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En pointe

The “behind the scenes” you would not expect.

If you dream of becoming a professional ballet dancer, know you must devote yourself to the discipline. It takes years of blood, sweat and tears to work for a company such as the NYCB (acronym for New York City Ballet).

Like in many other sports and arts, the higher the level the higher the standards. What a professional dancer demands from the body is – often – beyond the edge of pain resistance: sore muscles, numb toes and lack of breath are just some of the struggles a ballerina goes through daily. They are vivid art coming to life as the perfect combination of movements and rhythm. Fly as feathers, they make the impossible seem effortless, but at what cost? In this field, sacrifice is a key word. They must not be blamed; after all, we would all give anything to pursue our dreams.

But once the lights are out and the curtain closed, you see the dark side of ballet.

A study shows how eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa develop twice as much in girls following ballet classes agonistically. The fear of not resembling the perfect slim but tall ballerina-like figure is what induces these young athletes to starve themselves or purge their food. Four % of ballerinas experience a substantial weight loss due to bulimic behaviours, with the risk of amenorrhea (which consists in the absence of the menstrual period for a given amount of time) and a consequential massive lack of energy. Energy that happens to be essential in order to perform a two-hour-long show full of jetés and arabesques. In the worst cases, eating disorders can lead to a condition called “body dysmorphia”, a mental disorder characterized by an obsessive behaviour towards non-existent flaws.

Furthermore, due to the frequency of the high-resistance performances professionals are required to carry out, the abuse of substances such as cocaine is widely spread. The phenomenon of “doping” within the highest levels of the profession has long been under the spotlight.

Many stars of the scene confessed that cocaine, amphetamines and pain killers have been their most loyal peers throughout their on-scene careers, to the extent that their love for the drug overpowered their love for the art.

Like Simone Messmer, now a principal dancer at the Miami City Ballet. She was only nineteen when she first snorted a line. According to her, there are no other athletes that mistreat their bodies and minds in the way ballet dancers do. The rush to perfection is always present, as much as the competition with other girls, all chasing the Prima golden plate on their changing room’s door.

All schools and all companies provide nutritionists and extremely rewarded physicians, but very few provide a safe space dedicated to mental health, where – for example – the emotional aspect of an injury can be faced. Dancers too do not like the idea of starting a rehab path, because they see it as a loss of time: companies usually require multiyear plan which will cost the dancer many years of practice. Moreover, a rehab program in America can cost up to 38.000$.

In the end, as most of the things in life do, not everything that shines is always gold. The myth of the perfect ballerina hides an obscure truth to which many turned a blind eye to. However, the aim of this article is to permit people an exclusive access to the profession, because many still do not consider it as an actual discipline or work, probably because in this world the border between form of art and sport is very blurred.

What is indisputable is that there is no better metaphor for life, than ballet and dance themselves.

Articolo a cura di: Victoria Pevere

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