Friday, April 24, 2009

Doomed With My Body Type in the Dance World

Ballet students in general have two strikes against them when they start ballet. I have heard so many in the ballet world say:


(I chose that image because I'm not into body shaming dancers! You know what I mean...)

"I am doomed with my body type". 

Some are correct. With the wrong proportions and genetically bulked up muscles, only a few awesome talents break the ballet body barrier. The second strike is that dancers are their own worst critic, regardless of genetic luck.

Anyone who has seen a few classical ballets, or modern ballets with dancers in white spandex unitards, has figured out what the favored ballet body type is:

*Small head***long neck***shortened torso***long, thin, lean (but slightly muscular)legs*

This is a matter of genetics plus training, and it is important for the dancer to have enough strength to control motion. In non-ballet fields, these proportions are not normal and may even be considered detrimental.

Turnout of the leg from the hip joint.

This would depend whether the natural angle of the thigh bone in the hip is angled outward or inward. Also, increasing the flexibility of the surrounding soft tissues must begin before the age of seven to significantly enhance the degree of turnout.

However, serious full time ballet training should NOT start at age seven. Well designed weekly classes with no rush on advancing from simple exercises (for instance the early Cecchetti or R.A.D. grades) is as complicated as training should get.

Slight knee hyper extension has become a pleasing line in ballet. The slight backward curve of the leg enhances the look of the arch curve outward (yet undermines the function of balance).

A dancer with hyperextended knees can be taught to hold them straight, that's one more of the zillion things to think about throughout a dance class. This ideally would be mastered before getting into pointe shoes.

Bowed legs is favored for the ballet dancer for both practical and visual reasons. External tibial torsion (outward rotation of the lower leg) is favorable in that it can increase turnout look of the feet.

Adequate mobility of the ankle and foot so that the body can be stacked up from a demi pointe or full pointe position. A less flexible ankle especially would have the dancer's weight slightly back. Hypermobile feet are the fashionable shape, a highly domed arch. This is something you are born with, or not. However, ankle flexibility can be increased with gentle stretching, over time.

The hypermobile foot is not the best functional foot for ballet. Until it is strengthened sufficiently, pointe shoes will break quickly and the dancer will not have good control.

Some talented dancers with lesser-favored proportions and muscle shapes rise in the ranks to become soloists and character performers in classical dance companies.

Hard work, a winning personality and acting ability all help contribute to the success of a dancer like this.

Yet body type has nothing to do with the love of dance or performing talent. If a dance student realizes that she/he is struggling to accommodate ballet positions, let them keep struggling.

And also investigate other styles of dance where success is more likely.

Hitting the ballet body barrier never has to be a negative. It may propel a young person toward a different area of performing.

And this person will have gained dance technique, discipline, ability to work hard, and they will be no longer doomed with their body type in the dance world.

If you feel that you are struggling in ballet class, take advantage of the amazing dance education available from expert educational material such as The Perfect Pointe Book and The Body Series books and DVDs.

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