Wednesday, January 4, 2012


Happy New Year!

Many of us may have scribbled down Resolutions on paper or in our heads. More often than not, these entail adhering to fitness regimens or weight-management goals.  Why on earth do we do this every year?  Do we ever get to the point where we are satisfied with the way we look?

Take dancers, for example.  Nearly all dancers I know cringe at the sight of their images.  We examine our reflections judgmentally in the studio mirror and immediately criticize ourselves.  In fact, my nerves are wrought just posting these pictures!

Me in a studio photo last year
for a yoga-inspired ballet, set to Vivaldi
Raw photo: Jun Yang Photography
Edited Photo: The Foolish Aesthete

Blame it on the aesthetic George Balanchine stamped on ballet -- the idealized preference for the long-limbed, ethereal ballerina.  It's an impossible perfection.  Didn't Plato indicate that the material world is but a mere shadow mimicking the ideal Form?  That about sums up how ballet dancers feel.  At the elite level, if your physique does not conform to the Ideal, you are encouraged to take up a more forgiving alternative -- Modern, Jazz or Broadway dance.  Or exit the field and take up photography.

From another studio photo last year
same yoga-inspired piece, set to Vivaldi
Raw Photo: Jun Yang Photography
Edited Photo: The Foolish Aesthete

Dance critic, Alistair Macaulay, ignited a big hullaballoo during his Nutcracker reviews two winters ago.  He cited that a certain Sugar Plum Fairy looked like she had eaten a sweet too many.  Was that an attack on physical appearance or a valid critique of a visual art form?  In Ballet, they are inextricably bound together.

One could argue that an artist, whatever shape, can move an audience to tears or ecstasy.  But the hurdle is greater if the physical attributes are at odds with expectations.  I've heard muffled sniggers from the audience viewing heavy opera singers in romantic roles, effectively detracting from enjoyment of the opera.  It takes a greater mental leap -- perhaps aided by shutting the eyes -- and immense talent for the audience to be moved by the exquisite harmonies.

For dancers, as for athletes, our bodies are our instruments.  We hone our bodies for our craft as a musician tunes their violin or piano.  Dancers are meant to carve beautiful lines and shapes in space.  The forthcoming image is as much from the Form our bodies come in as the movement we elicit from it.  Therein lies our conundrum.  One cannot shut ones' eyes to appreciate dance.

Alessandra Ferri and Sting
Ferri is a mesmerizing ballerina who embodies the physical and artistic Ideal.  She has some of the most admired feet in ballet history -- just watch the video!  I used to watch her onstage at the American Ballet Theater until she retired a few years ago.  

The actual dancing in the video begins at 2:40.  But the entire short is beautiful, bringing together artists from various disciplines: music (via Sting and Bach), dance, film (directed by Ferri's husband, the photographer Fabrizio Ferri).  And if you need exercise inspiration, it is quite surprising to see Sting mid-twist practicing yoga!

Many dancers I know cannot bear to watch videos of themselves.  (I've heard some actors do the same, never viewing their finished films.)  Unlike Narcissus' reflection, ours always falls short of Perfection.  Yet, we force ourselves to get feedback from the mirror, or take notes from past performance videos, to see what we can improve. The film, "Black Swan" was exaggerated, but it gives you a glimpse of a dancer's tortured psyche.

Thank goodness, most dancers will keep on dancing despite internal suffering.  As the dialogue in the old film, "The Red Shoes" implies:

Boris Lermontov:  Why do you want to dance?
Victoria Page: (after thinking) Why do you want to live?
Boris Lermontov:  (surprised) Well, I don't know exactly why,  ... but I must.
Victoria Page:  That's my answer too.


What do you think?  This issue of weight and image is akin to that of skinny models in magazines and runways.  Is fashion only beautiful on thin figures?  Somehow, the proliferation of street and self-style blogs tells me this is not the case.  Beauty can come in all shapes and sizes!  That said, do you have any image-related resolutions?


  1. I agree and think that women who are confident within their own skin exude beauty in a more honest way. It doesnt really matter what size or shape we are, so long as we feel good about ourselves! I have no problem with skinny models yet at the same time my jaw does drop when I see Beyonce or other curvy ladies.

  2. I can see what you mean about her feet. I couldn't take my eyes off them. I would love to be half as flexible as either of these two. Like OC above I have no problem with skinny models or voluptuous curvy women. It only makes people more interesting. How boring would it be if we all looked the same. I don't make New Year Resolutions. If I want to do something doesn't matter what time of the year it is I just go for it. Xxxx

  3. i have been very vocal about this issue my whole life.i used to dance as a kid.after quitting i gained weight and that upward slide hasn't stopped yet.despite that i never had body image issues.i always had other things to deal at 21 i hear from obnoxious, backward, myopic distant relatives who are in no way a part of my life that "as a girl" i should maintain my figure for a suitable boy.the ones who talk are all obese whereas i am overweight.they even had the audacity to suggest i should give up on stylish clothes as that keeps me from truly seeing how i look.i gain pleasure and peace in knowing that such people know very little of a person's worth if physical appearance outweighs talent for them.and they contribute nothing in the larger scheme of can't prove to anybody that you are not worthless just by losing weight or gaining it in the right places(whatever that is).confidence is key truly no matter what size any person is.

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  5. Did I ever tell you that I used to dance ballet? I know what you mean about how weird it is to see yourself dance in video (albeit I was never as good as the video you put here!) there was definitely always a pressure to have an impeccable body (sad, but job one wants to see a 'fat' ballerina). But in a way I think that I drew rather good eating habits for the rest of my life (although I'm not nearly as thin as I was back then!)

    What I think about fashion magazines etc that makes no sense is the extreme skinny- real women are not like that and designers should be aware of this when making clothes.

  6. I think it's a pressure no matter what you do. But, I have seen more pressure on those that dance, such a strain. I don't think I could watch myself doing anything, I cringe walking down the street shopping and just so happen to glance myself in the shop window, something I am trying to remedy this year!! I wish more of us would just appreciate what we have and not worry so much!! xx

  7. I think to be a good ballerina you have to have a perfectionist mind. I can't see someone lazy or mediocre as a ballerina why is that? Becuase to be the best you need a lot of discipline and self control I suppose. Amazing elasticity you have! wow! I used to do gimnastic when I was younger and we used to do all that

  8. Fantastic ballerina and post


  9. beautiful images :) so elegant!



Dear Fellow Aesthetes, I love hearing your thoughts. I think the other readers find them valuable too! Much love xxx

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