".  That is a lot of opportunity which could (and maybe should?) go to up and coming younger dancers.  So Bouder cannot say that the management - or at least the General Director of the company - is not supporting her.

Wendy Whelan went public with her anger when Peter Martins pulled Whelan from Sugarplum in "Nutcracker".  But was he wrong?  Was it perhaps time?  Is the ballerina always the best judge of when certain roles are no longer showing them at their best and it's time to let go?  Either move on or into certain roles that don't overtax their technique - think of late career Patricia McBride in that Martins "Valse Triste" ballet?  Something constructed to show off what the older ballerina still has while concealing what is no longer there?  Whelan also went full Norma Desmond on her social media around the time of her retirement.  Every day a picture of her dancing a role from her heyday in the 1990s to the early aughts with much handwringing commentary.  Whelan then moved on to her modern dance and then managerial/administrative roles and left the past behind.

Edited by FauxPas
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After listening to the full IG video, I have a lot of thoughts, some conflicting. Part of me empathizes with her as I have struggled with anorexia nervosa for the majority of my life and actually had to leave a major ballet school for not eating enough. Now I am an actress and physical appearance is part of my job. When entering into a professional career as a ballet dancer (or model, actor, etc.) one must accept that their body is a major factor. It is just part of the territory and if that is a problem, then perhaps it is not the right career to choose. I am not privy to how the "weight" talks go down at NYCB and I'm sure there is room for improvement with tactfulness. However, it the dancer's responsibility to make sure that they are stage-ready before appearing on stage. Bouder mentions that the younger dancers had more motivation coming out of the lockdown. In my opinion, that is not an excuse. There is no problem if she needs more time to get ready, but it was her choice not to attend company class. It is good that she is speaking out about trying to reduce body shaming, but it is also important to take responsibility for one's job requirements.

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I haven't seen Bouder since 2019, so I won't comment on her current shape. But the idea that Martins kept dancers from performing past their prime or when not in good shape is just not consistent with what I witnessed beginning in the late '80s as a NYCB subscriber. During the pandemic, I was amazed by how much I enjoyed watching Heather Watts in the older streams from the '70s--she was the most dreaded name to for me to see on a program when I first started attending regularly (and she also seemed somewhat overweight for a dancer to me at the time). Yvonne Borree--I can think of very few performances (maybe her early Duo Concertante with Baryshnikov) where another dancer wouldn't have been better cast. Darci Kistler was one of my favorites when I first started attending, but for a couple of years before her retirement, I would also dread seeing her name on the cast list. I could go on...

And I disagree that Whelan really "went after" Martins in the documentary. The cameras were following around, she said what she thought at the time, connecting her injury to the her loss of confidence after that conversation--given the opportunity, I think many people would vent about their boss when they're going through a difficult time at work. I thought Martins came off as quite sensitive to her situation and that she was just not expecting it/not yet in the frame of mind to understand.  

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36 minutes ago, FPF said:

I haven't seen Bouder since 2019, so I won't comment on her current shape. But the idea that Martins kept dancers from performing past their prime or when not in good shape is just not consistent with what I witnessed beginning in the late '80s as a NYCB subscriber. During the pandemic, I was amazed by how much I enjoyed watching Heather Watts in the older streams from the '70s--she was the most dreaded name to for me to see on a program when I first started attending regularly (and she also seemed somewhat overweight for a dancer to me at the time). Yvonne Borree--I can think of very few performances (maybe her early Duo Concertante with Baryshnikov) where another dancer wouldn't have been better cast. Darci Kistler was one of my favorites when I first started attending, but for a couple of years before her retirement, I would also dread seeing her name on the cast list. I could go on...

 

I can't comment on Watts.  Her career pre-dated my regular attendance.  However, neither Borree nor Kistler had weight issues.  Bouder's current problems, which are rooted in weight issues, cannot be compared with either ballerina.    Yes, I agree that Martins sometimes allowed people on stage who had issues with technique.  Exhibit A is Chase Finlay in my opinion.

With respect to Darci, could we really expect Martins to ban his wife from performance because of diminished technique.  At least he tried to find appropriate roles for her.

 

Edited by abatt
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There was bitter complaining on this website about Kistler's dancing in the final years of her career. I saw her dance a very beautiful Duo Concertante around that time and wrote about it at length because so much that was so negative was being posted.  (Jenifer Ringer is one of my favorite ballerinas of all time--but I'd be lying if I said I didn't prefer her dancing when she was on the more streamlined end of her performing weight "range." Was that the bad habit of my eyes, used to super skinny dancers at NYCB? or was her dancing really different at the slightly fuller-bodied weight? I didn't get to see her often enough to judge. And to say I loved her dancing does not capture how much joy and beauty her dancing brought to me as a lover of classical ballet.)

