Can ballet be healthy? - Mothering Forums

 
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#1 of 16 Old 01-22-2004, 08:08 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Right now my dd (age 6) is very interested in ballet. We saw the Nutcracker over Christmas and it really sparked her interest. She just started in a pre-ballet class and she loves it. Her favorite videos right now are Barbie Nutcracker and Barbie Swan Lake (no flames please!!)

So- here is my question. Can ballet really be a healthy interest for a girl? I mean, right now- it seems wonderful. Her dance teacher is gentle and fun, my dd is getting exercise and learning new skills and enjoying herself.

But we were watching an extra at the end of one of the Barbie DVDs and it showed a clip from the American Scool of Ballet in NYC. All the "star" dancers there were so, so, so skinny. And they were talking about how dancing "en pointe" is tough on the feet. It just seemed so un-natural.

Right now, ballet seems great for dd. But is it really a healthy interest? The field of ballet seems to be very obsessed with weight and appearance- beauty at the expense of health.

Does any one here have dd in ballet? Do you have concerns like these and do you discuss them with your children?

I love to hear some thoughts form other mamas about this!
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#2 of 16 Old 01-22-2004, 09:47 AM
 
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I love ballet! I took it as a child & teen and would love to get into again, when I have more time. If she has a good instructor who's focus is on learning the fundamentals while having fun it will be great for her. As far as the weight/body image thing goes, dance is very much like gymnastics in that area - when it is taken very seriously & competetively it is a factor. By this I mean formal dance companies, auditions, performances, etc. But the majority of children simply enjoy it like any other sport. It teaches poise, confidence, physical fitness. If dd is enjoying herself, go for it! If it starts to become stressful, re-evaluate.

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#3 of 16 Old 01-22-2004, 10:51 AM
 
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You could always steer her to other forms of dance (modern, jazz, etc) as she gets older; I think they are generally more accepting of different body types/shapes, and then you wouldn't have the issue of pointe.

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#4 of 16 Old 01-22-2004, 11:17 AM
 
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I worried about this too, when I signed my DD (3) up for tap & ballet last fall. But after meeting her teacher (a lovely, curvacious, very fit, NON-skinny woman who has been teaching and dancing professionally for about 20 years) and seeing many photos of her older students (all different shapes & sizes), my fears were put to rest. Miss D obviously puts the focus on the fun and fitness (flexibility, muscle tone) aspects of dance. Her assistant is TINY (I'm guessing a size 0), but that's obviously her body type...she's not unhealthy or anorexic-looking, just very slender and lithe.

I'm thinking of getting into one of the adult jazz classes - I observed one and it looks like so much fun!

Every baptized Christian is, or should be, someone with an actual (disturbing) experience, ... a close encounter, with God; someone who, as a result, becomes a disturbing presence to others. - Fr. Anthony J. Gittins, A Presence That Disturbs
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#5 of 16 Old 01-22-2004, 12:00 PM
 
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At 6 my dd adored ballet, wanted to audition for the Nutcracker (lower age limit was 8, though), took lessons, wanted to be a professional dancer. When she turned 8 she suddenly was bored with ballet and wanted to take jazz, and wants to audition for Oliver.

Yes, ballet *can* be unhealthy, but it doesn't have to be. It can be alot of fun, a good way to develop kinisthetic skills. It's also a good base for other types of dance, since many utilize the same types of moves.

Not a flame, but I would suggest that if she's interested in ballet you find some books or videos that give the true Nutcracker and/or Swan Lake (Dame Margot Fonteyn has a book-on-tape of the latter, with a nicely illustrated book to go along with it). The Barbie versions aren't the real deal (yeah, yeah, I know there are different Nutcrackers put on by various companies). That way she has a clue as to the actual plot, music and characters should she ever see them in the "real" ballet world, and doesn't sit through a performance wondering when the unicorn is going to come prancing out.
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#6 of 16 Old 01-22-2004, 02:53 PM
 
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My DD is in ballet and she loves it; her teacher is also a more robust woman, and it's really a pre-ballet class (she's 3.5).

