Ballet and Sacrifice: More Than One Story; More Than One Definition

This week’s theme at Dance Advantage has been stories. Everyone has one. And mostly we’ve been looking at the testimonies that inspire. But sometimes stories don’t have happy endings and sometimes an experience (yours or another’s) can leave a bad taste in your mouth. In this installment, guest writer, Melanie Doskocil offers her take on one girl’s story and we invite you to do the same.

A recent article in the March issue of Seventeen Magazine titled: I Sacrificed Everything For Ballet, as told to Jane Bianchi” has sparked conversation in online forums. The story is a sad tragedy about 18-year-old “Hannah” who quit her intensive ballet training at 18 after realizing that she was an addict to ballet and no longer enjoying it.

Hannah discusses the back-stabbing competitive nature of her peers and her perception that only students who either “sucked up” to the instructors, or whose parents gave large donations to the school were given the best roles. She also talks about her battles with anorexia, injuries and bitter teachers who gave scathing criticism rather than constructive feedback.

The article is definitely sensationalized and is capitalizing on the recent success of the intense psycho-drama Black Swan. I can’t tell you how many people came to me and asked, “Is that what it’s really like to be a professional ballerina?” They completely missed the fact that this was a fictional ‘psycho-drama!’

The Pitfalls of Elite Training

While no one would argue that all of these things can happen in a ballet school, they can happen in any organization that is looking to create the next class of elite anything. The story could have just as easily been about a competitive skater (Nancy Kerrigan?), a businessman in training (Donald Trump’s The Apprentice?), a football player (too many to name) or any other person at the elite level who is obsessive/compulsive and succumbs to the pressure (not to mention comes from a dysfunctional family).

There are some teachers and directors that enjoy fostering competition to extreme levels. There are schools and companies that make decisions based on favoritism and finances. There are, sadly, teachers who still think that ballet dancers need to look emaciated to look good on stage.

IMAGE Dancers warm up in a new studio at Houston Ballet IMAGEPrevention is Possible

Fortunately, not ALL organizations are like this. There are many who have adopted methods and practices that produce physically and emotionally stable dancers. Many incorporate [Read more…]