In the documentary Restless Creature, Whelan all but blamed Martin's taking her out of Nutcracker for the injury she suffered afterwards--saying in the film that she had never had such a serious injury until after Martin's actions/words--repeating this even--as if somehow there was a connection between the psychological blow she had suffered and the injury that followed on it. There may be a kernel of truth to that since psyche and soma are interconnected, but even so, blaming Martins' for the injury seemed to me a bridge too far. But I couldn't help but feel some sympathy for her and what she was suffering. What she felt.

Generally, when dancers talk candidly (or seemingly candidly) about difficulties in their career --and especially the emotional toll-- they often come across as complaining/entitled or, at the least, as refusing to accep a tough but common reality. It inevitably draws criticism in their direction. I tend to sympathize with them all the same. (And I refuse to be shocked when successful performing artists show a touch of narcissism or self involvement.) . As someone said above: Bouder has had a lot of great good fortune in her career. She has also given ballet fans a lot of extraordinary pleasure! Now, she is facing hard times. I DO sympathize and I would never for an instant doubt her work ethic. 

Could she do more to help herself in the current situation--how do I know what her body is capable of right now? What do most of us know about the atmosphere in company class? At the very least, if a board member said the words Bouder reported (and I believe her), then she deserves a fulsome apology: it's outrageous that anyone on the board would feel entitled to talk to ANY dancer that way.

When it comes to the dancers and management, speaking artist to artist, my suspicion is that the company could handle difficult situations better--but perhaps not altogether; difficult situations are DiFFICULT. And there is no perfect way to handle them. Some dancers keep the ensuing issues to themselves, but some don't.  What Bouder should know certainly is that she is a marvelous dancer! Can she come back more successfully from her injury? I don't know, but if it CAN be done, I am sure she will do it....

Edited by Drew
Grammar error missed yesterday....
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A broad and lasting conversation on body image and the appearance of elite ballet dancers (particularly women) is long overdue. I was impressed with Ashley Bouder’s post. She talks about the most pervasive attitudes and about her personal obstacles and mental health challenges during the pandemic, during this stage of her career and given her particular recent injuries. 
 

Many people here saw her post as ego driven. I see, instead, her effort to talk about the wider issue of body image and how it is internalized. Of course she has her own lens, and her own pertinent experience, but I don’t see an effort on her part to make it all about herself or all about reclaiming her former glory. She’s looking at how body image played a part in her entire career, from her days in the corp and her earliest roles, and her own self judgement. I find it commendable and it encourages me to take the same long look at my own career, the part body image played, and the ideas and judgements I have about body shapes now.
I was really impressed  and my mind is humming with ideas  

 

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I agree that conversations about body image, "fat talks," how dancers are spoken to/respected, is needed in the ballet business. Particularly because dancers are so young when the are pre-professional/professional. I also believe it is starting to happen. On the other hand Bouder seemed to connect being removed from a ballet with body shaming. I'm sure she was as devastated as she described when she was taken out of Symphony in C, but she had just come back from a long injury and had to know she wasn't in the best technical shape. Management had every right to make the judgement not to have her do a lead role, on a gala night, next to 3 other ballerinas, if she wasn't up to it.

Hopefully with time and distance, she'll be able to sort things out with more clarity. 

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15 hours ago, Drew said:

Generally, when dancers talk candidly (or seemingly candidly) about difficulties in their career --and especially the emotional toll-- they often come across as complaining/entitled or, at the least, as refusing to accepting a tough but common reality. It inevitably draws criticism in their direction. I tend to sympathize with them all the same. (And I refuse to be shocked when successful performing artists show a touch of narcissism or self involvement.) . As someone said above: Bouder has had a lot of great good fortune in her career. She has also given ballet fans a lot of extraordinary pleasure! Now, she is facing hard times. I DO sympathize and I would never for an instant doubt her work ethic. 



This is beautiful fully written, Drew.  I, too, find myself brimming with sympathy for Ashley Bouder’s situation, and her posts.  
I felt similar empathy, watching the documentaries on Wendy, Whelan and Merrill Ashley. The issues manifest differently for each dancer but the end of a big career is a CRISIS, all capital letters, bold font, full stop. 
 

FPF:

And I disagree that Whelan really "went after" Martins in the documentary. The cameras were following around, she said what she thought at the time, connecting her injury to the her loss of confidence after that conversation--given the opportunity, I think many people would vent about their boss when they're going through a difficult time at work. I thought Martins came off as quite sensitive to her situation and that she was just not expecting it/not yet in the frame of mind to understand.  

