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Ballet Body Narratives

Pain, Pleasure and Perfection in Embodied Identity

Angela Pickard

Ballet Body Narratives is an ethnographic exploration of the social world of classical ballet and the embodiment of young ballet dancers as they engage in «becoming a dancer» in ballet school in England. In contrast to the largely disembodied sociological literature of the body, this book places the corporeal body as central to the examination and reveals significant relationships between body, society and identity. Drawing on academic scholarship as well as rich ballet body narratives from young dancers, this book investigates how young ballet dancers’ bodies are lived, experienced and constructed through their desire to become performing ballet dancers as well as the seductive appeal of the ballet aesthetic. Pierre Bourdieu’s critique of the perpetuating social order and his theoretical framework of field, habitus and capital are applied as a way of understanding the social world of ballet but also of relating the ballet habitus and belief in the body to broader social structures. This book examines the distinctiveness of ballet culture and aspects of young ballet dancers’ embodied identity through a central focus on the ballet body.
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Chapter 3: Thinking through the Body



Thinking through the Body

‘My body is like a machine which I control. I push my turn-out and flexibility and keep working until I get the movements, then I can relax and be me and perform and express myself.’

— ANNA, 13 years

As the body is of paramount importance in ballet, it is pertinent therefore to explore dominant and differing perspectives that are central to the academic field of body studies, in order to understand the differing ways the body is viewed and, consequently, how it may be treated. In this chapter I examine and discuss three dominant perspectives to body studies: the naturalistic body, the social constructionist body and the phenomenological body. In this book, I interweave the lived experiences of young dancers with discussion and situate the culture of classical ballet within the contexts of two elite ballet schools. I examine ways in which the young dancer’s ballet body is produced within these ballet schools. In particular I adopt the work of Pierre Bourdieu as a way of understanding the connections between body, gender and identity within the field of classical ballet. I am concerned with embodiment and practices rather than discourses and effects and I am concentrating then on the embodiment of the young ballet dancer. I examine the ballet dancer’s habitus and the ways in which the young ballet dancer’s body and habitus is produced and maintained. I explore, as a starting point, the notion of...

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