Cruelty or reality?
December 9, 2000 5:29 PM   Subscribe

Cruelty or reality? A San Fran ballet school rejects an eight-year-old would-be ballerina deemed too large to dance.
posted by bilco (32 comments total)
Cruelty: Expecting something as absurd and elitist as ballet to be realistic is...uh...unrealistic.
posted by davidgentle at 5:44 PM on December 9, 2000

Reality. No grounds for a lawsuit.
posted by howa2396 at 6:10 PM on December 9, 2000

there is no proof of this girl's talent
the only people that say she is good are people, whose opinions could be tainted (I don't think I need to explain why).
"oh, yeah! that's really good! I have to go over here!"
I'm not saying this girl isn't talented, but some people are known to scapegoat failure on things in the media. Where's the proof? Allegations are nothing!
posted by starduck at 6:10 PM on December 9, 2000

here is a photo of the precious darling

posted by palegirl at 6:22 PM on December 9, 2000

You don't always get what you want.

The world would be a better place if everyone was a stones fan.
posted by Mick at 6:51 PM on December 9, 2000

The girl should be happy she's been spared the life of a professional dancer... Betcha 10 bucks Mom wanted to be a ballerina but just couldn't cut it.
posted by m.polo at 7:30 PM on December 9, 2000

Just a clarification: I wasn't saying the girl had a right to sue. I was saying that ballet is so inately cruel that expecting anything else from it is pointless.
posted by davidgentle at 7:31 PM on December 9, 2000

But if you try sometimes, you might find you get what you need.

posted by croutonsupafreak at 7:38 PM on December 9, 2000

Cruelty, cruelty, cruelty.

Did you see that picture? She looks like any normal 8-year-old. I can't believe weight or body type are considerations for admitting 8 year olds. Eight year olds for chrissakes!

It's good to make them self-conscious when they're young, eh SF Ballet School?
posted by mathowie at 8:24 PM on December 9, 2000

The photo does appear to present a pretty normal 8-year-old. So maybe the school didn't cut her because of her build.

Maybe she just can't dance.
posted by bilco at 8:29 PM on December 9, 2000

Or maybe "pretty normal" is simply not a good body type for a professional ballet career. There are plenty of places to dance if you just want to dance. The entire point of this particular school is to train dancers for the San Francisco Ballet, which owns and operates the school. There are, undobutedly, a lot more kids who want to be ballerinas than there are openings for ballerinas. Some of 'em are going to get cut, and the school gets to pick who. That's life...
posted by kindall at 8:46 PM on December 9, 2000

Good point kindall: If you want to just do something for fun, there's plenty of places that will be more than happy to have that girl's business. But if your parent's goal is for you to excel in a given sport (not just ballet), you have to start early and it helps to have the best trainers you can get. These schools simply can't accomodate everyone, and as sad/unfair as it may sound maybe the girl is in fact "too large" to be a ballerina by ballerina standards.

A good friend of mine trained very hard as a gymnast (and her parents made sure that she trained hard) unil she was about 13, at which point she grew too tall and it was pointless for her to train for reasons other than personal. The bottom line is: some people will never be gymnasts and some people will never be ballerinas: most of the time you can tell early on who has the built and who shows the promise. Exceptions to the rule exist, but top trainers train those who show the most promise, not those who may go the distance despite their body built or some other hidering factor.

I still feel bad for the girl, though. (assuming that she likes ballet as much as her mother does)
posted by Witold at 9:22 PM on December 9, 2000

The issue isn't whether or not one child has the right to be allowed in, even though she's not perfect. The issue should be whether or not any of these children should be allowed to perpetuate this outdated and damaging ideal at all. Oh wait. I forgot. It's a free country. We all have inalienable rights.

I guess the thought of going to the courts and getting things like ballet illegal because they cause undo stress psychologically and physically and are akin to subjecting children to senseless torture is out of the question, eh? These lunatics actively seek this out. It's their choice. It's a free country. If parents want their children to spend years torturing themselves achieving a genetically inferior mental concept of superior perfection, we should allow that.

Then dammit I want a bong. Somebody light me up. If people can be allowed to exercise themselves to death, I should be able to drug myself to death. It's the same thing. Putting the body and mind through pressures it wasn't necessarily designed for in the first place. HAND ME SOME CRYSTAL METH! WAHOO!

the preceding message was brought to you by the Sarcastics Association of American States.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:55 PM on December 9, 2000

Yeah, that's got to hurt. You work and work and work and hope you're good enough to be considered one of the very best, and it turns out you're not, after all, and worse, it's not because of something you ever had any control over. Life can be harsh sometimes. Can only imagine how it must feel to an 8-year-old.

