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Ashley Bouder on Body Shaming


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No one has to have sympathy for Bouder, or empathy with her, because people have their own individual reasons for extending sympathy and empathy.  We can like or dislike dancers and change our minds for no good reason at all.  Unless we're paid to review performances, we can, at minimum, make trade-offs to avoid dancers we do like and hope that casting doesn't change.  And there is no guarantee that anything made public won't get a rash of negative comments, even if someone lauds someone for saving lives.  The anonymity and reach of social media has amplified this, but we're heading to holiday family gathering and party season, and an isolated toxic comment can be devastating.

We can be as angry as we want when companies cast or don't cast dancers.  It seems odd to me to be angry at dancers, but I don't get to make those rules.

All of this, of course, says more about us than the dancers.  

 

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2 hours ago, Balletwannabe said:

I can understand people having their favorite dancers & aesthetic preferences, but I truly don't get the *anger* and sarcastic remarks towards this woman.  Why does it matter to you ("you" meaning the naysayers in general, not a particular person) so much that NYCB continues to employ her and put her on stage?  It makes no sense logically to be that invested emotionally.

I agree with this. I've read comments in other places and maybe here, even (not specifically about this issue) about how some dancers' social media turns them off (for what reason I don't remember but it was something silly about not respecting the art form? Or taking away the ~mystique~ you want to have about dancers?) and I just think...it is so easy to disengage and unfollow? If their posting is truly ruining ballet for you, they're not forcing you to stay followed. You can still enjoy the ballet and not have to know about any of this, since ballet dancers (except maybe Misty) are no longer at the zeitgeist level they arguably used to be at. 

It's not like ballet dancers Instagrams are news sources for actual every day life things that actually affect us, they're just famous people in a niche way with niche issues that affect a very small level of the population.

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7 hours ago, Marta said:

Agree completely!!  I don't want to break any BA rules but I've been longing to say this myself.  The vitriol is out of proportion, especially "I have no sympathy for her."

 

8 hours ago, Balletwannabe said:

I can understand people having their favorite dancers & aesthetic preferences, but I truly don't get the *anger* and sarcastic remarks towards this woman.  Why does it matter to you ("you" meaning the naysayers in general, not a particular person) so much that NYCB continues to employ her and put her on stage?  It makes no sense logically to be that invested emotionally.

Thank you Marta and Balletwannabe for speaking up. The anger being directed at Bouder in this thread is astonishing. I happen to agree with her completely that companies need to come up with better ways of addressing weight with their dancers. I also imagine I would take this stance much further than her and say that I wish companies would cast a wider range of body types. The obsession with the extremely thin is historically very new to ballet; there have been lots of versions of ballet that don't include this (as Helene points out, Plisetskaya would never be cast today). But, even if you disagree completely and think that ballet must showcase only the extremely thin, directing so much ire that this one dancer seems wild. 

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I have no sympathy for Bouder,  but I have no anger toward her either.  It's just not that deep.  But she's a highly-paid professional who isn't delivering,  and she's trashing her own company at the same time.  It doesn't matter that she has plenty of fans who would love to see her dance no matter what condition she's in.  The people she reports to - not some random board member - "persuaded" her not to take the stage at the opening.  They must have their reasons,  unless you think that more than twenty years into her career,  they suddenly decided to be mean to her.  Bouder is hurting her company.  She's hurting ballet in the eyes of the general public,  playing into their ugliest perceptions of the art.  I don't understand what she hopes to accomplish.  She's dancing Sugar Plum evidently.  What more does she want?  I would appreciate it if those who think Bouder is justified can explain why to me.

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50 minutes ago, On Pointe said:

I have no sympathy for Bouder,  but I have no anger toward her either.  It's just not that deep.  But she's a highly-paid professional who isn't delivering,  and she's trashing her own company at the same time.  It doesn't matter that she has plenty of fans who would love to see her dance no matter what condition she's in.  The people she reports to - not some random board member - "persuaded" her not to take the stage at the opening.  They must have their reasons,  unless you think that more than twenty years into her career,  they suddenly decided to be mean to her.  Bouder is hurting her company.  She's hurting ballet in the eyes of the general public,  playing into their ugliest perceptions of the art.  I don't understand what she hopes to accomplish.  She's dancing Sugar Plum evidently.  What more does she want?  I would appreciate it if those who think Bouder is justified can explain why to me.

