The Plight of the Ballerina: Past and Present


As a traditional classical ballet unfolds on stage, one is enthralled by its exquisiteness, symbolically inspired, and emotionally stirred. It is an artistic representation of beauty, etherealness, and other-worldliness. However, behind the fantasy, ballet has always been more than tutus and pointe shoes; it has been utilized as a veneer behind which the female gender has been pushed into compromising political, social, economic, and personal positions for hundreds of years.

Since its official inception and codification during the reign of Louis XIV, ballet became a veritable smoke screen masking created and imposed political, social, personal, and economic strategies. Ballet has aided in pushing political leaders toward dominance, used for social class acceptance and elevation, served as an economic draw, and created opportunities for personal arrangements of wealth and power at the expense of female dancers. Throughout its history and within each of these contexts, ballet has had great power and influence in determining and reinforcing gender roles in practice and performance, thereby reflecting past and present social values, despite efforts to the contrary.

To serve or reinforce these external purposes, a disembodiment and fracturing of ballet as an art form resulted, causing a continuous recycling of issues that haunt those within the ballet profession today. Ballet has been utilized and manipulated as a tool within and between contexts that are far beyond pure artistic and unaffected human expression, thereby creating a vehicle by which women have been politically minimized, socially defeated, economically strapped, and personally conquered past and present.