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Ashley Bouder on Body Shaming


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4 hours ago, BalanchineFan said:

Is this an Italian fouetté 

https://www.instagram.com/p/BEq0_bQP_2Z/?igshid=YWJhMjlhZTc=

The link isn’t working but it’s the IG of Bouder doing the same fouetté Odile does on Swan Lake. Only Bouder is nine months pregnant. 
 

No, here's a video that shows Italian fouettés: https://youtu.be/qz0qeI1VpEI. I'm curious what piece Bouder was rehearsing/performing that included them; I'm not sure I've ever seen them at NYCB (only at ABT), though there's much rep at NYCB I haven't seen.

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3 minutes ago, fondoffouettes said:

No, here's a video that shows Italian fouettés: https://youtu.be/qz0qeI1VpEI. I'm curious what piece Bouder was rehearsing/performing that included them; I'm not sure I've ever seen them at NYCB (only at ABT), though there's much rep at NYCB I haven't seen.

If I'm remembering correctly, Bouder was put into Western Symphony (which has Italian fouettés) as a last-minute substitution. It was a part she hadn't performed in years.

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21 minutes ago, fondoffouettes said:

No, here's a video that shows Italian fouettés: https://youtu.be/qz0qeI1VpEI. I'm curious what piece Bouder was rehearsing/performing that included them; I'm not sure I've ever seen them at NYCB (only at ABT), though there's much rep at NYCB I haven't seen.

Thank you, fondoffouettes. Of course you would know!

I think this step is part of the Lilac Fairy variation. I first saw it in a Royal Ballet production of Sleeping Beauty. 

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47 minutes ago, fondoffouettes said:

No, here's a video that shows Italian fouettés: https://youtu.be/qz0qeI1VpEI. I'm curious what piece Bouder was rehearsing/performing that included them; I'm not sure I've ever seen them at NYCB (only at ABT), though there's much rep at NYCB I haven't seen.

The Italian fouettes are in Western Symphony.  They are in the section of that ballet that Bouder performed.  It was at the performance of that ballet that Bouder suffered her injury in the fall of 2021.  By the way, in the performance I saw she did them perfectly.  There are, I think 3 such fouettes.  Lauren Lovette, in the other cast of Western, couldn't do a single one of the Italian fouettes.

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I never heard the term "Italian fouette" until I watched a Kathryn Morgan video where she referenced it,  although I was familiar with the term "Italian changement".  My teachers called it " grand fouette".  I have noticed that it's rarely done well!

There should be a hard rule that board members should "stay in their lane" and leave critiques of dancers to company professionals.  That said,  NYCB dancers have a bad habit of taking their personal issues public and trying to turn them into "pressing concerns for the entire industry".  Where was all this concern when the dancers were at their career peaks? 

Compared to European and Asian companies,  NYCB dancers are not notably slim.  But every company has the right to demand that its dancers fit their company aesthetic,  whether the issue is weight or technique.  The sad reality is that bodies change with age,  and not for the better.  (I'd give anything to have my forty year old knees back!)

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3 hours ago, GB1216 said:

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.

In contrast, Megan Fairchild was pregnant twice, her last pregnancy being twins at that, had the same layoff for lockdown and did have a big injury after returning to the stage (though probably not as serious as Bouder's) and she is still at the top of her game and still very, very tiny. But I do know from her IG, that she worked tirelessly to get her body back after having her babies and was always mentioning doing Pilates, working out, doing barre at home, etc. 

Seems Bouder wanted to slide by on the strength of her past merit and that really hurts the artform. Not to mention is an insult to younger upcoming dancers in better shape that take company class daily.  

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4 hours ago, tutu said:

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?  

Thanks for saying so, tutu.

My father died recently and I’ve been seeing parallels between his death and the (previous) end of my performing career. 
1. You know it’s coming but it’s still a shock and a surprise. People expect to outlive their parents, dancers know they’ll retire some day- doesn’t make it easier.  
2. You grieve the loss. Both the person and the career took up a big part of your life and your time, brought you joy and purpose. 

With dancing, if you had a big career your identity and sense of self are tied up in being able to do the job. Will you be able to care about anything as much? Will you find a long term goal that is as challenging and fulfilling? Will you ever be successful again? Will you ever FEEL as successful.

In short, it’s both grief and an identity crisis. 

A student of mine once said they wanted to do for psychotherapy what Marika Molnar had done with PT for dancers. Stupendous idea!
Bouder isn’t yet at the point of talking about what changes can or should be made but here goes. 