The mental health of current/future dancers is at stake- and even as students, they all know their bodies have to fit a very narrow mold to be hired, and they'll suffer for it if they have to.  

Edited by Balletwannabe
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I would ask what would make a long-time professional get to the point of breaking corporate norms?

Being a Principal Dancer is not exactly top-notch training for being a boss and having difficult and clear conversations with company members, with specific expectations and timelines set.  From an employment standpoint, ballet companies are on tenuous ground pretty much always, since some large set of dancers, like athletes, are always injured in some way, and that gets into disability and accommodation turf. 

There wasn't enough in the video to show Bouder's technique in allegro, but I there's enouigh to indicate to me, in any case, that she's very capable of dancing the pas de deux technically.

I've seen many dancers towards the end of their careers -- generally five-eight years of a long career -- and the only one I didn't think was worth the trade-offs was Nureyev.

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53 minutes ago, Balletwannabe said:

The mental health of current/future dancers is at stake- and even as students, they all know their bodies have to fit a very narrow mold to be hired, and they'll suffer for it if they have to.  

The mental health of current/future dancers is at stake - because Bouder is feuding with management?  Was it "at stake" when Abi Stafford lawyered up?  I don't think so.  These are individual issues.

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8 hours ago, On Pointe said:

The mental health of current/future dancers is at stake - because Bouder is feuding with management?  Was it "at stake" when Abi Stafford lawyered up?  I don't think so.  These are individual issues.

I was just answering your question- why I think she's justified.  "Feuding with management" is simply a by-product of the larger issue.  There are thousands of ballet students/dancers who are now not going to feel so alone in their body struggles.  That's a win in my book.  

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10 hours ago, On Pointe said:

Bouder is hurting her company.  She's hurting ballet in the eyes of the general public,  playing into their ugliest perceptions of the art.

Er, what? If we're talking about weight, I frankly find the Russian companies to be more shocking in terms of that. Bouder talking about "body shaming" is nothing new in the ballet world. Do you really think Ashley Bouder's Instagram followers are "hurting ballet" or hurting the NYCB? Did they lose money because she was cast in Scotch? Is she somehow torpedoing Nutcracker because she's been cast in Sugarplum?

You do in fact seem very angry.

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8 hours ago, tutu said:

Can you say more about this?  What kind of damage would you say that Bouder’s individual statements inflict on the company?  How does that damage actually manifest?

There is a saying that "there is no such thing as bad publicity",  but that's not true.  Whenever there is a negative article about ballet,  there is a spate of ignorant comments from the public about ballet being " abusive",  that all dancers are head cases,  that it should be abolished,  that they would never allow their children to take ballet lessons, etc.  You may discount these kinds of statements,  a lot of which seem to come from women who tried to dance but couldn't cut it.  But they have a negative effect on potential audiences and fundraising.  NYCB has become the favorite whipping boy for all things bad about ballet in the last few years and Bouder is just adding to it.

 

8 hours ago, Balletwannabe said:

There are thousands of ballet students/dancers who are now not going to feel so alone in their body struggles.  That's a win in my book.  

Body issues in ballet have been talked about for many years.  Why would ballet students feel less alone because a star gains a few pounds?  Why would they feel alone in the first place?  Pressure to maintain weight is discussed all the time.

 

7 hours ago, l'histoire said:

Er, what? If we're talking about weight, I frankly find the Russian companies to be more shocking in terms of that. Bouder talking about "body shaming" is nothing new in the ballet world. Do you really think Ashley Bouder's Instagram followers are "hurting ballet" or hurting the NYCB? Did they lose money because she was cast in Scotch? Is she somehow torpedoing Nutcracker because she's been cast in Sugarplum?

You do in fact seem very angry.

This comment kind of proves my point.  "Body shaming" is nothing new.  However there is no evidence that Bouder was ever body shamed,  except in her own mind.  If I seem angry perhaps it's because I tend to speak my mind on issues.  I think Bouder is being ridiculous.  And I am actually a fan of her dancing,  if not her personality.   But the professionals she works with every day have made it clear that they have a problem with her current presentation.  The company has the right and the obligation to uphold their standards,  like every other arts organization or business.  For many years Bouder has met and even exceeded that standard.  Now that she apparently doesn't is not proof that the standards need to change.

