Ballet: An Art Form or an Invitation for Eating Disorders & Foot Deformities

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As a whole, I very much appreciate the arts to include especially museum outings, historical sites, art galleries/museums, theatre productions, independent/foreign/documentary films, and orchestras/classical music, but for certain reasons, ballet nor opera have ever appealed to me.  Opera will be a whole other discussion with my preference showing for male opera singers over female soprano voices: might be related to my Highly Sensitive Nature (as an HSP) and dislike of high-pitched noises.
ballet-dancers-feet-300x199In more than one study, it has been proven that pre-adolescent, adolescent and adult ballet dancers are chronically abusing their bodies in order to support their own perfectionist tendencies as well as the Ballet Managers.  Two key areas of focus: long-term damage caused by weight obsession and chronically abused feet.  In a way it relates to how I feel about horse racing; though, I very much love horses and have since childhood (apparently like a lot of girls), I’ve grown to greatly disapprove of horse racing and the stress it places on young two and three-year old horses whose lives are often ended terminally due to fractured/broken bones caused by racing excessively hard prior to the full formation/hardness of their bones.  It is wrong in my book to exploit another for financial gain.

In this light, I see ballet related as many ballet performers are treated as objects without a point of view, input or a voice and just as easily abused and discarded.  Part of the problem is how society idealizes and thus perpetuates the demand for the extremely thin long limbed body type that ballerinas must ascribe to.  Just think, every day in training ballerinas are staring at themselves in the mirror multiple times and due to the demand for perfection from within and fear of losing their jobs, it’s no surprise eating disorders abound in pre-professional as well as professional ballerina dancers.In addition, the pressures from ballet instructors and managers unrealistically demand an unhealthy low weight that promotes weight obsession and an unhealthy attitude towards food.

Anorexic looking balerina dancerIn order to change this situation, society must change it’s ideals and cease to pay/buy tickets to support the current ballerina shows that would no longer exist without their support (much like many violent team sports).  Ballerina dancers need to be encouraged to increase their knowledge regarding nutrition and the variety of nutrients they need in order to perform and be their healthiest without the weight obsession.  They need to be accepted for who they are.  If we start doing this, we might see more curvy athletic type builds that are quite attractive versus the waspy thin outdated look we still see on stage that is practically mandated by all male directors in the business.  And this brings me to another point – again, we see a patriarchal society in America; not as bad as in the middle east or say India, but patriarchal none-the-less where men literally dictate what type of body a woman
must have and keep despite the danger to her health in order to keep her job.

George Balanchine who initially brought ballet to America in the 1934 and who choreographed over 400 ballet performances, perpetuated and sought after the exact unhealthy body type seeking to see ribs bones showing as well as the hyper overextended movements.

On the topicSays it all Ballerina injuries of feet, it is excruciatingly painful to look at photos of ballet dancers’ feet.  The highly admired ballet dance art form requires a very unnatural foot position in extended positions that place extreme amounts of pressureUgly bounded foot on the metatarsal, plantar and joint support bones.  In particular, I am talking about the “en pointe” technique that involves standing on the very tips of your toes with an extreme arch for extended periods of time. Basically ballerinas are smashing the joints and bones together every time they perform this “en pointe” foot placement.  This is just unnatural and reminds me of the taping procedures in ancient China that men subjected women to in order to inhibit the growth of their feet to keep them dainty and small.

En Point with Damage 2Dr. Millicent Powers, Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Silicon Valley Ballet spoke about how ballet dancers’ feet (including men) show premature signs of aging with bone deformation and tendons missing, bunions, chafing, blistering and otherwise damaged or impaired feet.  Additionally, hallux vagus, corns and callouses, stress fractures, ankle sprains, impingement syndrome and tendon problems prevail among ballet dancers’ feet, mostly in the women as usually they are the ones that dance “en pointe.”  Unfortunately and strangely, there seems to be a lack of research on how “en Pointe” negatively affects the feet in the longterm although I found information showing that many develop osteoporosis as well as arthritis in the feet.

I’m wondering, is there any insurance that covers all the damage that these dancers so stoically put up with for their profession?  It reminds me of Football and the Weight and Ballerina Overweightsustained head injuries the football players also stoically put up with in the name of the game, but later after their career has ended, suffer the consequences in dementia, headaches, strokes and shortened lives.  I get that many people find ballet to be an elegant beautiful art form, but if that means at the expense of anyone’s
health, I think the “art form” needs changing, as to me, this is not an “art form” but an unreasonable and unnatural demand placed on the body in order to please male choreographers and the public that also reinforces forcing women to wear shoes and perform movements that deform their feet as well as pressure to conform to unrealistic, unhealthy, noncurvy, body images with little to no fat.

On a separate and personal aside, there’s something quite girlish about ballet I never really liked and it seems to involve total perfectionism with no room for error.  Definitely not healthy for you emotionally or physically.  Mia Wasikowska, who parlayed into ballet when she was younger but chose instead to pursue acting, described this strange uneasy feeling I have of ballet as “Dancers are kept in a perpetual state of pre-puberty, and for young girls in particular, that type of pressure breeds insecurities” (“Mia Wasikowska Talks Weight Obsession”, 2011).

Tap Dancing imageMyself, I always preferred tap dancing over ballet as a child – perhaps because I did not have the graceful lithe small-boned style body (as the same for a gymnast body), but more because I found tap dancing more invigorating and enjoyed it much more than ballet.  I am more than happy with my body’s state of health, bone structure, figure and strength and would never trade that in order to conform to other’s unrealistic expectations (or any of their expectations).  Talk about stress that is unneeded in life and as you realize, stress is at the root of all illness.

References

1 Sanna M. Nordin-Bates, Imogen J. Walker, and Emma Redding, “Correlates of Disordered Eating Attitudes Among Male and Female Young Talented Dancers: Findings From the UK Centres for Advanced Training,” Eating Disorders 19 (2011): 212. http://www.trinitylaban.ac.uk/media/310857/correlates%20of%20disordered%20eating%20attitudes%20cat.pdf.

Laura Herbrich, Ernst Pfeiffer, Ulrike Lehmkuhl, and Nora Schneider,                                                                                     “Anorexia Athletica in Pre-Professional Ballet Dancers,” Journal of Sports Sciences 29 no.11 (2011): 1115-1116. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02640414.2011.578147

Nordin-Bates, Walker, and Redding, “Correlates of Disordered Eating     Attitudes Among Male and Female Young Talented Dancers,” 212.

Maria Wasikowska Talks Weight Obsession, Nathalie Portman’s Ballet Dancing. (March, 2011). The HuffingtonPost. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/24/mia-wasikowska-talks-weight-ballet_n_840152.html

Mitchell, A. (April, 2014). Striving to be Thin: Pressures, Unrealistic Ideals and Essential Reformations in the Ballet World. School of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences: Dominican University of California.  Retrieved from https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CB0QFjAAahUKEwjusrXmloDJAhVD8mMKHcJJBt8&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ncurproceedings.org%2Fojs%2Findex.php%2FNCUR2014%2Farticle%2Fdownload%2F765%2F473&usg=AFQjCNFRnCOSsgkcZmnf6h0iaxDPv-0CSQ&sig2=AHRZNwSYMW9H5HHDHYUGEQ&bvm=bv.106923889,d.cGc

https://www.quora.com/What-are-the-ballet-dancers-long-term-damages-to-feet-and-legs

https://storify.com/dancer523/eating-disorders

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