Exposé on Ballet

Ava Soleibe, Staff Writer

Ballet is a celebration of the human body. It is a renaissance painting come to life. A mention of ballet may send a steady stream of classical music from centuries ago through one’s head. The very word conjures up images of delicate pink satin shoes, placid faces, and routine movement. Or perhaps light feathers of a swan or reminisces of a holiday Nutcracker production. This diaphanous view of ballet can be credited to the dancers’ ability to cast an illusion over their audiences.

Beneath the lights and tulle, there is a startling fierceness. Incredible strength courses through every turn, jump, and extension of the leg. Mental and physical effort fuse when remembering the ornate French names of ballet moves, and executing them. Whether ballet is primarily a sport or an art form has caused continuous debate. Senior Morgan Gentzen, captain of IHS’ dance team believes, “It’s not a hobby, it’s a part of your life, which equates to other sports…you are working hard, committing, burning calories, you are getting stronger.” Freshman Dane Remer adds, “In reality, it is super physically demanding. We do a lot of conditioning and working out just to stay in shape for dancing so often.” Along with the taxing physical work, underestimation and assumptions are things dancers consistently tolerate. Freshman Lauren Wrolson shared that people have nearly identical reactions to finding out she dances: “One of the first things people do, which drives me crazy, is when they put their hands above their head and spin around or ask if I dance on my toes.” Since ballet receives such little coverage, the surface-level perception is expected, and misunderstandings are common. Freshman Karla Rohr says, “Ballet requires much more athleticism and skill than people think. It gets overlooked, or worse, put in a general category that labels it as easy and makes it seem like not much practice is required to be great.” This stereotype is criminally inaccurate. Freshman Maddie Powell proved this with her detailing of a ballet class environment: “You warm up, stretch, jump, turn, and rehearse all in under two hours. Classes do not have breaks, unless it’s to change from flat to pointe shoes.” Ballet pushes the limits of the human body and mind. Powell shared that “in some skills, dancers can have up to twelve times their body weight acting on their knee alone.” The necessary laser focus for movements like these extends to other aspects but remains undivided. “You are constantly thinking about every part of your body, the choreography, the music,” Wrolsen adds, “The audience only sees the smile you wear on stage. What they miss is the weeks of rehearsing until your body cannot move anymore. Your brain being so tired it is unable to think right.”

Ballet is the only sport that is spent almost exclusively in front of a mirror. Since performing is characteristic of ballet, there is additional pressure on dancers to appear a specific way. Wrolsen commented on growing up in front of mirror, saying, “It has greatly impacted my self-image and where I place my self-worth. I am constantly dancing and that means I am constantly in front of a mirror where the goal is to look perfect and do everything correctly. The whole idea of a ballerina body is such a toxic thing.” This stereotype-induced pressure has created a layer of unacceptance. It has fostered body shaming and dysmorphia with alarming increase. Rohr says, “Body shaming in the studio is definitely more common than other sports because of not only standing in front of mirrors, but also the ‘ballet look.’ When thinking of a ballet dancer, you visualize someone tall and slim. Therefore, anyone who is not that figure experiences internalized shame…you feel as though you should change to fit that image.” Further, Rohr defined body dysmorphia fluidly: “It is especially difficult when you stand in front of one mirror you look a certain way, and then stand in front of another, and your body appears completely different. Even if other dancers see you as normal and nothing wrong, you feel the need to change.” This poignant account is not a rarity. Wrolson says, “Dance has created a mindset where I only feel good about myself if I can look in the mirror and like what I see.” Gentzen emphatically said “yes” when asked if the mirror affects her self-image beyond the studio. She shared that “the whole point is to wear skintight stuff, so that you can see your lines.” Despite the outdated “ballet look,” dancers push through painful stereotypes and produce performances that never fail to evoke a range of emotion from audiences.

Stunningly, the sacrifice results in absolute joy. Wrolson says, “The feeling I get every time I dance is this anxiety filled happiness that makes my life so much better and unimaginable without it,” The work is not discouraging; it inspires ambition, Wrolsen adds, “I want to grow as a dancer and as a human being.” It seems that for every difficult class, community is built. Remer described his studio, “Like a family.” Out of the hard work comes unparalleled individual pride in one’s performance, ability, and grit. Powell says, “My favorite thing is when little girls find out I am a ballerina.” The dancers of today are setting the stage for a more positive tomorrow. As they demonstrate the body’s potential and profoundly express feeling as only a performance can, dancers are showing the world what it means to be strong.