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22 hours ago, On Pointe said:

However there is no evidence that Bouder was ever body shamed,  except in her own mind.

Mental health issues are, by definition, in our minds. That doesn't make them less dangerous. Anorexics may die of heart attacks because of something that doesn't exist "except in their minds." Black ballet dancers were sidelined for generations because of ideas about them that were only in people's minds. A problem being in someone's mind often makes it thornier, rather than easier to deal with.

I didn't experience Bouder's post or her IG live as critical of NYCB. She seems to talk about the 'ballet world' which includes NYCB but is not exclusive to NYCB. Everywhere there are ballet classes dancers are dealing with body image issues. Dancers are dealing with pressure and people's attitudes about their individual shape. Sometimes it has to do with things that improve with training. For example, if you straighten your leg and point your foot 96 times each day, the muscles get stronger and look more the way ballet wants them to. Some of the judgements are outside the dancers control. Other judgements take root in your head and your psyche and do their damage from there. The judgments may be pervasive (that's the word Bouder used) but that doesn't mean people are talking about the toll those judgements take on them. In that way I find conversations about body image useful. I'm glad Bouder is using her IG platform to contribute and encourage that discussion. She says that hundreds of people have responded to her recounting their own struggles with "body shaming." She says she feels buoyed up by the sharing and I imagine that each of those hundreds of people ALSO feel buoyed up by the opportunity of sharing them. That's a win.

I'd like to see a definition of "body shaming." The ways language are used constantly change. I don't know if body shaming means

1. any negative reference to a person's weight

2. the feeling people have of being ashamed when their own weight is discussed

3. the judgements of other people (audiences, bosses, repertory directors, etc) about dancers being overweight (whatever the definition of overweight is)

There are probably possibilities I've missed. 

My experience is that I arrived in NYC at the height of Natalia Makarova and Gelsey Kirkland's careers. Both are tiny, tiny women (Kirkland struggled with anorexia) and that was more the norm. I was so relieved to see Cynthia Gregory and Martine van Hamel in class, because they seemed human sized to me.

In many ballet classes I WAS INVISIBLE. Teachers took my money, admitted me to class and didn't look my direction, didn't correct me once.  People crowded me at the barre as if I didn't deserve the space. Other dancers danced in front of me, cutting me off just as I was about to go across the floor. It was devastating. By then I had studied ballet seriously for eight years. I don't know why I received this treatment. Were they body shaming me? Was it was because I was Black, because I was larger framed, because I had inadequate turn out, poorly arched feet or something else? Obviously I was lacking. It was soul-sucking.  At the age of twenty I had already performed professionally with two different modern dance companies and had had my own choreography presented by a respected organization in my home state. I knew there were other places I could go for training and opportunities but I wanted to study ballet.

The exceptions to this treatment were so, so, so amazing! Gabriela Taub-Darvash corrected me in her classes so I returned. Other young dancers in her classes spoke to me! I wasn't invisible. Melissa Hayden also corrected me in a master class. What was going on in the other places? I still don't fully understand it, but I no longer think I deserved it. The vitriol that is occasionally expressed here, the dismissiveness, the lack of sympathy is EVERYWHERE in the ballet world. I think those attitudes alienate far more people from ballet than a ballerina or two sharing their struggles. No one deserves to be treated that way, particularly if a teacher is going to take their money.

In other news, I never saw discussion of Sara Mearns post about her breakdown last fall. She was diagnosed with depression and burnout. Many, many of us have very real problems that are mental in nature.

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4 hours ago, BalanchineFan said:

In many ballet classes I WAS INVISIBLE. Teachers took my money, admitted me to class and didn't look my direction, didn't correct me once.  People crowded me at the barre as if I didn't deserve the space. Other dancers danced in front of me, cutting me off just as I was about to go across the floor. It was devastating. By then I had studied ballet seriously for eight years. I don't know why I received this treatment. Were they body shaming me? Was it was because I was Black, because I was larger framed, because I had inadequate turn out, poorly arched feet or something else? Obviously I was lacking. It was soul-sucking.  At the age of twenty I had already performed professionally with two different modern dance companies and had had my own choreography presented by a respected organization in my home state. I knew there were other places I could go for training and opportunities but I wanted to study ballet.

