Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ballet Brouhaha

Since Black Swan came out, there seems to be a bit of chatter about dancer's bodies and anorexia. Do you think the movie may encourage behavior associated with eating disorders? And of course, there is the NYT critic who made the comment that Jennifer Ringer, a dancer in the Nutcracker "ate one two many sugarplums".  So curious about your thoughts on all of this.

I should say that I haven’t seen the movie Black Swan. A lot has been made about the 2 main characters, Natalie Portman being one of them, losing a tremendous amount of weight for their roles as ballet dancers. Natalie Portman’s character has an eating disorder in the film and from what I’m heard looks gaunt, almost sickly in certain scenes. While the story line doesn’t glorify her eating disorder I will tell you, with certainty, that many will sadly emulate both her weight loss and physique.

Even if it’s mentioned that a certain character or celebrity “almost died” due to their restricting, there will be those taking notes on what they feel is a seminar which may as well be entitled “how to restrict (or binge) and purge.” This was the case with Portia de Rossi’s recent press and book. I cringed as I heard her describe eating 85 (not sure the exact number) calories per day as I new that disclosure would be someone else’s goal.

Black Swan has been picked up by “pro-ana” or pro anorexia sites referred to as “thinspiration” and “eating disorder porn.”  On one hand there are those with eating disorders or a proclivity to develop an eating disorder but I think many other people are unknowingly affected. I don’t think we can deny that images of super skinny women play with our perception of normal. Even hearing that an, already slim, actress loses 20 pounds suggests that she had 20 pounds to lose.

As for the NY Times critic, roles have been reversed and he’s been slammed by many. I’ve heard arguments about the need for diverse body types in ballet, Jennifer Ringer’s “past” eating disorder has been mentioned and the ballerina herself called herself “not fat but womanly.”

I’m really uninformed today because I haven’t seen the Nutcracker this year either. I did watch Jennifer Singer’s today show appearance and clips (like the photo above) of her dancing. I see to evidence of over “sugar pluming” or overweight. I don’t. However, I am going to have to side with Alastair Macaulay, the critic, on this one. Whether we’re paid for it or not, we all judge. We look over the bodies of fitness instructors, professional athletes and our peers. The other issue is that certain professions demand that you’re trim. I joke that if I gained 20 pounds I would be out of a job. If someone is judging their fully clothed nutritionist they are certainly picking apart a dancer in a tutu.

Jennifer Ringer is a grown woman, a mother who most likely has been critiqued her whole life. A part of me worries the message this brouhaha sends to young girls but sadly if girls are in ballet or gymnastics they are hearing a lot of this. If nothing else, the movie and Macaulay have provided the subject matter for us all to discuss these issues.
Have you seen Black Swan or NYC Ballet’s Nutcracker? Do you think that the movie or the critic crossed any lines? Are there sugarplums in real life?


  1. The NYT reviewer was way off base in his review. Review the dancer's performance, not her body. And I've seen Jennifer Ringer dance on tour. She looks like a dancer and she moves like a dream. There is nothing extra on her. Balanchine is dead, and his outdated notion that ballerinas HAVE to be skin and bones should be dead too. Photographs of pre-Balanchine dancers show a much broader range of bodies than we see now.

    Haven't seen Black Swan yet (seeing it this weekend while Colin is at Tron 3-D IMAX), but I'm really looking forward to it. I've appreciated how both Mila Kunis and Natalie Portman have expressed publicly that they struggled to be that skinny and didn't like it. Mila said in one interview that it took her months to lose that weight and only days to gain it all back because she was far too skinny.

    Two great books about the pressures in ballet and gymnastics regarding weight -- Dancing on My Grave by Gelsey Kirland and Chalked Up by Jennifer Sey. While I wasn't a dancer, I can say that Chalked Up is a very accurate reflection of the elite gymnastics world.

  2. Good feedback Marie. I am so clearly not a ballet expert. I guess my view is that it's ok to review the dance and the body. I do agree (photo evidence above) I don't see reason for the remark but he commented on the male dancer's physique too. I read Mila Kunis' comment about regain too but I don't think their comments will discourage people from attempting such regimes. I will check out Chalked Up.

  3. My issue is the same as Marie's - Springer is simply not overweight, and quite honestly, if a ballet dancer is overweight, everything becomes off - balance, center of gravity, partnering becomes far more difficult, and her performance would suffer.

    Based on what I have seen, her performance seems to be on par, she can be gracefully partnered - she delivers on the job description.
    I think I mentioned to Lauren that I probably could not see her as the lead in Giselle or Coppelia, because she is not the right body type for those roles, but that certainly does not mean there aren't hundreds of other roles to dance. She looks wonderful for the Sugar Plum - this version of the Nutcracker has clear delineation of roles between adult and children and Sugar Plum Fairy is sort of a matriarchal figure in the Nutcraker so it makes perfect sense.

    It's interesting that no one really freaked out about Alaistair's comments regarding Springer's partner, Jared Angle. No one, myself included, is addressing that. Amusing, as tights don't seem to be very forgiving and I can't imagine many men looking as good as Angle does in such an outfit.

    The Black Swan "concerns" are nothing new - people obsessed over Renee Zellweger's weight gain (and loss) for Bridget Jones, Hillary Swank's body morph in Million Dollar Baby, and it seems Jessica Simpson can't win regardless where she falls on the scale (her fashion choices are another matter).

    But you don't hear the same heightened outcry for male actors - Robert DeNiro gained 40+ pounds for his role in Raging Bull, Christian Bale dieted to near death for the Machinist and then rapidly bulked up for The Dark one worried that we would see an increase in eating disorders because of these transformations, there was just chatter about how great it was that the actors were so insistent on bringing such realism to the roles.

    So alot going on here - stereotypes, double standards and perhaps, a little mass hysteria.

    Oh the fun of it all :)

  4. I haven't seen the movie either, so it's hard to comment but I will say that all of this saddens me on so many levels. That there is so much judgment everywhere about bodies big and small. That there are rampant disorders that threaten lives and are still somehow glorified by certain circles. I wonder if there is anything that can really be done to change any of this or whether these patterns - of judgment, of sickness, of emulation - are somehow entrenched in human nature.

  5. Good Post Lauren! This is a subject that many professionals don't even like to talk about, because the pressure for many young women and man to be fit, thin, etc. does not have a happy outcome. Aiden brought up a good point about if there is, "anything that can really be done to change any of this." I have seen so many young ladies coming to my office lately pertaining to this isuue that I believe if we can help educate the youth early on about what healthy eating means and a healthy body is there is hope.

  6. Haven't seen either and probably won't. I did see the movie "Dying to Dance" which was a real eye opener. I'm concerned as GD#2 is crazy for Ballet. In fact, she's the lead in our local production this weekend. I notice she eats lots of salads and the water bottle is glued to her hand. I am worried.