Pedagogical Responses to Ballet’s Infamous Problem: A Framework for Discouraging Self-Objectification and Encouraging Embodied Flow States in the Ballet Classroom


This paper brings progressive pedagogical advances in ballet in conversation with eating and body image disturbances under the framework of objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts 1997) and proposes flow state facilitation as a buffer against body image and eating disturbances. Objectification theory (Fredrickson & Roberts 1997) posits that women are trained to view themselves as visual objects for consumption. The related term, self-objectification, describes the altered psychological state where any individual begins to view themselves as a body or sum of body parts. Ballet dancers exhibit higher levels of self-objectification (Tiggeman et al. 2001) and eating disorders (Arcelus et al. 2014) than the general public while high levels of self-objectification are correlated to eating and body image disturbances (Tiggeman et al. 2012). Recently, Kathryn Morgan and fellow Miami City Ballet dancers created a social media upset by sharing their stories with body image and eating disturbances publicly. The timing of this uprising during a global pandemic and widespread social unrest may not be coincidental as thin preference is intimately connected to racism, heterosexism, ableism, and other forms of identity inequities (Taylor, 2018). Using objectification theory as a lens and drawing upon literature in psychology and ballet pedagogy, this paper develops a framework and toolkit for discouraging self-objectification in the ballet classroom and proposes the facilitation of embodied flow states as important step toward addressing one of ballet’s most infamous problems. To illustrate, I describe methods implemented in my classes and share end-of-semester reflections from collegiate-level dancers (IRB-Approved).  

Presenter: Courtney Liu