As a Black newcomer to NYC,  I had the same experiences,  many of which were clearly racist to my mind,  and many of which were because of the highly competitive nature of ballet classes at that time.  We are all different when it comes to dealing with racism and aggression,  and some situations are simply beyond our control.  I also benefited from attention given me by well-known teachers who apparently saw something worth training in me,  even though there were very few Black ballet dancers working anywhere.  But I don't see any correlation between those experiences and Ashley Bouder's situation.

Bouder's talent was recognized early and rewarded with prominent roles and promotions.  She has had a long career,  traveling the world and receiving well-deserved accolades.  But "body shaming",  and other body issues didn't seem to concern her until now.  Every dancer,  whether a principal or an apprentice,  has to negotiate the challenge of participating in a visual art form when your body is the instrument.  Publicly berating the management when it gets hard is not the way to do it.  Understandably dancers don't like it when they lose roles.  Wendy Whelan has always been rail thin,  but as she got older she had to yield to other dancers too.

Google is scary.  Since participating in this discussion,  NYCB popped up in my YouTube queue,  with Ashley Bouder dancing the Dew Drop in Waltz of the Flowers.  I had never seen this video before.  Bouder is absolutely glorious.  She is very fortunate to have a beautifully shot record of her dancing at its best.  The NYCBallet put their full resources behind her back then.   (And as noted,  the same body issues existed among dancers and students then as well.). The company management is not mistreating Bouder now.  She's mistreating her own legacy.

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I don't think it's by definition a contradiction that someone could have had an excellent career and still have been subject to body shaming, sexism, racism, harrassment, etc.  The pressure to be thin, eating disorders, disordered eating, and the "fat talk" have been well-documented in ballet, gymnastics -- in the US at least through the Karolyis reign -- still in rhythmic gymnastics, and figure skating.  

It's the figure skaters who have been most vocal recently. Ballet and figure skating are a very interconnected world.  I wonder if the latest outspokenness has influenced or will influence whether dancers are more outspoken. 

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1 hour ago, vipa said:

Now a short segment on Inside Edition. Ashley Bouder seems to know how to get publicity! I think the company is wise in its brief response.

https://www.insideedition.com/media/videos/ballerina-ashley-bouder-says-she-was-body-shamed-78318

This is a bad look.  The tabloid article seemed to be just a recap of what she had posted publicly, but she actively  participated in this on a sensationalist muckraking TV expose show.  Gross.  I wonder if NYCB gave permission for them to film in their studios?

Edited by KikiRVA
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I feel sorry for Bouder for several reasons, but the main one is that she will have a difficult life if she won't buck up and help herself when things tough. She made the choice not to take company class. Her perception that people were looking her up and down may be true, but honestly that takes place in every environment. When I gained pandemic weight and returned to my employment as a learning specialist, people looked me up and down. After this past summer when I lost it all through hard work and good nutrition, they looked me up and down again. I wasn't offended either time. 

Bouder has always been a firebrand, right from her early days at SAB. Sometimes she uses it well, other times not so much. In this case, I think she needs to accept that she hasn't done what she should have to help herself. Instead, she's publicly playing victim. She has always had talent galore. Although hard-working,  she didn't need to work quite AS hard as many others whose instruments weren't as naturally perfect as Bouder's. With her injury, the pandemic and her weight gain, she has her first big crisis. I'm disappointed in her that she's making the rounds in a public pity party. I don't think that's a role that looks good on anyone, and I absolutely don't think it makes her a good role model. 

Had she acknowledged that she should have gone to classes and put in the work despite the looks and remarks of others, I could have much more sympathy for her. 

What DOES give me sympathy is that I believe she is realizing that she is in the decline of her career and she's struggling to accept it. I remember very well when she first burst onto the stage with her fierceness and incredible technique. Everyone on these boards became really excited about NYCB again. She was the very first among a cohort of exceptionally talented young dancers at that time. It was a thrill to watch her go for broke! I remember raving about her even though I usually favor more artistic and emotionally available dancers.