As an example, when I started out, NO American dance companies had PT or Massage Therapists on staff, available to the dancers. Now it’s common practice in large companies. 
Suppose retiring, injured, or other dancers with a defined crisis had access to one or two appointments with a psychotherapist (possibly subsidized in part or whole by the company or their union)? That psychotherapist could refer them for continued treatment that the dancer would pay for themselves. I bet just an appointment or two would give people the idea that they’re not alone, they are going through a common difficulty or transition. Other people have dealt with it, there is a road map and ways to take care of yourself as you get through it. You gain perspective.

Elite ballet dancers may lack experience expressing themselves verbally. The training instills silence. Another step would be periodic panel discussions, led by a psychotherapist and several former dancers, on topics like injury, body image, retirement, etc. Students could attend during their training and start to articulate their own concerns  


Many things have changed over my career. Ballet dancers today have greater access to higher education. Many get BA and MA degrees at Fordham or elsewhere. Some are married and some have one or more children. This is quite a change from the days when Balanchine felt his ballerinas should not have a boyfriend, or get married or get pregnant, and forget about a college degree.
There’s a lot of room for improvement in multiple areas before we’re looking at a row of “fat” swans. (I feel using the word can destigmatize it).  For the record, in one IG response (I scrolled down)  Bouder says specifically that she is not in favor of ballet companies changing their standards. 

Edited by BalanchineFan
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I think it's important to note that Bouder's live talks about body shaming at the beginning of her career as well. When she was only 16, she was told to lose 5-10 pounds. It reminded me of a story that Susan Jaffe told about being asked to lose 5-10 pounds by Baryshnikov at the beginning of her career. Because Jaffe was already height-weight proportionate and did not need to lose weight for health reasons (like pretty much any young, pre-professional dancer), she went through a period of extreme, unhealthy calorie restriction and had to get B12 shots because she wasn't eating enough nutrients. All of this is about the pursuit of a particular aesthetic, not safety or technique. And in the pursuit of a particular aesthetic, you are giving young people lifelong issues with food, messing up their metabolisms, etc. 

Bouder quietly lost the weight back then (she even says she thanked the ballet mistress who brought up the issue at the time), but I think she is at a point in her life where she realizes how inappropriate that particular ask was, and she's choosing to call it out. I commend her.

And the NYCB dancers could support/understand where she's coming from, but could be afraid to speak out for fear of professional retaliation.

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I recall Bouder's last interview on Conversations on Dance in July 2021. She mentioned being concerned about her waistline for the filming of a pas de deux (I think it was Duo Concertante) NYCB aired towards the end of the pandemic. The costume is a white leotard and skirt and she hadn't performed since the pandemic began and had struggled to stay in shape. In another interview, I can't recall where, she mentioned taking a couple of boot camp classes in order to help get back in shape after childbirth. It was so difficult she doubted for a brief time that she could even return to performing. Around that same time, she posted a photo of herself in the pool in a bikini with the caption 'getting my ballet bod back' (or something like that). She also posted a few more photos with the hashtag 'losinglbs' and 'bikinibody'. So, she clearly knows the shape she needs to be in and how hard she needs to work to get there. At one time she accepted it without question. 

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I've been following this thread with great interest. As a former dancer with an "imperfect body for ballet," as my directors referred to my shape, I have great compassion for what Bouder is experiencing. This is a complex issue that can't be solved by just trying harder, by comparing oneself to other dancers' successful comebacks, or by eating less. Add the panic of impending retirement AND trying to return from a catastrophic injury, and it's no surprise that Bouder is experiencing depression and shame. Ballet dancers in general, and female dancers in particular, are rewarded for silent compliance, so it's also no surprise that few dancers beyond Chun are openly backing her up. It's a topic that dancers rarely talk about out loud unless it's to compliment another dancer on their drastic weigh loss. It happened to me. Once I got my weight down to the desired number (and this was an anorexic weight level as dictated by the standards of the 1970s) then everyone was so "worried" that I'd lost strength. You can't win and it's very frustrating and demoralizing. 

My take on Bouder's video is that she doesn't want or expect special treatment. She wants to open the conversation on body issues and body shaming within the ballet world in much the same way Kathryn Morgan does. They both want to effect change in ballet culture, not necessarily that aesthetic standards should be changed (although one could argue that they certainly could and should be loosened up a bit) but that the manner in which ballet institutions address body issues -- the way the conversations are held -- needs to evolve and change, while bringing as much compassion and kindness to the process as possible. 

I think the ballet world could benefit from a greater level of compassion all around --  from not only inside but outside (the audience). These are beautiful artists (not machines) who have literally devoted their whole lives since they were children to their art form, at great sacrifice. They ALL deserve our respect and compassion.