HOWEVER, I took ballet for 5 years and absolutely loved it until my ballet teacher said, in front of the whole class when I was in 7th grade and getting very tall and awkwardly shaped, that I was too tall and too fat to ever be very good and I would probably never be allowed to go en pointe becasue of it.

THANK GOD I was also playing soccer and basketball and was very good at those things, or I probably would have been damaged beyond repair. I still remember evrything about when she said that.

It is, I think, as usual, all about the teacher (no bias here, being a teacher myself!!!).

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#7 of 16 Old 01-22-2004, 03:05 PM
 
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Many dance students never go en pointe, for a variety of reasons. My SIL danced for many years (as a child and as an adult) and was very tiny (not even 5 ft, and perhaps a size 4), but she could never go en pointe b/c her ankles were weak.

If a dance teacher ever made a remark like that about my kid, I would be sure that every parent paying for a class at that studio knew about it

Every baptized Christian is, or should be, someone with an actual (disturbing) experience, ... a close encounter, with God; someone who, as a result, becomes a disturbing presence to others. - Fr. Anthony J. Gittins, A Presence That Disturbs
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#8 of 16 Old 01-22-2004, 06:50 PM
 
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I took ballet, tap, jazz and musical theater dance for most of my life as did my sister (who is now into synchronized swimming) and my mother twirled baton and took ballet and then when she was older, taught. I think dance is a great way to build a healthy attitude about your body (provided your in the right school and not just a "show" school, ya know?) There are always going to be the girls who are obsessed with being way too skinny but you'll find that anywhere...not just ballet. Ballet builds strong, flexible bodies, promotes self control and good work ethics in my opinion. My little boy takes ballet (only boy in the class! ag ) and he loves it. So I guess I would say that if she is interested, let her try it out!

BTW, when you are a professional dancer - that's all you do...DANCE!!! I saw an interview once with a gal in a major dance company and she was saying that since she danced several hours a day that it would be hard for her to not be thin...something like that.

A great book is 'New York City Ballet Workout'. It has some beautiful pictures of professional dancers and they look so strong and healthy. Plus the stretches in the book are great!
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#9 of 16 Old 01-24-2004, 12:14 AM
 
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Just to mention there's another ballet thread going on in parenting issues
http://mothering.com/discussions/sho...hreadid=110152
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#10 of 16 Old 01-24-2004, 10:45 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally posted by Kinipela79
...I saw an interview once with a gal in a major dance company and she was saying that since she danced several hours a day that it would be hard for her to not be thin...something like that...
Let me say first that I think children studying ballet for fun or love dance is fine. Ballet is a beautiful art form and it can teach young children so many wonderful things. My own son (11) recently began studying ballet and he loves it.

Having said that, a book I recommend that any parent of a child, but especially of girls, who is interested in competitive gymnastics, figure skating or ballet read is, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters by Joan Ryan

From the Publishers Weekly review (bold mine): "The female gymnast's career is a race against time and nature," writes San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Ryan, and the same appears to be true of world-class female figure skaters. In both sports, the contemporary ideal is a girl with a boy's body: sans breasts and hips. To achieve this "ideal," the athletes overtrain at a time when their skeletal development is supposed to be the greatest, suffering injuries to vertebrae, arms and legs at the same time that they are constantly being ordered to lose weight. The result: anorexia and bulimia..."

