The lives and work of ballet dancers are full of myths. Is it true that they only eat salads and drink still water? Is it true that they give up on having children to have a successful career? And, finally, how much do they really weigh?
Bright Side sorted out the myths and the reality behind the lives of ballet dancers and is ready to share their secrets.
1. The first steps in ballet
- Most children come to ballet between the ages of 4 and 8. But really, children can start the exercises even earlier: children are allowed to join preparational classes at the age of 3. At such a young age, the future dancers start to learn to control their bodies and move along with the music.
- Children have to be at least 11 years old to start practicing en pointe. During the first year of these classes, rehearsals are about 3-4 times a week. They require discipline and stamina. Dancers pay a lot of attention to acting because they are supposed to be able to communicate the character’s personality through their movements.
2. The requirements for physical shape
- One of the most important “technical characteristics” of a ballet dancer is their foot stretch. It can be developed but only if a person has an anatomical predisposition.
- Most ballet dancers are between 5’3″ and 5’8″ tall. Their perfect body weight should be between 88 lbs and 130 lbs. It depends on how much the muscles and the bones weigh. This fragility doesn’t mean that dancers are not incredibly powerful and strong.
- The length of their legs is very important for ballet dancers — this is not a myth. The index should be about 49-52%: the length in a sitting position divided by the height of the entire body and multiplied by 100%.
- Ballet dancers’ diets have a lot of limitations. In order to stay in their elegant shape, they have to give up the foods most of us are used to. So, Svetlana Zaharova, who is 5’2″ tall and weighs 110 lbs doesn’t eat salt at all. Her breakfast is cereal made with water.
A ballet dancer’s breakfast looks approximately like this:
- Ballet dancers can even allow themselves to eat cheese pancakes. Of course, without sugar or Nutella.
- Ballet dancer Maya Plisetskaya doesn’t drink coffee, and doesn’t eat flour products, meat, dairy products, eggs, or sugar. What does she eat? Fruit, vegetables, fish, cereal… But some ballet dancers limit themselves even more, they don’t eat tomatoes and bananas.
- Sometimes, even these limitations are not enough. So the dancers of Swan Lake have a strict 7-day diet before the show in order to look even more elegant.
- Do ballet dancers lose it? Of course. Anna Russkih from the Bolshoi Theater says, “If you only saw how we celebrate birthdays in our dressing rooms. This is something you should see. Chips, salted nuts, pepperoni, cheese, sweets, biscuits, and cakes. Oh, and of course, wine and champagne.”
“When someone asks me if I have any professional secrets for ballet dancers to stay in shape, I can’t recall anything specific and really secret… I never had any mono diets or very strict diets that completely exclude some foods. When I realized that I needed to lose some weight, I just ate less — I reduce the amount of food I consume, not the foods themselves.”
4. Behind the scenes
- The legs of the dancers suffer from exhausting rehearsals. Their working day lasts 7 hours without a lunch break. The schedule depends on the position a dancer has: corps de ballet, master, solo. Women are actually way busier that men, because female corps de ballet is a necessary part of almost any ballet show. There are even days when they work overtime: 9 hours or more.
- Ballet dancer Margarita Simonova shared that when they have a pedicure done, dancers ask nail artists to not remove the calluses they have because the rough skin protects their feet from pain.
- Intense practice sessions lead to professional injuries. Ballet dancers suffer from eating disorders, problems with bone mineral density, and they often have fractures of the first rib.
- In order to support their bodies, ballet dancers get a massage regularly. The kind of massage depends on the goal. For example, on the show day, it will be a toning massage, and after practice or after a show, they need a relaxing massage. It lets them rest and removes the swelling.
- The fastest way to rest are a walk in the fresh air, taking a bath with sea salts and essential oils, and of course sleeping. They have to let themselves sleep well at least once a week.
- During rehearsals, when they are not wearing bright costumes and makeup, the dance looks completely different. But in order to feel the character better, dancers use some elements of the dresses and decorations.
- Most of the time, ballet dancers’ hair is in a bun. These tight hairstyles affect the health of the hair, making it more fragile.
- A lot of makeup has a negative effect on skin health, this is why in their daily life, ballet dancers let their skin rest and use as little cosmetics as possible. Most dancers do the makeup for their shows by themselves. They don’t get any specific recommendations or instructions: ballet dancers have to design their looks by themselves. But the makeup should not be too creative.
- The daily life of ballet dancers includes a lack of sleep, chronic fatigue, and very hard work.
- The work behind the scenes is just as active as on stage: they prepare dresses, hair, and makeup.
- Some costumes make it pretty hard to dance.
- The program of professional education includes a course on stage makeup. Ballet dancers use special fake eyelashes that are about one inch long, they highlight their cheekbones and use only matte lipstick.
- Classic stage makeup takes about 30 minutes to put on, but some roles require more than an hour. The most important part about a dancer’s makeup is to highlight their distinctive facial features. The foundation should hide the redness that appears when a dancer is tired.
“Being a mother and a ballet dancer at the same time is not easy. Of course, I could ask someone to look after my child and go to a rehearsal and Pilates, which I really need to be in shape, but I can’t imagine myself doing that. I just can’t… During the first years of a child’s life, career stops being the most important thing in your life. But I got back quite fast: I started practicing when my son was 2 months old, and I was back on stage when he was 4 months old.”
“Let’s be honest: both in the past and now very few ballet dancers have the courage to become mothers. Because there is a danger that you will never return to the stage. But I made my choice and I am happy that now we have our Anya.”
- Yana Salenko, prima ballerina at the Berlin State Opera doesn’t think that children can be a problem for your career. She is expecting her second baby.
“I’m amazed at what the female body can do during pregnancy”, she says on her Instagram page.
6. The hypnotic world of ballet
But all of these sacrifices are worth it. They still go on stage, dance selflessly, inspiring the viewers all around the world and uniting them with the power of art. Ballet is beautiful, feminine, elegant, weightless, and aerial. Ballet is about standing ovations and admiring looks from a grateful audience. This is the kind of art nobody can be indifferent to.
Do you like ballet?