 

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1 hour ago, Sal said:

I've been following this thread with great interest. As a former dancer with an "imperfect body for ballet," as my directors referred to my shape, I have great compassion for what Bouder is experiencing. This is a complex issue that can't be solved by just trying harder, by comparing oneself to other dancers' successful comebacks, or by eating less. Add the panic of impending retirement AND trying to return from a catastrophic injury, and it's no surprise that Bouder is experiencing depression and shame. Ballet dancers in general, and female dancers in particular, are rewarded for silent compliance, so it's also no surprise that few dancers beyond Chun are openly backing her up. It's a topic that dancers rarely talk about out loud unless it's to compliment another dancer on their drastic weigh loss. It happened to me. Once I got my weight down to the desired number (and this was an anorexic weight level as dictated by the standards of the 1970s) then everyone was so "worried" that I'd lost strength. You can't win and it's very frustrating and demoralizing. 

My take on Bouder's video is that she doesn't want or expect special treatment. She wants to open the conversation on body issues and body shaming within the ballet world in much the same way Kathryn Morgan does. They both want to effect change in ballet culture, not necessarily that aesthetic standards should be changed (although one could argue that they certainly could and should be loosened up a bit) but that the manner in which ballet institutions address body issues -- the way the conversations are held -- needs to evolve and change, while bringing as much compassion and kindness to the process as possible. 

I think the ballet world could benefit from a greater level of compassion all around --  from not only inside but outside (the audience). These are beautiful artists (not machines) who have literally devoted their whole lives since they were children to their art form, at great sacrifice. They ALL deserve our respect and compassion.

 

^^^^^^ This. 

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2 hours ago, Sal said:

I've been following this thread with great interest. As a former dancer with an "imperfect body for ballet," as my directors referred to my shape, I have great compassion for what Bouder is experiencing. This is a complex issue that can't be solved by just trying harder, by comparing oneself to other dancers' successful comebacks, or by eating less. Add the panic of impending retirement AND trying to return from a catastrophic injury, and it's no surprise that Bouder is experiencing depression and shame. Ballet dancers in general, and female dancers in particular, are rewarded for silent compliance, so it's also no surprise that few dancers beyond Chun are openly backing her up. It's a topic that dancers rarely talk about out loud unless it's to compliment another dancer on their drastic weigh loss. It happened to me. Once I got my weight down to the desired number (and this was an anorexic weight level as dictated by the standards of the 1970s) then everyone was so "worried" that I'd lost strength. You can't win and it's very frustrating and demoralizing. 

My take on Bouder's video is that she doesn't want or expect special treatment. She wants to open the conversation on body issues and body shaming within the ballet world in much the same way Kathryn Morgan does. They both want to effect change in ballet culture, not necessarily that aesthetic standards should be changed (although one could argue that they certainly could and should be loosened up a bit) but that the manner in which ballet institutions address body issues -- the way the conversations are held -- needs to evolve and change, while bringing as much compassion and kindness to the process as possible. 

I think the ballet world could benefit from a greater level of compassion all around --  from not only inside but outside (the audience). These are beautiful artists (not machines) who have literally devoted their whole lives since they were children to their art form, at great sacrifice. They ALL deserve our respect and compassion.

 

Bravo.  

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7 hours ago, Sal said:

I've been following this thread with great interest. As a former dancer with an "imperfect body for ballet," as my directors referred to my shape, I have great compassion for what Bouder is experiencing. This is a complex issue that can't be solved by just trying harder, by comparing oneself to other dancers' successful comebacks, or by eating less. Add the panic of impending retirement AND trying to return from a catastrophic injury, and it's no surprise that Bouder is experiencing depression and shame. Ballet dancers in general, and female dancers in particular, are rewarded for silent compliance, so it's also no surprise that few dancers beyond Chun are openly backing her up. It's a topic that dancers rarely talk about out loud unless it's to compliment another dancer on their drastic weigh loss. It happened to me. Once I got my weight down to the desired number (and this was an anorexic weight level as dictated by the standards of the 1970s) then everyone was so "worried" that I'd lost strength. You can't win and it's very frustrating and demoralizing. 

My take on Bouder's video is that she doesn't want or expect special treatment. She wants to open the conversation on body issues and body shaming within the ballet world in much the same way Kathryn Morgan does. They both want to effect change in ballet culture, not necessarily that aesthetic standards should be changed (although one could argue that they certainly could and should be loosened up a bit) but that the manner in which ballet institutions address body issues -- the way the conversations are held -- needs to evolve and change, while bringing as much compassion and kindness to the process as possible. 

I think the ballet world could benefit from a greater level of compassion all around --  from not only inside but outside (the audience). These are beautiful artists (not machines) who have literally devoted their whole lives since they were children to their art form, at great sacrifice. They ALL deserve our respect and compassion.