This was a very long winded way of saying, I don't believe that dancer who was quoted in the article. That's what our society does, it lies to women. Supermodles claim to eat anything they want while staying rail thin, dancers claim that their extreme thinness is a "natural" by product of their profession, gymnasts say the same thing. But if all that were true, they why do so many women who survive these professions tell stories of anorexia, bulimia and bodies ruined by expectations that have nothing to do with "natural"?
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#11 of 16 Old 01-25-2004, 01:18 AM
 
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Well, I am thin (not as thin as when I was dancing at all!) My sis is thin and my mother is thin and I can promise you that none of us have or had any type of eating disorder. So while I don't want to argue about the ethics of dancing or whatever...I just think it is sad that every thin girl in ballet is going to be looked at like she has some sort of eating disorder. I mean...look at marathon runners, sports players, etc...they are not overweight simply by the fact that they are burning more calories than they take in, ya know? In highschool I was always accused of being anorexic or bulimic by other students but I wasn't. I love food. And a lot of the food I love isn't always the healthiest! :LOL I guess I just feel a little defensive on this subject simply because I know what people think about dancers and it's not always true. Like I said, you are going to find girls who think that they have to be stick thin to be perfect anywhere...maybe even in a chess club! Ha ha. I don't know what made me think of chess. Anyway. Please remember that stereotypes suck and not every professional dancer is unhealthy. And I know I wasn't a professional or anything but I have friends who went on to the "pros" and they are healthy girls!!

Quote:
My own son (11) recently began studying ballet and he loves it.
Is he the only boy? I worry that someday my son might feel goofy being the only boy! I hope not ag
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#12 of 16 Old 01-25-2004, 02:13 AM
 
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Anything like this can become dangerous if it becomes an obsession. there is more than physical health to worry about. There is also that drive to compete, terror of failure and all that other yuckiness yuo see. I say if you keep it low key and fun it could be a very good thing./ Girls don't go en pointe until they are much olkder (12 - 16 minimum depending on the schools we have bee involved with) My dd had a blast but we could no longer afford it and she wa fine. She just really wanted to try it and live her dream of being a ballerina.


>>"in front of the whole class when I was in 7th grade and getting very tall and awkwardly shaped, that I was too tall and too fat to ever be very good and I would probably never be allowed to go en pointe becasue of it."<<

My drumline instructor said somehting like this to me once. (Bill Smith who is an a$$ and would rue the day he ever said anything like hit to one of my children) I asked him if you had to be a music major to be in the UNT Drumline and he replied "Don't worry about it. Even if you practiced 8 hours a day for the rest of your life you'll never be good enough" I was totally floored. thats not even what I asked him. Now, 11 years later I have a good comeback ("not with the crappy instruction you're giving me" but then I was just speechless.

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#13 of 16 Old 01-25-2004, 03:44 AM
 
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My son is not the only boy in his ballet class. In fact, he is taking a class called "Beginners Boy Ballet" and it consists of four boys! He's really enjoying it. Maybe if you can get some friends together, you could get a boys class started?


Quote:
Originally posted by Kinipela79
...I just think it is sad that every thin girl in ballet is going to be looked at like she has some sort of eating disorder. I mean...look at marathon runners, sports players, etc...
First, some marathoners have eating disorders. In fact, I've heard Marathon Running called "Male Anorexia". And not all sports players are healthy. I've seen so-called healthy people do dangerous, destructive things to their bodies in order to compete.

In 1992, the American College of Sports Medicine found that among females in sports like ballet, gymnastics and figure skating, 62% had an eating disorders. Among the general population of women, 5-10% suffer with eating disorders.

In a famous Vanderbilt study, "a disturbing trend noted by Vanderbilt is that svelte, female Olympic gymnasts are getting thinner. According to the site, the average size of the American team declined from 5' 3", 105 pounds in 1976 to 4' 9", 88 pounds in 1992.

Are all ballet dancers or gymnasts victims of eating disorders? Of course not. But the odds are much higher among women who compete in ballet, gymnastics and ice skating than among the general population. I highly recommend the book I put in my first post for more information.
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#14 of 16 Old 01-25-2004, 03:37 PM
 
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I agree that the statistics are very sad. I just think it's hard for girls in general these days...ballet/gymnastics or not!! Like I said. It's just an issue that I feel defensive about since I was always accused of starving myself and being a "dancer" just made it worse!