It must be terribly hard for her now as she struggles with her injury and weight. I hate the thought that she might go out playing victim without assuming responsibility (by words and actions) for herself. 

I'm sorry if this sounds harsh. But we learn a lot about a person's character when the going gets tough.

Edited by vagansmom
I'm rooting for Bouder to use that fierce nature of hers to get back in form. I'd LOVE to see a physically fit Bouder back. She doesn't need to return to her old form, but it would be nice to see her not dance heavy, as in style, not weight.
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51 minutes ago, KikiRVA said:

This is a bad look.  The tabloid article seemed to be just a recap of what she had posted publicly, but she actively  participated in this on a sensationalist muckraking TV expose show.  Gross.  I wonder if NYCB gave permission for them to film in their studios?

Agree completely.  A new Bouder low.  The self-pity  is nauseating.  The solution is in her control.

On a separate note, why does she feel it's appropriate to take her child to every gala at NYCB?  Others in the company have children, but they don't trot them out to attend galas at NYCB, which are not intended for little children.   It feels like little Violet is a prop for extra attention.

Not sure if Bouder would pull this kind of stunt  of going to a tabloid if Martins was still at the helm.  

By way of contrast, there is an article in today's NY Times about Sterling Hyltin's impending retirement.  Probably the most gracious ballerina at the company.  I will miss her greatly.   A classy lady.  New York City Ballet’s Sterling Hyltin Prepares for a Final Bow - The New York Times (nytimes.com)  I'm glad she will be influencing the next generations of NYCB dancers.  She is a very fine role model for the students.

Edited by abatt
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I can't believe she would do this! She should leave well enough alone. She's been cast as Sugarplum even though she isn't in shape. What more is she attempting to accomplish? Appearing in Inside Edition isn't going to mitigate body shaming for young dancers. She's destroying the end of her career and leaving unpleasant memories of herself for everyone. Also, she's acting very immature, as if nothing that bad has ever happened to her until this moment. 

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Gerrity is replacing Bouder tonight

FRIDAY EVENING, DECEMBER 2, 8:00 PM (Conductor: Otranto)
SUGARPLUM: Gerrity (replaces Bouder); CAVALIER: Chan; DEWDROP: Pereira (replaces Gerrity);
HERR DROSSELMEIER: Hendrickson+; MARZIPAN: O. MacKinnon; HOT CHOCOLATE: Hod, Knight; COFFEE: Maxwell (replaces Laracey); TEA: Mejia; CANDY CANE: Takahashi; MOTHER GINGER: Read; FLOWERS: Nadon, LaFreniere (replaces Sell); DOLLS: Starner (replaces Magnussen), Mann; SOLDIER: Hoxha; MOUSE KING: Bolden; FRAU & DR STAHLBAUM: Dutton-O’Hara, Nelson

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33 minutes ago, Dancingdemon said:

I can't believe she would do this! 

This is completely in keeping with her modus operandi. The only question in my mind was how fast she would be able to find a media outlet to cover it.

Edited by abatt
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This is really unfortunate, because Jenifer Ringer parlayed a comment about weight that was meant to decimate her partner into a book deal, a book tour, and numerous mainstream media interviews and articles that were wholly sympathetic.  By the end, she looked like Margot Fonteyn.  

Bouder has squandered any such opportunity.

As far as bringing her child to the ballet, if her child is well-behaved and doesn't disturb the audience, there's no reason for Violet not to be there, if her parents want to bring her.  I love seeing dancers' children in the lobby and the audience, when they know how to behave in the theater, which is often better than a lot of adults.

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Wow, this is really sad. I always thought of Bouder as someone with incredible discipline and mental fortitude - what has happened to her? So sad. I wonder what she thinks this is going to get her? I appreciate the company's response about prioritizing the dancers' health and safety, but I also hope their priority is the audience experience. Bouder's dancing during the Fall season was stiff and lacking in spring or sparkle, which to me was a much bigger issue than the extra weight. I was hoping that with more time she could get her form back, weight-wise and technique-wise, but that's looking less and less likely. 

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