 

Thank you - you have written with gentle compassion what has been in my heart and mind, watching Ashley's video.  All of this resonates personally as a former dancer and honors the courage of all dancers who have shared their vulnerability in leading the way with these conversations.  Imagine the next level of artistry that will emerge when dancers are fully able to look in the mirror and embrace the beauty of our bodies without shame. Again, thank you, Sal.

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I am not a former dancer, but I did not interpret Bouder sharing her struggles as "making excuses". She was talking about her experience. There is so much shame around body image (and Bouder is not by any stretch "fat" or "plus sized") but also around not living up to your potential. To say aloud that you found yourself struggling with motivation... I think that can be very hard to share, though perhaps cathartic too. I felt a lot of compassion for her and I hope she can have some great years performing ahead of her. (Also: so what if in the past she bought into diet culture. We grow up, we can all learn and change and do better.) 

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12 hours ago, BalanchineFan said:

Thank you, fondoffouettes. Of course you would know!

I think this step is part of the Lilac Fairy variation. I first saw it in a Royal Ballet production of Sleeping Beauty. 

There are also Italian fouettes in Gamzatti's variation in Bayadere, and in some versions of the Queen of the Dryads in Don Quixote, notably as danced by Susan Jaffe in Baryshnnikov's choreography of DQ.

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2 hours ago, uptowner said:

I am not a former dancer, but I did not interpret Bouder sharing her struggles as "making excuses". She was talking about her experience. There is so much shame around body image (and Bouder is not by any stretch "fat" or "plus sized") but also around not living up to your potential. To say aloud that you found yourself struggling with motivation... I think that can be very hard to share, though perhaps cathartic too. I felt a lot of compassion for her and I hope she can have some great years performing ahead of her. (Also: so what if in the past she bought into diet culture. We grow up, we can all learn and change and do better.) 

I’m so frustrated by this topic. She IS making excuses. Also, nobody has said Bouder is fat or plus-sized. Furthermore, it is NOT hard to share that you’ve struggled with motivation when you’re trying to get people on your side! It’s called manipulation. Now that she’s no longer able to do slay like she once did with her dancing she’s doing it in other ways. 

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2 hours ago, Dancingdemon said:

Also, nobody has said Bouder is fat or plus-sized.

On the contrary:  she said a board member told her her weight was a problem.  You don't have to be in the ballet profession to know that "fat" and "plus-sized" mean very different things for a dancer -- or model or skater -- than for a civilian.

Dancers don't put themselves on stage, and they can't keep the artistic staff from evaluating them, unless they are also an Artistic Director.  If she was onstage, it was because NYCB cast her in the ballet(s), unless management ceded that contractually to a choreographer, and then it's on the choreographer.

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7 hours ago, Helene said:

On the contrary:  she said a board member told her her weight was a problem.  You don't have to be in the ballet profession to know that "fat" and "plus-sized" mean very different things for a dancer -- or model or skater -- than for a civilian.

I'm confused.  I thought a board member told Bouder that her weight wasn't the problem.  Are there multiple board members interfering in the running of the company?

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6 minutes ago, On Pointe said:

I'm confused.  I thought a board member told Bouder that her weight wasn't the problem.  Are there multiple board members interfering in the running of the company?

Who knows, but I misunderstood her. 

To claim though, that "nobody" has told Bouder that her weight is an issue without having lived her in her body is like telling Misty Copeland that she never experienced racism in ballet. 

It's pretty remarkable that in the cut-throat world of ballet, where there aren't out-of-the-ballet-world stars like Fonteyn, Nureyev, and Baryshnikov, that management would "strongly encourage" a dancer not to perform, rather than making the decision, That they even spoke to her rather than taking the time-honored passive-agressive management tactic of making her want to quit on her own.

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1 hour ago, Balletwannabe said:

Ashley Bouder seems to know how to get in the news, but the New York Post this time not the New York Times. No hint, in the article, of the possibility that she was taken out of  the gala because she'd been out with an injury for a long time, and her dancing was still sub par. Casting her in the first place might have been giving her the benefit of a doubt.

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I’m interested by the variety of opinions and wondering what Ashley Bouder actually said in the first clip. Aside from the board member comment “Your weight doesn’t bother me (us), but why don’t you consider another profession/ why don’t you retire?” I haven’t heard what she actually said.

If it’s not against the posting guidelines, does anyone remember her own words?

I’m also wondering what people think the appropriate language and actions would be for someone in Bouder’s circumstances. Do you feel ballerinas should only discuss positive feelings in public or in social media? My guess is that our responses will have a similar variety. 

Edited by BalanchineFan
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