Did anyone else watch Breaking Pointe?
For those of you who don't know what I am talking about, Ballet West (in Salt Lake City, Utah) allowed cameras, producers and editors to invade their territory for six weeks last spring, resulting in a seven (or so) part television show about the ins and outs of being a professional ballet dancer. I was hesitant to watch it primarily because I always get a little misty-eyed about dance and didn’t know if I was emotionally equipped to watch. I was also concerned that the editors may take a little more creative license than I could stomach, creating drama where there was none and failing to show the actual stress of life as a dancer.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised. The opening credits promised the show would portray the dance world as “cut throat” and “competitive;” and I suppose it did on some level. But for the most part it showed the dancers as kind, supportive, focused, flawed and hardest on themselves—exactly as I remember. Dancers are their own worst critics and this company was no exception.
My one grumble with the show was its lack of emphasis on weight, which for many (maybe most?) of us dancers is the absolute hardest thing about professional ballet. The five or so dancers the show chose to focus on were stick-thin and for the first episodes their weight was never discussed. When it finally was mentioned in passing, the dancers laughed at how much they ate. Dancers, they said, have to eat a lot because of how many calories they burn in rehearsals and performances. Hamburgers, candy, croissant sandwiches, milkshakes, and ice cream were all consumed on what appeared to be a daily basis. And by the looks of it, these dancers were telling the truth—they did indeed burn off all of the calories they ate and were naturally thin.
Unfortunately, that is not a reality for the masses. Dance burns calories, yes, but your metabolism adjusts to the rigor and for those of us not naturally thin, we were forced to watch each of those calories consumed like a hawk. And it still was not enough. Eating disorders or, at the very least, disordered eating permeates deeply into the dance world and it is unfair to suggest that simply dancing all day will fix those pudgy limbs, chubby core, and soft exterior. It won’t. It can’t for the body types that are naturally muscular or rounder than the ideal ballet look. A ballet dancer’s weight is hugely important and I’m not sure why it wasn’t given its due attention. Maybe the subject matter is too complicated to address in an hour-long reality show; maybe the editors chose not to deal with an issue that didn’t directly affect those five dancers that starred in the show; maybe Ballet West is blessed with a group of natural ballet bodies; or maybe I am 15 years out from my former dancing days and my information (and memory) is outdated.
I hope the show continues, although I have no idea whether it was intended to go beyond those seven episodes. I loved being able to relive some of my wonderful years with a ballet company through the eyes of kids who are over a decade younger than me (ugh). But my one request (since I’m sure they’ll be asking me!) would be a realistic focus on a dancer struggling with her weight. Yes, dance is hard—the endless rehearsals, the sore muscles, the unexpected and heartbreaking injuries, the tech weeks, the castings, the lean days leading up to Friday’s payday, and the competition. But for some of us, weight trumped everything else. When our weight was good, life was good; when our weight was ‘bad,’ life was unbearable. It’s a tough reality, but that is the dance world. That is what you sign up for when you are lucky enough to call yourself a ballet dancer. And to underemphasize that is doing a great disservice to the next crop of dancers.
Beautiful girls of all sizes.
Happy Wednesday, everyone!