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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 4: Body, Capital and Habitus



Body, Capital and Habitus

‘At the audition, I was 10 at the time, I looked around the room and there were lots of people who looked like me so I thought “well I fit”. The teachers looked at my bones, I had to do the splits and extend my leg in a grand battement as high as I could. I am very flexible as I have pushed myself to keep extending. The teachers also looked closely at our turn-out and we had to do tummy exercises and jumps and balance in a position for quite a long time. They also saw how well we picked up movement, how we listened to the music and expressed ourselves.’

— MEGAN, 12 years

In this chapter I interweave the lived experiences of the young dancers with discussion and suggestion. I situate the culture of classical ballet based on the contexts of two elite ballet schools in England and examine how the young dancer’s ballet body is produced within these ballet schools. I continue to 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. 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....

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