"Black Swan" depicts reality of image-obsessed world of ballet
Published: Friday, April 20, 2012
Updated: Monday, August 27, 2012 16:08
Their hair is pulled back into neat buns. The black, skin-tight leotards wrap around their small thighs. Their bodies move in perfect coordination as they do warm-up exercises. Large mirrors surround the dance studios, and every girl has her eyes fixed on her reflection. None of the dancers or the instructors ever discusses it, but their idea of beauty has been tainted.
The strict world of ballet has rules that the dancers must abide by. Their studios are plastered with pictures of what an ideal dancer looks like. The pictures and posters of fragile bodies haunt the dancers, and from a young age this ideal is embedded in the majority of the ballerinas’ minds. They all desire to be thin and beautiful.
The movie “Black Swan” takes this to another level because it shows an extreme dancer’s obsession with trying to reach perfection.
Lauren Schirripa, a DePaul student, was a ballerina for 16 years, and she believes that if she were trying to be a professional she would have to succumb to the standards of the industry. “There was definitely a pressure to have a ballerina's slender body and a general feeling that ballet movements look more beautiful when performed by this certain body type,” she said.
Many ballet dancers usually say that for them this body type is the norm. They live in their own bubble, and they help each other lose weight.
“When I was in ballet I weighed 100 pounds. I was fairly anorexic. I could go three to four days without eating. I wasn’t even hungry,” said Margaret Reynolds who is now the owner of the Belle Plain Studio in Chicago.
While Reynolds was letting go of her career, another girl was just starting.
The Berkshire Ballet Theater in Crystal Lake, Ill, is made up of 75 girls, and Rose, who asked that her full name not be used, was one of them. Like most ballet dancers, she started out when she was four years old.
During her junior year of high school she was dancing at level four, which was the second to highest level. Through the years she noticed her friends moving up, but she stayed right where she was. “I was crushed and eventually quit because I didn’t want to dance for someone who was basing looks over performance,” Rose said.
Once Rose left, she understood her peers in a strange new light. The other dancers constantly worried about their weight and starved themselves on many occasions. Rose knew that this was unhealthy and that these girls were willing to do anything to get the lead role, even if that meant putting their health at risk.
This scenario is familiar to Reynolds, and she has seen it hundreds of times.
“I would fire that person too and I have,” said Reynolds. “Every dancer knows what is expected of them. Most of the girls that are let go are beautiful dancers, but it doesn’t look right. It just doesn’t work when someone is too heavy.”
Monica Crisan, another ballet dancer, was discovered in elementary school, and she was quickly sent off by her parents to a respected ballet school in Romania. She lived in the dorms until her freshman year of high school and that year she gave up on her dreams of becoming a prima ballerina.
During her days in the dormitory she remembers one thing vividly and that is her hunger. “They gave us little portions. I don’t remember eating bread,” said Crisan. They would also weigh them every month, and if someone was caught eating candy they would be punished with more homework or more training.
Crisan was given the chance to play the Swan Queen in the famous “Swan Lake.” She is happy she had the opportunity to experience this different world, but she also knows it was too much for her to handle at such a young age.
These are not rare cases of ballet dancers who decided to quit after a couple of years because of how demanding the industry is. Since the beginning of the 20th century, St. Petersburg has been the most well-known. The artistic director in "Ballerina," a documentary about the Russian ballet, talks about her expectations for these young girls. She said that the ideal applicant must have a “small head, long neck, long arms and long legs … a slender figure.”
In the documentary, Pierre LeCotte, a choreographer, was interviewed. He believes “when you enter this profession it is like joining a convent in terms of self-deprivation … there’s hope and faith, but a dancer’s career is short.”