That's great that there is a boy's ballet class!! I'm always jealous of the male dancer roles since they get to do all the leaping around! :LOL
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#15 of 16 Old 01-25-2004, 06:06 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally posted by Kinipela79
I agree that the statistics are very sad. I just think it's hard for girls in general these days...ballet/gymnastics or not!! Like I said. It's just an issue that I feel defensive about since I was always accused of starving myself and being a "dancer" just made it worse!

That's great that there is a boy's ballet class!! I'm always jealous of the male dancer roles since they get to do all the leaping around! :LOL
I can understand feeling defensive about your weight. My sister is naturally quite slim and I am naturally quite large. We both eat well, exercise and are comfortable in our own skin. But many people over the years have tried to make us feel otherwise! I think about 1% of women are considered "ideal" and the rest of us are made to feel too thin or too fat or too tall or too short!

As for the boy's ballet class, I just completely lucked out. I had called around to a number of schools and asked how many boys were in the beginning class. Most schools at least one other boy, some had several, but then I just happened to come across this school that had a boy's class.

From what the other parents have told me, the husband and wife team who are directors of this school are always trying to attract more boys, so they thought they would try an all boys class. It's neat too because it's the husband who teaches it. He used to be a priciple dancer and is a good teacher, very enouraging of the boys while also motivating them to improve their technique.

I hope you are able to find a class that will be a good fit for your son.
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#16 of 16 Old 01-25-2004, 06:38 PM
 
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Long post ahead...

I started ballet in the sixth grade - I was tall, and awkward, and although I was thin, I had already started developing breasts and hips.

I loved it! I had a few crushing moments - like when I auditioned for ballet classes at my performing arts high school and was placed into the lowest level - but overall, it gave me a strength and confidence in my body that I had never had.

I was never able to do sports well enough to not be embarassed because I had a slight disorder that made me have horrible hand/eye coordination. Learning to dance was like teaching my body to move confidently and gracefully.

I never became a great dancer, but it was good for me. I danced through high school and college. Now, I can walk into adult ballet classes for fun and exercise and my body knows what to do.

But, I am conflicted about enrolling any future daughters I have in ballet (I would consider enrolling sons as well, but I am not as worried about them developing the body issues). My high school, as I mentioned, was a performing arts school. I danced for fun - my real passion was music, and I played the French horn very seriously. But I had a lot of friends who were very serious about dance. And weight was a huge issue for all of them - even the very slim girls. My dear friend, L, was short and curvy - not a typical dancer's figure. She was mainly into modern dance, but even in that, she had to take a lot of ballet, and there was a lot of pressure for a certain body type. She became anorexic, dropped nearly 35 pounds and ended up in the hospital. While she was losing weight so dramatically, she was receiving praise from her instructors, who liked her new body shape.

After L came back from the hospital, I was visiting her at her father's apartment (we were maybe 15). We went swimming in the pool. She was lithe and thin in her swimsuit, but she turned to me and asked me in serious anguish, "Please tell me the truth. Do I look fat now?"

The story gets worse. After going to college, L and I lost touch. I found out during my junior year that she had commited suicide. It really hurts to write this.

I do not blame dance, or the culture of thinness associated with it for L's death - L suffered from sever depression throughout adolescence, and she never recovered. Anorexia is the most deadly mental illness - either directly from the stresses on the body of rapid dangerous weight loss, or indirectly from the severe depression that accompanies it.

I do not know how to protect our daughters from this illness. Ballet can be beautiful for girls, like it was for me. It can strengthen their bodies and their confidence in themselves. Maybe the caution lies in making sure that our daughters have realistic expectations about their abilities. A chubby 10-year-old will probably never become a prima ballerina, and she shouldn't be pushed towards this goal.

My other speculation is that ballet can be combined with other healthy athletic activities that are more forgiving of body type. Soccer comes to mind. Fitness and athleticism are crucial in soccer, but being larger or taller than other girls can actually be advantageous.

I'm sorry for my rambling chain of thought.

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