The myth of the ballerina

  

From a very young age, I have faced the criticizing stares and judgmental comments about how the ballet world works. People would always ask me very rude question such as: “Are ballet dancers anorexic?” “Do they eat at all?” or (the most common of all) “Why are you all so serious and perfectionist?” I had had enough of the ballet judgment, so I took a look inside my ballet class and analyzed every reason why people might assume that ballerinas were just perfect dancing dolls. Of course, they were more than that; they were real girls with passions, dreams, objectives and a big love for what they did. But that did not matter to the outside world that criticized ballerinas for no reason and did not dare to take a look inside the life of a ballet dancer. I bet they would be surprised.

 No bust and no derriere 

For many people, this is the most common type of ballerina. I’ve seen people who get surprised at the sight of a ballerina eating. I mean, are we not humans? We are athletes after all. And ballerinas have the right (and believe me they make sure of it!) to eat a good plate of “arroz con habichuelas y pollo”.

I first saw Tania Muniz in 2008 when I entered Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico. Immediately, I was proud to see that she was the company’s principal dancer. Not only because she had the best technique in the bunch, but also because she had breasts, hips and a derriere. She looked nothing like the ballet stars I had always admired. Her feet were arched like Guillem’s, but she didn’t look dead. Her extensions were long like Zakharova’s but she didn’t have the face of a witch. Tania was not perfect and she did not care. I am sure that anyone who looked at her in the streets wouldn’t have guessed that she was a ballerina, but little would they know that she was the best Puerto Rico could have.

To the eyes of Puerto Rican men, ballerinas are not aesthetically pleasing. The no bust, no derriere belief applies directly to this community. The Latin male adolescent is known for wanting a “complete woman” who they can say “piropos” to. But most of the Puerto Rican “piropos” involve the admiration of curves, bust and derriere and most ballerinas do not fall under that category. To them, ballerinas are too skinny. It is common belief among male adolescents in the island that dating a ballerina means getting no…

 The arrogant, self-important ballerina 

It speaks for itself. And believe me, it is the most offensive one of all ballerina stereotypes. Just because we are focused, competitive and fight for what we want doesn’t mean we are arrogant, egocentric girls who want everything for ourselves. I blame movies for this one. There is not one ballet movie in which a ballerina isn’t portrayed as being a self-important and extremely perfectionist girl.

Last December I went to see the movie “Black Swan”. Natalie Portman’s portrayal of the overachiever and perfectionist ballerina was exceptional (I mean, she deserved that Oscar), but I still had contradicting thoughts about the movie. I knew that the ballet world could at some point make anyone go mad since dancers are expected to go head to head against each other for the very limited positions available at a company. But if you take a look inside a ballet school, you’d be surprised of the support and love that dancers have for each other. They are all in love with what they do. Of course, there are tears and hard work involved in every step of the way, but the moments of laughter and enjoyment are highly above the “tragedy” of everyday life for a dancer.

After the “Black Swan” commotion started to spread out, people began to focus, once again, in criticizing the ballet world. One day on my way to ballet class, a man stopped me and introduced himself. Immediately after the interrogation began: “So, are all ballerinas really like the “Black Swan” movie? Are you obligated to throw up daily? Do you really need to have sex for roles?” Are you kidding me? No. No. No. This was not acceptable in any way, shape or form. Didn’t he know the meaning of heightened reality? I stood there like a mute and almost slapped him across the face, but my dignity did not allow me. So, I just walked away and gave him the silent treatment.

Society has certainly judged ballet from an outside perspective. Not everyone dares to go inside the ballet world because world. It takes courage, passion and love to work as hard as dancers do to exceed everyone’s expectations about art, music and the human body. The scary stories that are often told about ballet are purely myths and nothing else.

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