On the other hand I think the answer is not to sue the school.
posted by kindall at 9:58 PM on December 9, 2000

That's like suing a modelling agency/school for not taking you ! Ridiculous! She does look a bit chubby to me for a ballerina. Don't take that wrong. Not saying she's fat. But for a ballerina she's large. They are all so thin. That's how they are supposed to be. You shouldn't sue the school. It should've been expected.
posted by FAB4GIRL at 10:05 PM on December 9, 2000

My mommy thinks I'm talented, too; can I sue to join the ballet?

Overzealous moms like this piss me off. That poor girl is going to be scarred from this experience no matter how it turns out. Either she's not going to get in, and she'll feel like she failed to meet her mother's expetations, or she'll get in and feel like the fat girl who had to sue for admittance.
posted by shylock at 12:18 AM on December 10, 2000

I can't believe weight or body type are considerations for admitting 8 year olds.

They aren't! There's no proof that she wasn't picked because of her weight, although it's certainly likely. The only people that said she was great were her parents and family friends. Seems a little biased. Maybe she just didn't dance that well.

If the school only accepted a very limited number of students from a large application pool, she should have prepared herself for rejection. I don't believe in foolish optimism; it's better to be realistic. Although it is a young age to have to face this, humility is good to have.

posted by evilmaryellen at 12:35 AM on December 10, 2000

They are all so thin. That's how they are supposed to be.

Who says? Who determines who is the proper weight for being a ballerina? Okay, okay, the school. But is there a specific reason for this?

If a chubby or fat girl can do the exact same moves at the exact same speed with the exact same precision, should she not be allowed to do so simply because she is not thin? That is what should be the real crux of this argument, but it also assumes that she is already at least pretty good at ballet, which is a big assumption. [If there are any experts in the crowd who have just happened to see this girl dance, please speak up.]

If there is no good reason for ballet schools to rule out non-thin people from dancing, then they really have every right to sue. I firmly believe that. But I also believe that this instance is very, very subjective and it's going to be difficult to prove her talent.

That said, I hope she goes on to be a ballet dancer and kicks total ass. That would be a far better revenge than a lawsuit, IMO.

posted by hijinx at 5:43 AM on December 10, 2000

Hijinx, are you familiar with what ballerinas refer to as "going on point"? It means that they walk on the tips of their toes and it's considered artistic.

It's also painful as all get-out. And the more you weigh, the more likely it is that doing it will physically damage your feet rather than just causing nearly-intolerable pain.

Yes, ballerinas are supposed to be thin; it's physically necessary for them to be able to support themselves for extended durations on the tips of the toes of just one foot.

posted by Steven Den Beste at 6:53 AM on December 10, 2000

No, I wasn't familiar with that technique, Steven.

it's physically necessary for them to be able to support themselves for extended durations on the tips of the toes of just one foot.

What if a larger person could do it?
posted by hijinx at 8:11 AM on December 10, 2000

What if a larger person could do it?

She'd be flat-footed in a matter of years, maybe just a couple. You have to see the flat-footed duck walk that long-time professional ballet dancers have: it's painful to look at, painful to have, but for most (so I'm told) a reasonable outcome. The bones, in the end, are broken, the cartilage malformed, and the damage irreversible.

In addition, even a perfectly formed, reasonably sized dancer may be too heavy for the lifts and two-person action required: ballet dancing isn't necessarily a solitary activity. Who's going to want to partner with a dancer that has an extra 20 pounds to deal with all day, every day, in rehearsal and in performance? It's a matter of scale: any extra weight, lifted a dozen times a day or more, adds up to increased fatigue, stress and strain.

I say the girl and her mother should look into tai kwan do: that little bit of extra body weight could be a useful advantage, particularly since she probably already has the poise, coordination and balance necessary for successful martial arts.
posted by Mo Nickels at 8:51 AM on December 10, 2000

I knew a female in college who had been a ballerina up until she graduated from high school, toe shoes. She even taught classes. She was definitely NOT the classical willowy and slender build, and couldn't have been even if she starved herself. Very scandinavianly short and muscular and solid. Even in college, when she said she had gained an extra 30 pounds, she could still do the toe dancing. Her feet were built like she was and held her just fine.

