Ballet Aesthetic and The Case For The Booty

photo courtesy bigstock

photo courtesy bigstock

I have a booty. Even when I struggled with anorexia in high school, I still looked like a stack of ribs with a rump roast in the back. When people asked me how I got my bodacious backside, I told them “it’s in the genes, and I don’t mean Levi’s.” Witty posterior punchlines aside, there was a time when I was very self-conscious about my butt. I was, literally, the butt of many jokes, sexual harassment, and self-loathing. I wore large pea coats, oversized t-shirts, anything to camouflage and downplay my lady humps. In a moment of desperation, I even considered plastic surgery (in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t have the kind of money to seriously entertain the thought.) When I went to ballet class, the big, red circular target on my butt got even bigger. (btw, above photo, not my booty.)

In case you haven’t noticed, the J-Lo’s of the world are not exactly wearing pink tights and tip-toeing to Tchaikovsky. The traditional ballet aesthetic, the world-class dancer you see gracing the stage, calls for a lean, buttless woman. “But I’ve seen dancers with big butts before!” you say. I don’t have reference to the muscular butt; we’ve all seen the concave grooves of a muscular butt in both male and female dancers. I’m talking about the ballerina with a bubble, a butt so elusive, so infrequently seen in the context of professional ballet it better not show its face in the studio lest it be mistaken for Bigfoot and shot.

Anyone who saw me standing beside my more flat peers probably thought I would’ve found more success in a Sir-Mix-A-Lot video than classical ballet. To make matters worse, I struggled with lordosis, an excessive inward curvature of the spine. As my teacher walked along the barre, examining my peers and offering corrections, she would stop next to me and softly request that I “tuck in” my bottom. “It is in,” I’d reply with a strained smile, speaking through clenched teeth. Yes, it looked like I was sticking my butt out even when I had perfect posture. You’ll often hear a director gawk over the beautiful lines of their protégé; they’re referring to the overall outline the dancer creates with their body, from fingertips to toes. Well, my lordosis gave me the best cambré in class, and my arabesque killed. But when it tag-teamed with my butt, it created all kinds of lines the average ballerina is not supposed to have.

Dancers are always talking about how ballet is their means of self-expression, that they can “be themselves” when they’re dancing. While I certainly appreciate, and have echoed, this sentiment, it’s a cliche that’s somewhat inaccurate. I couldn’t really be myself in ballet class; I had to “tuck it in”. I do believe the art form is a powerful outlet for our emotions; instead of punching a wall (or someone’s face) it can help us productively channel anger and frustration. If we’re lonely, socially or romantically, the relationship we develop to the music and movement can help fill a void. Choreography and the world of make-believe can distract us from the crippling boredom that awaits us at school/home/work. Bottom-line (no pun intended), in terms of aesthetic, the art form requires conformity, and that’s fine if you’re not stacked in the back.

Halfway through my twenties, my perspective started to change. Though my passion for ballet and longstanding work ethic said otherwise, it was never my intention to pursue a professional performing career (a well-meaning college classmate once asked me, “No offense, but why are you here“, genuinely curious as to why I had settled at the local college and not Juilliard. How cute.) Not only had I started my training too late in the game at almost 15 years old, I had a booty – a booty that was nice to me, provided adequate cushioning when I sat on a curb, kept me warm in the winter, and it was what made me unique. If I knew I was never going to be a prima ballerina, what was holding me back? Then it hit me – I got nothing to lose.

From that day forward, instead of being ashamed of my butt every time I put on a leotard, I made sure it was clearly visible; I lost the chiffon skirts, quit tying sweaters around my waist, and took pride in my curvy sidekick. Today, I rock leggings, string bikinis (outside of class, of course) and quite frankly, my husband is happy, and his opinion is the only one other than my own that matters. To all adult ballet dancers out there: stop holding yourself to the same standards of the professional ballet world and abandon the insecurities that have been keeping you out of the studio. Forget thigh gap and take advantage of the one place that is carved out especially for you. If you fill your leotard out a little more than others, or you just don’t fit the typical ballerina mold, find your home in adult ballet. Yes, you with the pancake butt, you’re welcome to join too.

-Bethany Leger, February 22, 2016

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