Unless you hit the genetic jackpot and came out the womb looking like Svetlana Zakharova, most of us have to train very hard to recreate the form and grace that ballet requires. Some dancers have beautiful arches, but they don’t fit the rail-thin image of the Soviet ballerina; others may have a very thin frame, but less-than-stellar feet. Despite these seeming imperfections, physical attributes alone do not make a memorable artist. With a little confidence and strategy, these dancers can turn perceived “weaknesses” into strengths.
Perceived "Weakness" #1: You don't have great feet.
The solution: Focus on your upper body.
Don’t misunderstand—you do need to work on improving your feet. Floppy feet and flexed toes are unacceptable. However, not all dancers possess the gorgeous arches you see on the cover of Pointe Magazine; some of us (myself included) have “straight” feet, meaning we have strong pointed toes and ankles, but lack the signature banana-like curve that’s characteristic of “perfect” ballet feet. Some dancers are downright flat-footed. Don’t despair. It doesn’t exactly make pointe work a breeze, but dancers with average feet can still be proficient, talented artists. The key to drawing attention away from your feet? Develop exceptional grace and fluidity in your upper body. These dancers need to learn how to successfully distract the audience from mediocre arches and shift the spotlight to their head, neck, torso, arms, and hands. Yes, this perceived “weakness” is actually a wonderful opportunity for a dancer to hone their port de bras and develop appropriate facial expressions.
Perceived "Weakness" #2: You've got curves, honey.
The solution: Master proper posture.
A womanly figure should be celebrated, not criticized. Adult ballet classes in particular are very welcoming of all shapes and sizes. These classes are designed specifically with the mature body in mind, unlike the professional training programs that place intense physical demands on younger students. Or, maybe you do want to lose a few inches. In conjunction with a balanced diet and cross-training activities, ballet is great exercise that will help you achieve your goals. Regardless, correct alignment is essential—this includes lowering your shoulders down and away from your ears at all times, lengthening your spine, and keeping your chin up (literally and figuratively). Ballet may have a reputation for being unforgiving, but you can hold your own with the more scrawny if you nail proper posture.
Perceived "Weakness" #3: Your nickname is "Shorty."
The solution: Pick up the pace.
Hold me closer tiny dancer! (I couldn’t help myself.) If you’re still not tall enough to ride certain roller coasters, it can be discouraging dancing beside a bunch of long-limbed gazelles. Don’t get lost in the crowd (literally)—shorter dancers can develop stage presence by maintaining high energy levels and picking up speed. This doesn’t mean dancing off the music or being clownish. Many professional dancers are extremely petite, but they command the audience with their razor sharp allegro and use of space. Instead of shrinking back out of apathy or fear, shorter dancers must strive to use their full extension at all times, giving the appearance of being bigger and taller than they really are. And a genuine smile—when appropriate—can carry your dancing all the way to back of the theatre. Elton John wasn’t the only one on target; remember the immortal words of William Shakespeare the next time you’re feeling insecure about your height: “Though she be but little, she is fierce.”
Bethany Leger taught ballet for 7 years in Dallas, Texas. She is the founder of Ballet for Adults, a website dedicated to educating adults about ballet. Visit her website at: http://balletforadults.com