Stereotypes in Dancers
A generalization and stereotype that I myself fall into is the dancer stereotype. I’ve seen this stereotype in the media, online, but also in the actual dance studio. People often assume and make general assumptions such as dancers are skinny, they don’t eat anything but lettuce, and they are dumb. As a dancer myself, I can verify first hand that all of these generalizations are stereotypes and are completely false. The dance world is very unique in many ways, however, many people have horrible misconceptions about the world and the art form.
Misconceptions & Stereotypes
Dancers are skinny
This is a stereotype dating back to the beginning of ballet and the world of dance. To this day, the dance world is struggling to break this stereotype and to be more inclusive for different body types. The “dancer body” stereotype is still widely used to describe a skinny person, yet many dancers, artists, and directors are actively trying to defy this stereotype everyday.
Dancers are pretentious
Many of the stereotypes come from the behavior that is required and highlighted in the dance classroom such as having confidence, staying focused, taking pride in their own accomplishments. However, people on the internet have taken what is actually a good thing and turned it into a stereotype that dancers are pretentious. When in reality, dancers are just respectful and well-behaved.
You have to be a girl to dance
This is so wrong. Dance is a universal language which originated from cultural dances where every person, regardless of gender, partook. You can be a girl and dance but you can also be a man and dance. It does not matter.
All male dancers are gay
In the eyes of the world, dance is seen as a feminine art, which then makes male dancers feminine or gay. This is incorrect. Yes, there are gay dancers but there are just as many strait men who dance.
Dancers are weak
Many people believe that you have to be a little twig to dance therefore making you extremely weak. This misconception is far from true. Dancers, both male and female, are some of the strongest athletes in the world. Their training is as intense if not more grueling than olympians. Dancers lift weights and lift other humans above their heads. They are by no definition weak.
All dancers do is dance
Just because someone dedicated a good amount of their day to something, doesn’t mean they can only do that one thing. Dancers are actually extremely well rounded and can do a lot more things than just dance.
Dancers don’t eat
Just like any athlete, dancers need to fuel their body in order to perform and excel in their craft. This misconception has some truth behind it, but only because of negative representations media presents and unhealthy habits that permeate through the field of dance. In a well known documentary entitled First Position, a dancer spoke on this misconception. She explained that dancers actually eat a lot because they are exercising and exerting themselves.
Dancers are super flexible
Yes, dancers are flexible but it takes much more than just being flexible to be a dancer. I would have a million dollars for the amount of people who have asked me, “can you do the splits?” The answer is yes I can, but I can do a lot more than just be flexible.
Dancers are extremely competitive
While this stereotype has been largely influenced by documentaries and tv shows like First Position and Breaking Point, dance is ultimately an art form and will always stay that way. Yes, dancers have high standards but the dance community is actually very supportive of each other.
Dancers are dumb
This stereotype is honestly hilarious to me, because I know it is entirely false and only made up by people who have never in their life seen or even tried to do ballet or dance before. The amount of information dancers need to memorize in short periods of time in addition to learning and having control over very specific parts of their bodies takes incredible knowledge and brain power. From counting music, to learning choreography, to coordinating ten different moving pieces at once, all while making it look effortless, validates that dancers are by no means dumb.
Dancing isn’t a real job
It is true that the arts are not being funded properly and as a result many dancers don’t get paid for the amount of work and dedication they deserve. However, other dancers get paid extremely well and their career is taken seriously. Being a dancer is a real job.
Dance is for little kids
Yes, lots of dancers start dancing when they are young. However, dance is for all ages and you don’t have to start dancing when you are young. You can start when you are 57, 89, or 24 years old. For example, this ballerina is 79 years old and she’s still dancing.
A Missing Piece
One of the main missing pieces is the context. If you have never taken a ballet class before, or performed on stage in pointe shoes, you shouldn’t be sharing your opinion about what dancers do and don’t do.
Misconceptions arise when people who do not have a personal experience express their own opinions and perspectives. Inaccurate representations occur when people who don’t dance comment on how dancers typically act. These stereotypes and misconceptions arise in any area when people do not have context. For instance, when people who don’t have Autism comment or make assumptions about people who have Autism ultimately it leads to incorrect ideas.
There are two examples of misrepresentation that I want to address which perpetuate an incorrect stereotype of dancers.
The Black Swan was a movie directed by Darren Aronofsky and starred Natalie Portman. It portrays the ballet world in a horrible light promoting manipulation, hallucinations, horror, and even death. While the ballet world can be brutal sometimes, the exaggerated, negative connotation of this representation is incorrect.
In an article entitled, How to Get a Dancer’s Body: Get Fit like a Dancer, there are major misconceptions that we can address. Again with the stereotype that dancers are skinny, many people fall into this stereotype thinking dancers only have long, lean, skinny bodies. However, time and time again, dancers break this long held idea. For example, Misty Copeland was told when she was young that she was “too muscular” and “too old” to be a dancer. This advertisement in collaboration with Under Armor and Misty Copeland debunks many of those misconceptions. Today, Misty Copeland is a Principal Dancer with one of the leading companies in America, American Ballet Theater.
In conclusion, these constructions of negative stereotypes hurt dancers themselves because it highlights them in unrealistic, negative perspectives. Additionally, it places dancers in boxes that are untrue and prevents people from wanting to become dancers because of the negative connotation.