Becoming a professional dancer requires one to have certain characteristics and abilities. How do you know if you’ve got what it takes? According to the U.S. Department of Labor, they are:
• self-discipline, patience, perseverance, and a devotion to dance
• good problem-solving skills
• an ability to work well with others and function as part of a team
• good health and physical stamina
• flexibility, agility, coordination, and grace
• a sense of rhythm and feeling for music
• creative ability to express themselves through movement
• finally, be highly motivated and prepared to face the anxiety of intermittent employment and rejections when looking for work.
It can be argued that this list is incomplete because it fails to mention one last key ingredient: body type.
In 2001, eight-year-old Fredrika Keefer auditioned for the San Francisco Ballet School and was told she did not have the “physical attributes that the school looks for”, namely “a well-proportioned, slender body.” Fredrika’s mother filed a lawsuit against the school, alleging size-biased discrimination. The lawsuit created a heated debate among feminists and advocates of affirmative action, as well as professional dancers. Toni Bentley, a former dancer with the New York City Ballet, asked rhetorically, “Should music students be admitted to the Juilliard School who are tone deaf and to medical schools with C and D grade averages? Should short guys be hired by the NBA? Should round little girls be admitted to professional ballet schools, thereby being subjected to a competitive discipline for which they are at a disadvantage?”
Ballet companies are particularly notorious for being particular about issues of weight and size, particularly after the introduction of the Balanchine ballerina, a willowy, long-limbed, long-necked creature that has become the industry standard in the decades. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of dancers fit the bill.
The professional dance world looks for slender dancers and there is no escaping that reality. As dance students mature and look for employment in dance companies, the demand for perfection and physical prowess becomes all the more intense. Weight management is expected – and discussed any time a dancer’s weight fluctuates enough to tip the scale of disapproval.
In other words, weight is a constant issue for dancers. In essence, the San Francisco Ballet School did Fredrika Keefer a favor by preventing her from entering an arena where she could not hope to compete. If an eight-year-old dance student already has weight issues, chances are there will never be a place for her in the professional ballet world.
Why not examine other options? If a child loves ballet, then she can take classes at a different ballet school that is not so highly competitive. Ballet classes hold obvious merits for all types of dancers and athletes, and learning to move gracefully is a lifelong gift for anyone. A firm foundation in ballet technique will serve any dancer well as they pursue other forms of dance that may not be quite so strict about body type. Modern dance, theatrical dance and traditional or folkloric dance companies are a few examples to consider.
In the end, dancers choose to dance because of their love for it. While an individual may not be cut out for a spot in a leading professional dance company, there are countless other stages and opportunities available if one is willing to look for them.
For info about a dancer’s diet, click here.