My question about this whole issue would really be - if the daughter is just doing it because she loves ballet, then I'm sure there are places that could teach her that just love ballet too, and are just as quality. If they (probably the mom) are hung up on this ONE ballet place, then the mom might have to do a reality check on her own motivations.

I would love to see discrimination (real discrimination, whether or not this article itself is or isn't) against body type fall away from society, and although I think legislating this kinda thing is stupid, it does serve to point out the issue a little more. Maybe when there's general acceptance and belief that even non-slender and non-willowy people can be graceful, then we'll start to see it in places like ballet too. It's all in how you look at things.
posted by thunder at 9:15 AM on December 10, 2000

Here here, Thunder.
posted by hijinx at 9:41 AM on December 10, 2000

Some of the old soviet ballet school screened applicants for the first time when they were about 3-4 years old.

The ones who passed That screening could apply for the second screening when they were a few years older. the world of professional ballet is a lot harsher than anything i'll ever have to deal with, which is good because i don't look good in tights.

Is anyone else having flashbacks to a certain famous Kurt Vonnegut short story involving a ballerina? Laws can't equalize everything. Sometimes hard work can...but not always.
posted by th3ph17 at 1:17 PM on December 10, 2000

This article has a great quote about one of my favorite dancer/choreographers, Lawrence Goldhuber: "... he is a huge, torpedo-shaped man who has nothing of a 'dancer's body' except the ability to physically convey emotion." Which is, to state the obvious, ultimately what dance is about.
posted by judith at 4:48 PM on December 10, 2000

But we're not talking about dance, we're talking about ballet, a specific type of dance with specific techniques that, as others have noted, makes great demands on your body. Nothing to say this little girl can't go on to become a great dancer in some other style. Or better yet, a happy one.

The prestige that ballet has (in some circles) over other styles is ridiculous. For some reason the myth of ballet's wonderfulness causes people to overlook the fact that it's basically a moribund form. As the father of a five-year-old daughter obsessed with princesses, ballerinas and fairies, this causes me no end of alarm. I'd hate to see my beautiful baby girl who loves to dance turn into an anorexic teenager with foot problems simply because more vital forms of dance aren't *girly* enough. (cf. ice skating, women's gymnastics, etc. :)
posted by rodii at 8:33 PM on December 10, 2000

You can say what you like about how out-dated and moribund it is but ballet when performed live on stage is simply fantastic.

I'm interested in the arguments, unfortunately ballet companies discriminate on all sorts of criteria, another knock out blow is height.

Still, I would think that it must be pretty hard to predict a child's adult body size at only 8 years of age.
posted by lagado at 9:37 PM on December 10, 2000

th3ph17, was that the story with a Bill of Rights that’d been amended over 300 times and the father wore a klaxon earplug that sounded every few minutes? What the hell is the name of that story? I was thinking of it the other day.
posted by capt.crackpipe at 9:43 PM on December 10, 2000

Harrison Bergeron?
posted by youhas at 10:11 PM on December 10, 2000

it was ballanchine who popularized the current style of thin-thin ballerina, thus ushering in an age of anorexia in the dance world. prior to him, dancers simply were not super-skinny.

and how can you tell how tall/thin anyone is going to be based on their build as an 8-year-old? you can't.

posted by rebeccablood at 10:27 PM on December 10, 2000

I'm not dissing ballet's inherent worth (and I didn't say it was outdated!), only lamenting the hold it has on some people's imagination. It's as stylized as Commedia dell'Arte or Morris Dancing, and only marginally more vital in terms of new work being produced. Meanwhile, there's the rest of dance of here, with all kinds of exciting things going on. Dance when performed live on stage is fantastic. So why are people so obsessed with the particular set of techniques that ballet offers?
posted by rodii at 7:37 AM on December 11, 2000

That child seemed no skinnier nor fatter than any of the little girls who populated the childrens' ballet lines in the theatrical company I formerly worked for, who were all a part of a professional-training repetoire school ala the SF school that rejected her. It seems that at age 8, the issue of technique should be more important than a thin frame, well-turned leg and supple spine, which can all come with age.

But hopefully this may prevent this little girl from becoming a priggish, uptight, affected, eating-disordered ballet bitch by age 15. Nothing nastier in this world. Leave me in a room with a dozen wannabe Brittany clones instead of one teen ballerina any day.
posted by Dreama at 10:03 AM on December 11, 2000

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