 

I agree with this, too. It’s a gift to us that these women each decided to share their raw experience during that CRISIS. It is not material for a cocktail reception, or something to be tossed off while passing in a hall.  It’s a bit weird to see it on social media next to tutorials for “getting that dewy glow” but that is a function of the time we live in.  Lincoln Kirstein wrote about the crisis “in any dancers career” and I copied his words into my diary 38 years ago. It meant that much to me. It was the very beginning of my dancing career. Was it was 39 years ago? Time is not a dancer’s friend. 

So yes, I sympathize with Ashley Bouder for many reasons.

On another topic, I’m not sure we’re all reacting to the same post. The clip I watched was 21 minutes long (recorded on IG Live), and, though I watched it twice, I don’t remember hearing about the board member’s comment, “Maybe you should retire.” Was there an earlier disappearing clip?

**Bouder references an earlier clip “that [post] wasn’t me at my most angry- that was me at my most exhausted.”

Lincoln Kirstein “joining a professional  company is a crisis in any dancer’s career, similar in its intensity to the moment when he or she decides they must retire. It is the ultimate facing of personal possibility and responsibility.”

That is Kirstein’s quote as best I remember.  I can’t tell you how comforting I found those words when I was in the crisis of starting my career. 
 

Edited by BalanchineFan
Clarification
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13 minutes ago, BalanchineFan said:

On another topic, I’m not sure we’re all reacting to the same post. The clip I watched was 21 minutes long (recorded on IG Live), and, though I watched it twice, I don’t remember hearing about the board member’s comment, “Maybe you should retire.” Was there an earlier disappearing clip?

Yes, she made the board comment in an earlier disappearing story on Monday. 

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51 minutes ago, BalanchineFan said:

On another topic, I’m not sure we’re all reacting to the same post. The clip I watched was 21 minutes long (recorded on IG Live), and, though I watched it twice, I don’t remember hearing about the board member’s comment, “Maybe you should retire.” Was there an earlier disappearing clip?


 

Separately, on a disappearing post, she wrote about a board members who commented (not for the first time according to Bouder) that they didn't mind the extra weight on her and asked about another career. I don't remember the exact wording, maybe someone else does. She only identified the person as a board member, and didn't share how the conversation evolved, how long she'd known that board member or how often they spoke.

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55 minutes ago, BalanchineFan said:

I felt similar empathy, watching the documentaries on Wendy, Whelan and Merrill Ashley. The issues manifest differently for each dancer but the end of a big career is a CRISIS, all capital letters, bold font, full stop. 

It’s a gift to us that these women each decided to share their raw experience during that CRISIS. It is not material for a cocktail reception, or something to be tossed off while passing in a hall.  It’s a bit weird to see it on social media next to tutorials for “getting that dewy glow” but that is a function of the time we live in.

Thank you for this, BalanchineFan — your insight really helped inform and mold my perspective and reaction here.  Would you call the crisis grief or mourning?  An identity crisis?  Something else?  

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27 minutes ago, vipa said:

Separately, on a disappearing post, she wrote about a board members who commented (not for the first time according to Bouder) that they didn't mind the extra weight on her and asked about another career. I don't remember the exact wording, maybe someone else does. She only identified the person as a board member, and didn't share how the conversation evolved, how long she'd known that board member or how often they spoke.

Here’s the quote:

“Just had a board member tell me (for the second time) that they don’t mind the extra weight on me. But maybe it’s time I look to a new career. 

Body shaming? Ageism? What is this? I’m not 40 yet and I’ve just endured Covid plus a career ending injury…. ?!?!!”

Edited by Rick
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One can feel sympathy and empathy for Bouder's situation while still believing that she should not be on stage unless she can reach appropriate technical and fitness standards. This is a live, audience-facing art form. Presentability matters. It's not fair to ticket buyers and it's not fair to other dancers (partners and those who should be getting the roles instead) to put someone on stage who can't do the art justice. 

Bouder has had spectacular career that she should be beyond proud, of with jaw-dropping performances like this and this. Publicly wallowing in victimhood and playing the blame game tarnishes her legacy, at least in my view. 

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I find it interesting also that not one fellow dancer from NYCB other than Chun has liked or commented on the post.  From social it looks like she has close friendships with Megan Fairchild, Sara Mearns and others.  Who knows if they have reached out privately, but no public acknowledgement as far as I can tell.  If it was hard for her to be in company class previously, she has to really pull up her bootstraps now.

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