Not Sure A Show Called ‘Big Ballet’ Is Going To Make Larger Girls Feel More Accepted In The Dance World

shutterstock_129731741__1379267509_142.196.156.251Unless it’s a show about weight loss, I really don’t see the benefit in identifying a show based on the weight of its participants. If we’re trying to make a segment of the population feel more included, I don’t think this is really the way to go about it. Especially when that segment of the population is young girls.

Wayne Sleep, a former Royal Ballet dancer, has made a TV program that encourages larger dancers to continue with ballet. The show will select 18 dancers and will follow the training that will ultimately end with a 25-minute performance of Swan Lake which Sleep with choreograph. From The Telegraph:

Sleep, 65, had to watch his language on the programme. “I said ‘fat’ to start with, but, by God, did I get a bad response from my girls, so I said: ‘Lets clear up this situation. You are in this show because you’re big; there are other people who were big who applied, but they weren’t big enough to get onto this show – think how they feel.’ ”


“Think how they feel?” Yes, girls are always distraught when told they’re not “fat” enough for something. I’m not sure this guy should be leading a show that speaks to body image, when he doesn’t really have any sensitivity toward the issue.

I don’t think it’s any secret that ballet dancers come in one physique and one physique only. It’s great that he’s reaching out to larger girls, but will this actually be a show about dancing – or a show about big girls dancing? We seem to have an innate need to point out when people are larger, even though it’s totally obvious and oh my God why are we doing this? Did anyone ever see Dance Your Ass Off or More to Love? Ugh. I hope these girls are made to feel better about themselves – not worse.

(photo: Stolbov Pavel/ Shutterstock)

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  • Byron

    I don’t think that ballet performers come in one phisique but rather that actually doing ballet professionally is something that is very active and althletic so it tends to sculpt these bodies. It’s not that people who are thin are in ballet but rather that being in ballet makes people thin.

    If someone has been into this culture since they were 4 and has never abandoned it or the training regiments, it stands to reason they would be skinny and flexible and athletic and lean and all those things that we also consider attractive.

    I don’t think it’s fair to blame the sport which benefits people like that for being exclusionary in some way. It doesn’t just have a label of “thin grils only” outside its door. It just so happens to make girls thin. People have come to expect dancers to be thin because dancing makes you thin and when 95% of the group has that degree of conformity it will naturally become the norm and what the casual onlooker will associate or expect from ballet.

    You wouldn’t expect a skin and bones dude to be a Sumo wrestler. That’s not discriminations against skinny people either. It’s just that sumo wrestlers tend to be very big and fat out of what being a Sumo wrestler entails.

    • justathought

      To some extent you are right, however if your hips are not shaped a particulr way or you are large chested or too tall you cannot overcome that, and you cannot be a professiona ballet dancer. Similarly some people develop larger bodies when doing that much excersize, and again this can actually make it hard to find a partner who can lift you. So yes, the effort makes the bodies, but some bodies cannot become professional ballet dancers. I don’t think this is descrimination either, if your hips don’t let you lift your leg high enough or you look wrong on point next to your partner or you can’t be lifted you cannot perform the job.

    • Emmali Lucia

      I know a woman who is somewhere between overweight and obese, she’s a vegan, and a marathon runner, and by marathon runner, I don’t mean once a year. I mean she runs at least a half marathon a month.

      Some bodies don’t lose weight. Some bodies are naturally bigger. Some people can sit and eat cheeseburger after cheeseburger and not gain an ounce, some people can exercise until they pass out and not lose an ounce. What’s considered healthy is different in every persons body.

    • Meg

      I have a friend who was stick thin for the majority of her life. Her diet consisted mostly of chocolate. She could eat anything and everything and wouldn’t gain weight. Turns out her body had problems properly digesting the food. About a year in a half ago she saw a doctor and was put on meds. In that time she has gone from underweight to obese.
      I used to be jealous of her ability to stay thin. Turns out she was sick the whole time.

    • Annie

      Being stick thin isn’t great. :/ I don’t have trouble digesting anything (hopefully!) and can’t gain weight, but all it’s gotten me is the body of a prepubescent boy. My whole life I’ve been envious of women with hips! and va-voom! whilst being told that real women don’t have my body type and to go stick my finger down my throat or eat a cheeseburger.

