Although there are so many voices in the whole debate about ballet dancers and body image issues right now, as a former dancer, I feel compelled to weigh in and say my piece. Over the past several days, I have read the National Post article on Alastair Macaulay's comments in the New York Times about one of the Sugar Plum Fairies in New York City Ballet's The Nutcracker, I have read several comments on-line and from colleagues and friends, I have read and heard the hype about the new film, Black Swan, and this morning, I listened to the interview CBC's Jian Gomeshi did with Suzanne Gordon (author of the 1984 book Off Balance) on his show, Q. Following are my comments.
On Mr. Macaulay's view:
In my opinion, the comments made in that review about Jennifer Ringer were just wrong. The dancers in the photo that accompanied the National Post piece showed beautiful artists with healthy, athletic bodies. I cannot fathom what could be wrong with that. They are gorgeous people and in no way anywhere close to overweight.
On the interview with Ms. Gordon on Q:
I cannot deny that eating disorders still exist among some dancers. As a former dancer who currently works in the arts and has a close relationship with dance, I can say that things are different. Where I work, I see healthy dancers who are very careful about maintaining that health and I see Artistic Directors and dance companies who support that. Things are changing.
Ms. Gordon's statements that many dancers (especially young girls) are coerced into staying in ballet by their parents and do not feel they can quit absolutely do not reflect my experience and that of my friends. I trained in Toronto and Montreal with young men and women from across North America. By the time we were training seriously, almost all of us had to fight for our passion. Instead of coercion, we faced opposition from our parents, our schools, and our friends and neighbours. Becoming an artist was not considered a viable career and we had to work very hard to convince those around us that this was the right thing for us to do. Ms. Gordon should not sell dancers short. They are intelligent, passionate people and to imply that they are in dance for anything but the love of it is almost insulting to these artists.
On the Black Swan film:
I need to be clear that I have yet to see the movie, or even the trailer. However, I do know that it is a fictional story, so I believe it is important to remember that whatever is or is not portrayed on screen may or may not be a true reflection of reality. Like any film, it is a director's interpretation of a story, so perspective is important.
And on the subject of perspective, I will only say in closing that it is important for anyone who really wants to know about ballet and dance to take the time to form their own opinions. So ultimately, my recommendation would be to go and see a ballet - or any dance - and form your own opinions about the art form. For me, it is an art form that transcends all boundaries of language and can convey the deepest, most profound emotions in the simplest of gestures, allowing dancers and choreographers to communicate in the universal language that is human movement.