Body of dance

Friday, December 17, 2010

A New York Times dance critic came under scrutiny this week for comments about a classical ballet dancer in the New York City Ballet's production of "The Nutcracker."

He accused her of indulging in too many sugar plums this holiday season.

Alastair Macaulay, the Times critic, was watching a performance by the ballet company, which was created and shaped by George Balanchine.

When Balanchine helped create the company, his dancers were long, thin, tiny, typical ballerinas. Balanchine liked to disregard plot in productions and focus on the lines of the human body and the shapes it makes. Dance for sheer dance form. Historians tout it as revolutionary and modern in early 20th century America.

The ballerina in question, Jenifer Ringer, is 37 and joined the New York City Ballet at age 16. With age and children and a general increase in healthy eating -- Ringer has struggled with anorexia -- she now has a healthy, thin body that happens to curve in appropriate places.

In today's world of modern and accessible dance, having "a dancer's body" means two legs, two arms a torso and a well-balanced head.

Yes, dancers tend to be lean. Dance takes movement. Movement uses calories. But slim should not have to mean stick.

The belief that dancers should never have more fat than a leotard layer over long, lean muscle should be documented for history and then regarded as such.

Modern and contemporary dance companies include dozens of different body types. Tall, short, curvy, thin. The Southeast Missouri State University Department of Theatre and Dance puts on three to four stunning shows a year, showing off the diversity allowed in the dance world.

In 1933 Balanchine's style was seen as ballet of the future. Perhaps the company he created, which now embraces varied ballet bodies, can again be the ballet of the future.

In such a large field, there should be a little wiggle room.

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