      I guess what I’m saying is that there are gross skinnies who would absolutely love to have actual breasts and butts, because those are *awesome*. <3

    • Meg

      Yeah my friend used to tell me she was jealous of my breasts. Now that she has them she has found out they can be a pain. She used to go without a bra most the time, now she can’t and doesn’t like it. She gotten some neck and upper back pain now. All I can tell her is welcome to the club.

    • Chrissy

      I think you’re right in that ballet isn’t necessarily refusing to allow people with certain body types. However, I don’t think you exactly hit the mark. Ballet DOES change bodies and to some degree form those bodies. However, I was in ballet for a long time (never professionally, I’m just NOT that coordinated) and maintained quite a few friends who danced.

      These were girls who were winning awards at the high school level). One of them that comes to mind immediately was actually turned down from a dance company because she was “too top heavy” (I have no idea how they worded it, but that’s how she explained it). Another has wide hips and a belly. She was a fantastic dancer (until she gave it up to pursue acting instead), but she wasn’t the stereotypical ballerina. She had large thighs and calves, a belly, and very small breasts. Not the stereotypical ballerina body. So, no, ballet doesn’t always form the body shape we think of as a classic prima ballerina.

      Also, there IS pressure put on ballerinas to MAINTAIN a TINY form. There’s a good deal of lifting involved, so they want them tiny. Also, most costumes are not flattering to an ounce of body fat. Eating disorders are much higher among ballerinas than among the general population. So that’s a bit of the industry demanding a certain physical form instead of the work causing the shape.

      And I’m wondering how you meant the “benefits people like that.” I’m not sure if you mean that it benefits people with those body types or it has physical benefits because the physical benefits also come with the disadvantage of early hip dysplasia and a varied of foots deformities (pointe ballet is not kind on the lower half of a woman’s body, I’m not sure about a man’s).

    • historychick79

      I began ballet when I was 5, but hit puberty at age 9 and began wearing D-cup bras at age 10. My ballet teachers refused to let me study en pointe because my foot structure is a bit too delicate to handle my naturally heavier/muscular frame. I can do all the grande battemantes and ronde de jambs I’d like, and I will never reach that slim look. In fact, the last time I had a ‘normal’ BMI was when I couldn’t eat for 2 wks straight and was nearly hospitalized due to complications with mono. I can run a 5K, do yoga and kickboxing, and my waist is under 30″ even post-pregnancy; but I rarely find leotards and dance tights that fit. The ballet world requires a very specialized body type with short torso, long legs, slim yet strong feet, and an overall light bone structure (partly thanks to George Balanchine’s preferences and success). If you look at ballet photos before the 1940′s or Degas’ work, you find curvier dancers. Reality is, genetics plays a strong role in whether you can have that ballerina physique.

    • CrazyFor Kate

      Nope. Wrong. My niece has a big butt and big boobs. You could describe her as short and “stocky”. And she dances ballet. She is extraordinarily talented, but has been kept out of many good schools because of her shape – even before they saw her dance. (Fortunately, several schools that are just as good wanted her.)

      Her friend danced at the Bolshoi for a year and apparently during the bimonthly weigh-ins (yes, you read that right), the bathrooms would constantly stink of vomit. Ballet does not make someone a certain shape, but many directors will try to force it anyway.

  • Haradanohime

    Oh sheesh. Like girls need yet another show pointing out big is bad. Big is unhealthy. Big is not normal. I’m sorry but there have been big people for all of history. I remember learning in elementary school that a person’s weight measured how “wealthy” one was. Because poor people could not afford to feed themselves and their families. But nowadays being big is treated as if you have some sort of contagious nasty disease.

    Being bigger does not equate being unhealthy. In fact there are multiple studies out proving that some “Skinny” people are less healthy than people considered morbidly obese (whose definition changes from year to year. ex: Size 12 being considered plus sized wtf? Plus sized used to mean over size 20.) I’ve known bigger people who have been highly active all their lives yet even so remained what people would consider now morbidly obese. They are much healthier and happier than some people I know who are constantly on a diet and working for that mythical “ideal weight.”

