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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 6: Gendered Experiences of Pain



Gendered Experiences of Pain

‘Where I’m from, if you’re a boy you don’t do ballet.’

— KENZI, 12 years

Ballet Boys

To return to the historical roots of ballet for a moment, from the fifteenth to the late eighteenth century, dance as a formative discipline, social practice and theatrical art was predominantly a male domain. ‘Men danced female roles; men developed and transmitted technique; men invented a system of dance notation; men created and produced ballets’ (Nordera, 2007: 174). Prejudices against a male’s choice of ballet as a leisure activity or profession have arisen out of stereotypes that were developed regarding the dancer’s body, attitudes and sexual orientation around the 1830s onwards with a parallel made between dance and homosexuality and the relative homophobic reactions. Male dancing rose to prominence after Ballet Russes and during the 1970s; at the same time, ironically, as the women’s rights movement reached its peak. The shift was accompanied by much ‘dancing is masculine’ propaganda in the press and in a spate of books. Male dancers such as Rudolf Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Edward Villella were hyped as strong, virile and athletic stars (Burt, 1995). This ideal form of masculinity is portrayed to be something to which men can aspire but is also linked with sexuality as it endorses heterosexual masculinity; these male dancers are seen as attractive to women. ← 101 | 102 →

For a man, the technical or athletic side of dance...

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