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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 7: Ballet Bodily Pleasures



Ballet Bodily Pleasures

‘I’m free when I dance. I love the flow, yeh. I get excited tingles all over my skin when I try something new ‘cos it’s a risk. You don’t know what might happen. You could fall over or anything. But then I’m really calm, I feel the skin calm down but my heart is pumping and then my body makes it all happen. I perform and then I’m so knackered.’

— MILAN, 15 years

Thus far within this book, I have suggested that the young dancers are involved in a lived dualism, that they regard their bodies mechanistically, as an instrument, and that their minds operate and control their bodies. This assertion is supported by the social world of ballet, as evidenced by the teachers and, indeed, in the biographies and autobiographies of professional ballet dancers. Conversely the young dancers featured in this longitudinal study also communicated and validated, on copious occasions during the four years, the excitement, enjoyment, satisfaction and fulfilment that they experienced from participating in ballet. In this chapter I examine the young dancers’ articulations of ballet bodily pleasures and the social consequences. I also assess whether Bourdieu’s description of habitus adequately accounts for the physiological experiences of the body.

Pleasure, like pain, is notoriously difficult to define or articulate. It refers to a state of feeling of being happy or satisfied, a release of tension, or a pleasing or enjoyable sensation or...

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