    Big people don’t do normal things like dancing? Uh What? It’s only because of Stereo-types that a lot of bigger people do not do tings like taking ballet. How would you feel being a young child and being told not because you were overweight but because your bone structure was too big to be able to dance? How many movies based on true stories have there been of young people starving themselves for their activity of choice because they did not meet the standards for their respective activity?(And ending up with eating disorders most of the time) How is that healthy?

    This show seems like it’s trying to empower bigger girls to hold onto their dreams of dancing. But I’m afraid it’s more than likely just going to turn into a “fat-shaming” fiasco. With comments like “…there are other people who were big who applied, but they weren’t big enough to get onto this show…”, the shaming has already begun.

    • Blueathena623

      In terms of who has better life outcomes, the skinny or overweight, one has to remember that people could have become thin because of an illness such as cancer or they engage in unhealthy activities such as smoking. Unless there are studies that measure actual health, all the ones I’ve seen deal with “which group of people are more likely to die sooner rather than later”. In which case someone who started out as healthy and overweight, but then became very sick and lost weight will make the data seem like people who are naturally skinny are more likely to die.
      Believe me, I’m very against people being shamed for their weight, but I think its good to keep the limitations of studies in mind.

    • lea

      “multiple studies out proving that some “Skinny” people are less healthy than people considered morbidly obese”

      Really? Can you provide a link to any?

      I’ve read about studies showing overweight people being healthier than “skinny” people (with the limitations that Blueathena mentions), but never the morbidly obese.

      I have to disagree with you if you think that anyone who fits into the morbidly obese category can possibly be healthy.
      Overweight and healthy, sure. But morbidly obese and healthy? Nope.

    • Haradanohime

      Here’s a few links:

      I’m sure I can find more.

      And as for the “Morbidly obese” I stated it that way because the definition of what is considered morbidly obese changes so often. Once upon a time someone who was 300 lbs+ would have been considered “Morbidly Obese”. Now more often than not anyone who steps a toe over 175 is now in that category. How long before people who weigh more that 105 and do not wear single digit sizes will be catagorized as “Morbidly obese”?

    • lea

      Sorry, I meant peer-reviewed scientific articles- not news and opinion pieces. Besides which, none of the ones you have linked mention morbid obesity being compatible with being healthy.

      When used medically (not colloquially), the term refers to people with a BMI of over 35 (some, for example the NHS in UK even use a higher cut off of 40). It has been defined this way since 1991 by the NIH. So I’m not sure where you get the idea that it is an evolving or changing definition?

      At 175 pounds, you would have to be less than 5 feet tall to fall into the morbidly obese category.

    • Gangle

      *sigh* I am sick of the whole ‘big is better- no, skinny is better’ debate. Some large people are really healthy. Some are really unhealthy. Some skinny people are healthy, some are not. I hate studies that say all big people are more or less healthy, and I hate studies that say all skinny people are more or less healthy.

  • Rachel

    I think the disgusting mentality of the show dripped through quite well at the point where he a. candidly admits that he couldn’t help but call the girls fat, and b. defended his use of the word. What a pig.

    Good lord, they probably aren’t even fat…just not the slips that most ballet dancers are. They are still ballet dancers, which, more or less requires them to work out for several hours a day.

  • Annie

    I have a better idea. ‘Hairspray: The Ballet’.

  • Annie

    The ballet dancers I know all have crazy powerful tree legs and very flat chests, I guess because that’s the kind of physique that lends itself to ballet. There are and can be overweight dancers, but there’s so much strenuous exercise involved that those who stay big despite the constant physical demands of ballet probably have some health issue going on.

    Personally, I don’t know. Much of ballet is based on uniformity, synchronization. Dark dancers are paired with dark dancers, pale ones with pale ones, so forth. I don’t have anything against different body types being in the same production, but I’m neither a dancer nor a purist; tradition is very hard to budge, and that tradition of uniformity is going to, unfortunately, mean that big girls in ballet are going to be tokens until it becomes more commonplace.

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