We’ve all made snap judgments (good and bad) about people we don’t even know. With almost zero information, we make assumptions about others’ character, lifestyle, or potential. With such little emphasis placed on the arts, is it any wonder that the lives of visual and performing artists continue to be shrouded in mystery? Consider 4 common myths about ballet dancers that are laughably false.
1. They don’t eat.
You don’t perform a two-hour ballet and burn a thousand calories running on celery. While dietary choices and caloric requirements may vary between dancers, all the pros know that you must eat consistent, nutrient-dense snacks and meals to maintain your strength. The legendary stereotype of the anorexic ballerina is simply not true. Yes, you have to be fit, but you also need the energy to sustain a career. Those who do suffer from eating disorders publicly, or in secret, will inevitably have their careers cut short unless they get help. A true professional—and friend —does not endorse or glamorize self-destruction. Thankfully, dance schools are increasingly confronting this issue to encourage the safety and well-being of future dancers.
2. Ballet is all they care about.
Ballet dancers are some of the most passionate people on the face of the planet. You would have to be to live a life that requires extreme physical, mental, and emotional stamina. For many, especially apprentices and newly-minted professionals, ballet is practiced with religious fervor. But believe it or not, even veteran dancers have interests outside of ballet—NYCB soloist Craig Hall enjoys photography. Jock Soto loves to cook. Sophie Flack is a painter. They may dream of dancing Giselle, but they still want to go home and watch Netflix when it’s over.
3. They’re privileged.
This is an easy trap to fall into for two reasons: A) Ballet was originally performed in the royal court, so the art form has a certain air associated with it, and B) depending on where you come from, you can form the wrong impression. For instance, I started dancing in Dallas, a city with a reputation for being materialistic. When my parents dropped me off at the studio, the other mothers’ minivans seemed to be lined with gold and their daughters were strikingly well-trained. Few of them ever smiled or spoke, and my then 15-year-old brain construed that as snobbery. In reality, they were just unhappy teenagers and ballet had nothing to do with it. As time went on, I met other immensely talented dancers whose parents worked multiple jobs to pay their tuition and came from very humble backgrounds. I quickly learned you can never assume, no matter how things appear on the surface.
4. They don’t know how to do anything else.
While it’s true that a dancer has to dedicate a significant portion of their life to training, this focus and diligence almost always carries over into their academics, leading to straight-A students with loads of potential. NYCB principal Ashley Bouder studied Political Science. Kyle Froman established himself as a successful photographer and even produced a bestselling book. Some branch out into various entertainment careers, or go on to develop their artistry through other dance forms. Career transitions is a hot topic among dancers, though the venture is far from impossible.
The ballet world used to have the reputation of Oz—distant, unapproachable, dreamlike. In this age of social media and educational outreach, these barriers are gradually being broken down. Dancers may have amazing physical ability and a talent for performing, but at the end of the day, they are human like everyone else.